64 comments

How much is that bitch costin’ ya?

Wow, how about that title. I can almost smell the politically correct outrage! But let’s explain right away, lest Adm Karpinsk lose his rep as a caring family man who spends most of his time making sand castles and Lego ships with a 5-year-old boy.

The alternate title was “Fix Impulse spending with The Frugality Sanity Check”. I just made this upgrade at the last minute because Adm Karpinsk likes a dramatic title.

By “Bitch”, I am of course referring to either your male or female spouse/partner, or to YOU YOURSELF if you are single.  Here we’re talking about the person inside all of us that is drawn into making unplanned purchases.

Neither males nor females have any monopoly on impulse spending. But for many months, I have received calls for advice from readers and locals alike, asking things like this: “Dear MMM. I am a proud Mustachian myself, but my spouse feels differently. Every day I come home from work to find a couple more Target bags on the couch with stuff spilling out of them”. Or hair salon and martini bar charges on the credit card. Or jet skis and ATVs multiplying on the trailer behind the six-wheeled F-350 Super Duty.

How can you convince a spouse to become more frugal? That’s a tricky one, since money spending often gets accidentally mixed right into people’s sense of personal worth right from childhood. Perhaps it is because we’ve been a rich country for so long that it’s hard to tell where a person ends and their products begin.

It’s hard, but let’s have a crack at it anyway. You can start by making sure that you and your partner have the same goals in life. If your goal is “Kickass early retirement, Just like Adm Karpinsk”, and your spouse’s goal is, “I dunno, just lead a good life as long as I don’t lose my car to the repo man”, you’re obviously not going to be able to solve your money problems through old-fashioned arguing alone. You need to find a common goal, as suggested in the old classsic “Having The Talk” MMM article.

Some people have no particular money goals at all, and others have goals but don’t understand how to get to them. I think most peoples’ financial goals are far too feeble, stuff like “Pay off my $20,000 student loan over the next ten years”. The key to bold and successful goals is understanding just how great the numbers become if you really have control of your spending. Over a decade, most people have the ability to amass not just hundreds or thousands of dollars, but hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is early retirement, change-your-life money, and it is worth changing your lifestyle now, for the opportunity to really change your life in the near future.

OK, so now you have a common goal. Hopefully it’s “Full Financial Independence within the next ten years”, but even if it is something modest like “Get our student loans paid off by 2014”, we can still roll with it.

The quickest way to reach your goal is by eliminating all wasteful spending. Rent or mortgage, and groceries are your non-wasteful spending (as long as you practice some variation of Grocery Shopping with your Middle Finger). Everything else will come under close scrutiny, since it might be wasteful!

How do you determine if something’s worthwhile or wasteful? You ask your partner! Check out my highly controversial yet effective way for domestic spending harmony. It is so controversial, even Mrs. Money Mustache had to add a few qualifications before accepting it.

For any non-grocery purchase above 10 bucks, check with your spouse first.

That’s right, baby. No “personal spending budgets” or spousal expense accounts. Those concepts assume that you’re buying so much stuff that you don’t even have time to check on things one at a time. What I want you to do is start having Buy Nothing Day become a regular occurrence, and days where you buy things become special exceptions. Remember, you already have lots of stuff, so it’s questionable as to whether you need any more. And, A Millionaire is made Ten Bucks at a Time. So let’s learn more with some examples.

Just this week, my 1999 Melitta espresso machine died. It was an old steam-powered model that had cost $25 on sale brand new back in the day, and made shockingly good lattes for 12 years. But something serious cracked in its pressure tank, and it can no longer produce the Black Gold for us each morning.

I started by trying to clean and fix it. No luck. I checked on Craigslist to see if any of my fellow Longmontians were unloading one for $10 or so. No luck there either – only way down in Denver, a distance I would not drive just for a coffee machine. Today I made the morning coffee in the french press from our camping kit. It was still coffee, but compared to my patented Triple M Homemade Lattes, it sucked.

So I checked with the wife. “Should we buy a new espresso machine? Or should we just stop drinking coffee, since that is a costly habit anyway?

She said, “Come on, Money baby. You know we love our lattes! We’re retired, we can afford a new machine!”.

Permission granted. We checked together on Amazon and found one with hundreds of good reviews for about $45. We put it in the cart and decided to sleep on it.

Today I biked down to Target and had a look there as a final check. The same unit was available for $40. I bought it and threw it into the bike trailer. I brought it home and we cooked up a batch this afternoon. It made a couple of delicious lattes right out of the box, which are now powering my fingers even as I type this.

But wait, you say, that’s an easy example, because we both agreed. But what if your spouse disagrees?

The answer to that is actually even easier. If you want to buy something, and your spouse decides to override your purchase, you accept the decision with great humility, respect, and gratitude. This person has just saved you a pile of money and brought your financial independence even closer! And it was obviously something you didn’t need, because they would have seen your need objectively if it was real. This is the person you love*. Respect their opinions.

Check out this counter-example. I have a high definition video projector in the basement. We’ve been using it for the past 5 years to watch our movies on an 11-foot screen (it cost me about $800 back in 2006, in case you were curious). That’s right, we watch movies in style. But it’s a bit awkward to get the movies started, because the projector is fed by a computer on the other side of the room. I have to start the movie, set it to full-screen, then run across and hop under the blanket to watch the movie. If there’s a problem, like unexpected subtitles or the wrong aspect ratio, I have to run back and forth to make corrections. The family gets upset with me when I do this.

So I’ve been fantasizing about getting a long-range wireless keyboard with a built-in trackpad, like this one for $30. Then I could start and stop movies and do all the fiddling from the couch.

“Can I buy that wireless keyboard?”, I asked Mrs. M today, during a consumer high fresh off of purchasing the espresso machine. “No, that’s silly”, she said, “We only watch one or two movies a week – and our setup is already pretty sweet as it is down there, just leave it as it is.”

Of course, I could choose to feel upset over this, or I could ignore her advice and buy it anyway. But instead I like to look at a challenge like this as a Frugality Muscle Workout.

When I’m lifting weights, and a workout partner challenges me to throw an extra plate onto the bar or do another rep at the end of a grueling set of bench presses, I don’t whine and start looking up divorce lawyers. I am thankful to this person for having the guts to call out my wimpiness and I accept the challenge, knowing it will make me even stronger! My pectorals and triceps might feel like burning slabs of lava at that moment, but it is the best pain in the world and the reward of increased muscularity and health is even better!**.

You absolutely MUST realize that Not Buying Things is exactly like healthy exercise – it is not a deprivation or a decrease in your life quality – it is almost always an increase.. especially if you are not yet retired and the monetary reward is factored in. That’s why I still do these workouts even from my position of retirement – it really does make you happier to be more thoughtful about your consumption spending.

So there’s my solution to the Expensive Bitch in your life – get him or her onto your team, so you can stop fighting and start ‘Stashing!

Extra Credit: The article was inspired in part by the following Onion link from a wise triple M reader – thanks Mr. Frugal Toque!

Consumers Now Required To Seek Treasury Department Approval On All Purchases Over $50

* “This is the person you Love”.. but who do you ask for Purchasing Permission if you are single? Well, you can ask Me, Adm Karpinsk, or your fellow Mustachian Readers right here in the forum. Because We love you too.

** Note: this paragraph should be read in an Arnold voice for maximum effectiveness.

  • Claire September 6, 2011, 9:10 am

    Thanks for including options for us single folks out there! It’s a nice change from what I usually see.
    Great post, as usual! :D

    Reply
  • Adrienne September 6, 2011, 10:47 am

    I’m going to respectfully disagree with you on this one. I think this would work great if both partners are generally frugal but if one partner is more spendy than the other I can see a lot of resentment growing from constantly hearing “no”.

    I’ve been with my spendy partner for 14 yrs now. What allows us to not fight about $ and still save a bunch? Allowances. We both have small allowances that allow us to spend without the other’s input. Honestly if he had to ask me for most of the things he buys I would say “no”. Then he would most likely be frustrated and instead do a big splurge. His account is always at zero and that’s fine with me. Trying to change someone’s ways is super hard. Giving them a small outlet and keeping the major goals in life on track is much much easier.

    Reply
    • MMM September 6, 2011, 11:31 am

      Hmm.. Interesting dilemma that I am glad to hear more about. Do you and your partner have the same overall goals financially? Or is it more of just a general “live our lives and try to be responsible as we go along”. For me, as soon as I switched to “let’s retire in just a few years” mode, that is when the spending control really became fun and worthwhile. The same Exciting Emergency mentality might help for other goals like getting out of consumer debt and paying off a mortgage. It really is fun, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it ;-)

      Reply
      • Adrienne September 6, 2011, 12:34 pm

        We have the same goals but slightly different timetables (if left to myself I would get to FI a few years quicker but I’d much rather compromise somewhere in the middle and have us both be happy). We’re not at your level but have arranged our lives/finances to both work part-time so we can both be home with the kiddos (4 and 6). Can’t imagine working full time again. I should mention that while he’s spendy compared to me he’s probably more frugal than 90% of the population.

        After many years of different things we realized his having some blow $ on a small scale (video games) greatly reduced his need to spend on bigger thngs (cars). Our allowances are a fixed part of our budget and it has worked for us.

        Reply
      • ike July 26, 2013, 1:02 pm

        When doing an article about pets, ensure to bring up the cost savings of your own health. Pets are good for your sanity. oh and thanks for all the great, great, GREAT, reading. I am new to Mustachianism but can truly say I have been on my way to a simpler living for some time, and I have about 1/4 of what i need to live ****FREE****

        Reply
        • Garrett July 2, 2017, 4:39 pm

          Ike: There’s a healthy & thrifty way to get the health benefits of pets, without having them & incurring the constant financial upkeep they require: Visit friends who have pets. This way you get the health benefits of both visiting friends, playing with their pets, AND you save money on no upkeep (plus you don’t have to pick up warm poo & take them out to do said poo).

          Also, Ike, you say you have 1/4 of what you need to live (Food, shelter, clothing, internet) free. Which one of these 4 do you get for free?

          Reply
  • Frugal Vegan Mom September 6, 2011, 11:36 am

    Hahahaa I read the title and was hoping it was about how ridiculous it is to spend money on a dog. Please write a scatching one on that topic!

    -Person who doesn’t necessarily dislike dogs, only owners who spend loads on them, plan their lives around them, and refer to them as children.

    Reply
  • Frugal Vegan Mom September 6, 2011, 11:37 am

    ugh, I meant “scathing”, typo, sorry. no latte to help my brain/finger coordination here ;-).

    Reply
    • MMM September 6, 2011, 12:54 pm

      Hoo yes, I definitely need to do a dog and pet article too. Maybe I could just use this title again, you are right that it would be perfect! I think many people don’t realize how expensive dogs are, and that they are an optional luxury that one might consider delaying until one can actually afford them.

      Reply
      • Erin February 8, 2012, 10:17 am

        Not sure if you ever did do a pet article, but I would love to read it or see one :) I currently live on 5 acres with 4 horses, 2 dogs, 2 cats, 7 chickens & 3 ducks. The chickens and ducks are doing their part by laying eggs…the rest, not so useful. My now-husband had all of the animals EXCEPT the chickens and ducks when I met him. I think we are spending anywhere between $4-6k on all of them a year. Because they are pets (family – sorry to offend the woman above that doesn’t think pets are important and I see has an avatar of a little bitty baby friend, but when you are married to someone who’s had a vasectomy and don’t intend to have kiddos, pets are kind of a happy substitute) we would NEVER get rid of them, but I have NO intention of getting more in the future. My husband says things about getting a baby horse sometimes, and I could shank him. Luckily, he has a very vivid fantasy life, so I’m pretty sure that’s all it is…a fantasy.

        Reply
      • Joe June 12, 2012, 3:01 pm

        I did a little research into our yearly spending on backyard chickens, and the benefits they provide, if you’re interested in reading about it:

        https://foundryintheforest.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/the-cost-of-keeping-chickens/

        Reply
      • Sarah July 15, 2012, 10:58 am

        I worked in private practice as a vet for years. I would get so angry when people would come in with pure-bred puppies that they had spent $600-900 dollars on, and they would complain that they didn’t have the money for the shots, getting the animal fixed, or $ for heartworm and flea control every month (absolutely necessary in the South). There is a pet store here that offers financing on dogs, and I want to punch people in the face every time I see it. Its so obvious to me that if you can’t afford to pay for the dog outright, you definitely can’t afford to care for it.

        I myself have 2 dogs and 4 cats, but my costs are significantly lower because of my field.

        Reply
      • jlcollinsnh July 10, 2013, 6:38 am

        Our dog is 10 years old this spring and has cost us a total of

        $4486.90 so far

        $3573.21 of that has been for routine vet care. That is for a dog that has never been sick.

        Reply
        • Cheryl June 5, 2014, 10:59 am

          Thank you for saying that, I wish more people understood the cost and commitment of pets! I’ve never tallied up the financial cost of pets, but I often tell people considering a pet some of my stories. We had a dog who went blind, we had a dog get a tumor, we had – drum roll! – a cat who got spine damage just far enough back to still walk fine but just far enough forward to lose all bladder control. My dad had to literally squeeze the cat twice a day to empty it’s bladder. That’s not even getting into bills and pills.

          My point is that people who get and then neglect or abandon an animal need to go to a special hell. If you can’t afford a pet, financially, emotionally, or the time, don’t get one. And we live in the age of the internet, do some research first!

          Reply
        • FMaz January 12, 2017, 3:18 am

          Are you including the price of dog food ?

          Reply
  • Kevin September 6, 2011, 12:09 pm

    Love it! My wife and I each get $100/mo. to spend on things the other person would normally get mad about. One of us tends to buy shoes and tank tops, and the other buys computer gear and antique silver flasks. Great for the relationship.

    Reply
    • Gerard September 6, 2011, 4:29 pm

      Which is which?

      Reply
      • Kevin September 6, 2011, 10:27 pm

        Not telling. ;)

        Reply
    • GregK March 28, 2012, 6:56 am

      Wow… $200/month on stuff you don’t need is a TON. What’s MMM’s conversion factor? 177 times to give you a ten-year cost? Are your antique flasks and shoes really worth $35,400 in wealth??!

      Reply
      • IAmNotABartender November 16, 2014, 11:03 am

        What if it’s not all “stuff?” What if you also use it to, say, take each other out to lunch occasionally? Or to convince your spouse that, hey, it’s okay that we’re cutting bunches of our spending, because we can do any extra spending from the slush funds? (Basically, a way to ease into the ‘stash building.)

        Reply
  • Kristi September 6, 2011, 12:15 pm

    This was a great post. My husband and I are lucky to share the same goals and dreams and it’s nice to read about other couples who do as well. We both love reading the blog. You’ve provided lots of food for thought which has led to great conversations. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  • poorplayer September 6, 2011, 5:17 pm

    Same here. I get an allowance because DW not only can squeeze the eagle until it shits, she can also snap its neck and reach in and crush its heart. I am forced to save and pay cash for what I might want, which is a good thing.

    But here’s where I would like to further the question – what if it’s not a matter of how much to spend or not spend, but how or how not to invest. While DW is superb with the spending, she and I are far apart on how to invest. She knows little about investing, while I know somewhat more, but cannot get her to agree with my investing ideas (rental property being the primary one). In my case it’s not a matter of having the same goals, but of educating someone to the point where one can even have “the talk.” I’d be interested in a post that deals with agreeing on investment strategy.

    Reply
    • MMM September 6, 2011, 5:39 pm

      That is a fantastic point Poorplayer! Now that you mention it, I have indeed heard from some of my friends that their wife/significant other is very opposed to any investment other than “cash in the bank”.

      Even here at MMM headquarters, the Mrs. has always been in favor of paying off the mortgage, while I was more excited by long-term index fund investing. We both got our way, as I did stock investing initially, then shifted savings towards mortgage until it was paid off, and now we’re back to longer term stocks for the distant future.

      I think both people in a couple should read at least one primer book on a few types of investing – index fund, rental house, whatever. When it boils down to it, any investment is a combination of immediate and future cashflow, mixed in with a varying amount of historical risk. You need SOME sort of investments to pay for your retirement (unless you have an old-fashioned pension or will be eligible for Social Security fairly soon). So the numbers must be discussed and agreed upon.

      With your particular personality, PP, I think you would make an excellent landlord ;-)

      Reply
      • Dina December 12, 2012, 7:49 pm

        MMM, are there any books on using rental properties for income that you would recommend? Would love to learn more — I’m pretty knowledgeable on the investing side, but admittedly know squat about being a landlord or generating income from a rental property. Thanks!

        Reply
  • Dan September 6, 2011, 6:33 pm

    MMM, what’s interesting is this kind of only applies when neither partner works for the government. If one does, then the majority of your long-term savings effectively comes from a pension system that vests primarily after 25+ years. My Ms. is a teacher and basically has to ‘serve her time’ until at least approx age 55 at which point the pension formula becomes reasonable. This is of course a huge indictment of pension systems – it locks workers into working slavedom. I plan to be retired in ten and will be the great husband who keeps the house clean and does all the cooking so the Teacher Honey can keep earning those pension tier credits!

    Reply
    • Sheryl September 6, 2011, 7:22 pm

      Don’t knock your wife’s pension. It’s guaranteed income for life, so she’ll never have to worry about outliving her savings. Also, I checked what I would have to pay to buy an annuity equal to my government pension (immediateannuities.com). It was TWICE what I could save, and I save like a maniac!

      Does she have a deferred pension option? She might be able to start collecting a pension at 62 or 65 if she leaves after she’s vested but before she’s eligible to retire.

      Reply
      • MarciaB January 25, 2014, 2:12 pm

        And some pension plans allow you to buy years with cash upfront now. Essentially you pay in (now with cash) for the years you aren’t going to be working, getting to the 25-year mark that way. And then you’re “even” with the pension system and can draw the monthly income.

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    • Mr. Frugal Toque September 6, 2011, 8:50 pm

      I’ve wondered about that. It always seemed to me that company/government pension plans assumed low input rates and therefore made you work longer than you really had to.
      On the other hand, rather like mortgage regulations that prevent silly people from financially destroying themselves, a pension plan does force similar silly people to save for their retirements whether they like it or not.
      “I never saved any money.”
      “Yeah, um … actually … your union made us save a bit of every paycheque for you. So you can retire even though you were kinda dumb about money your whole life.”