Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What it takes to get along

Yesterday's Cary Tennis dealt with money in relationships.
I have been dating a wonderful man for six years... I could see myself marrying this man.

Here is the rub: He is cheap. Not thrifty, CHEAP. Since we started dating, we have split everything (meals, gas, etc.) but we both make about the same salary and I was raised to pay for myself so this never bothered me. What bothers me is when he picks up a stamp for me while he is at the post office and then asks me for the 44 cents. What bothers me is that when he comes to my place for dinner (about five nights a week), he doesn't bring anything. If we go to a party thrown by his friends, he expects me to help pay for the wine we bring, but if we go to a party thrown by my friends, I'm on my own to pay for it. If I run out of money and need to borrow a dollar, he is damn sure to get that dollar back from me. He won't go certain places if he has to drive (even a few blocks) because he doesn't want to pay for gas. It's crazy. This is unlikely an actual money issue as he came from a well-to-do family, has enough money to live comfortably and frequently buys himself very nice things. ...

He will go out of his way for me: He is very generous to me with his affection and time. But, when it comes to cash, he is just absurdly cheap, and his strange deal with money makes me think that there is some deeply selfish side to him that is being reflected in this cheapness. ...

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill or is his cheapness indicative of some bigger problem? If so, how do I possibly bring this up to him without sounding like a gold digger?
This is one of Cary's longwinded days, so I'm providing only excerpts of his response.
You could give him an invoice.

He might dispute some charges. For instance, on the

bottle of wine for the party: 1/2

he might dispute his share because he didn't drink any of it. You would have to say: Note the

category: gifts.

On the postage stamp thing, if you give him a postage stamp, bill him

$USD 0.44 first class postage, 1

Give him a monthly invoice of all the charges for which he is in arrears. See if he will write you a check for those things.

If you're going to marry each other you're going to be using money together all the time. You're going to be eating together and buying groceries and cars.

You are going to have to get to know what money means to each of you...

Here is something you can do together about money that may be fun:

Put a jar on the kitchen counter.

When he comes over for dinner, ask him to put any spare change he has into the jar. Say it is a jar you are saving money into so that you and he can go do something cool. Then when the jar is full you and he can take the money out and go into the world together and do something cool with the change you saved in a jar on the kitchen counter. ...

It's just money.

Make it about the money. Don't make it about the relationship or his attitudes or his cheapness. ...

He pays his bills, right? He gets invoices and pays them? He probably scrutinizes them but he pays them because he recognizes them as legitimate. Maybe he does not recognize the bringing of wine to a party as legitimate. So you could explain to him that wine is the money of friendship. It is money in the economy of the friend. In the economy of the friend, we pretend that money is not the issue, because we like to have this primitive fantasy that friendship exists when we are cavemen, before money was invented, because we are still tribal in our friendships and no other countries exist; there is no France or England, there is only our cave or our tent into which we invite you if you bring a Snickers bar or a bottle of burgundy. ... [a lot of stuff about friends vs. credit companies, social class, and capitalism] ...

We say, "It isn't about the money." But it is about the money. To say it isn't about the money is to demean money. Like money isn't important. But money is very important. Money is just slippery and hard to deal with, but it is the issue. We say, it's not about the money, it's about fairness. It's about not being cheap. Or it's about attitudes. But attitudes toward what? It's his attitude toward money.

He loves you. It's not his attitude toward you. He doesn't think this is about you. He thinks this is about money. And it is. It's about your attitude toward money and his attitude toward money. ...

So the one approach is to invoice him. And the other approach is to get into what money means.

Ashley: Cary Tennis says "money" a lot.

Lulu: Suggested theme song for today's Cary Tennis: "Mony Mony" by Billy Idol. Or "Money" by Pink Floyd, but that might be a little too on the money.

Ashley: Stop saying money, it's creeping me out.

Lulu: So but I mean I think the invoice idea is good, actually. Even if it's not that formal, just holding him to the same exacting standards that he holds her to. Personally I prefer a relationship where you just lend each other money whenever, and don't keep track, but clearly he prefers the "keep perfect records" strategy, and if he can dish it out, he's got to be able to take it.

Ashley: I was going to recommend the opposite approach: a joint account. Since they make about the same salary, they can figure out how much their time is worth, right? If they figure out how much time they're wasting on this shit, they can figure out how much money they'd save by not doing it. Just be like, "how much money are you comfortable giving up for mutual convenience"? They could start small, at like $5 each.

Lulu: I agree. When you factor in the time it costs you to save this or that tiny amount, it often makes more sense just to pay more for convenience. But people who are super weird about money tend not to buy the time argument.

Ashley: Feh.

Lulu: But a joint account for shared purchases might be a good idea anyway, since from her description, it seems like he'd be more likely to pay himself back for money borrowed from the joint than he would be to pay her back for money he borrowed. It could cause more arguments, though. "Why did you buy that bottle of wine out of the joint account? They're your friends."

Ashley: I'm saying to use it as giving up the money. So even if they DO spend it on themselves, that is an amount of money you've decided not to care about.

Lulu: I think that's what Cary Tennis is getting at with the change jar, too--just get him to let go of some money, as an exercise. But it just makes me tired thinking about dating this guy--even if this is only his weird money hangup and not a general trend of selfishness. Look, I wouldn't keep track of who paid for what dinner and how much they relatively cost, but if I was dating someone who squared up each account nicely, sometimes asking for more money and sometimes giving me more money, that would be fine. It's the fact that he doesn't pay her back that bugs me. He's only keeping track when it benefits him! He's forcing her to keep records too just so she doesn't get cheated. Sure, he's the one who cares about being cheated, but it's not so much about the money, for me, as the unfairness. You shouldn't have to be on guard against your partner cheating you, no matter how irrelevant the consequences.

Ashley: It makes me sleepy, too. I'd just pay for everything, and then break up with him very shortly thereafter. But she's been with him for 6 years!

Lulu: I can see hanging in to see if you eventually make your way into his circle of "people I'm looking out for, money-wise" but after 6 years, it seems unlikely he's capable of including anyone but himself on that list. I mean, intellectually, I think it doesn't necessarily reflect on his other attitudes,
because, people are weird about money sometimes. But it would be hard for me to have him on his guard against being cheated by me for 6 years without feelling like he doesn't trust me.

Ashley: I just can't imagine dating someone with that much focus on minutia. It doesn't really matter what it's about. If he were keeping track of something else that meaningless, I'd also be annoyed. Like, I dunno, maybe who's turn it is to do a particular chore?

Lulu: I would always either be like "who cares!" or I'd be looking for a system to keep track for us, so we don't have to waste time thinking about it. Which i guess is the beauty of the joint account--just both put in some agreed-upon amount and use it for joint purchases and forget about who paid for what when--but you also need a dose of "who cares" to make that work, in case of any disputes.

Ashley: Yeah. I would have dumped that guy on the first sign.

Lulu: I guess we are bad people to be advising on this.

That should probably be the conclusion of all our columns. Um... Send us your major life queries, folks!!!!!!!!! MY IMPORTANT DRAMA AT GMAIL DOT COM YO


  1. This Cary Tennis guy sounds terrible. Not like you ladies, your advice is on point and hilarious and this is my favorite blog, ever.

    Also, I was the guy one time who kept track of all the money (using some software). If I paid for a dinner, I'd put her half in the account as owed, and if she paid for one I'd put my half in as a payment. I deducted half the bills from this as well. I rarely asked her for money, I'd just tell her when she could cover her share of say electricity by springing for grub. We even had times where one of us would say "but this isn't going in the account, I wanted to get this for you." When we broke up, I was even able to pay out what was left as owed.

    Now, in my new relationship, we never even think about it. The old way worked PERFECTLY. I like the new way much better.

  2. Yeah, Cary Tennis is a Writer-with-a-capital-W. So everything's very much written in a Style and not with what you'd call Sense.

    For the money thing, I can absolutely see a need for keeping everything fair - if you're saving money for something, or if one is supporting the other with the expectation that that support would be later repaid - but I just could not get over keeping track only for one party. It just seems unnecessarily selfish, nevermind his kindness to animals or whatever.

    I guess it depends on the relationship, and early on in one it makes more sense to keep things fair, until you figure out if you actually like each other, etc. But after six years? Good lord.