Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena, and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
My spouse (29M) and I (31F) have been together for about a decade. We both grew up well below the poverty line, and while we’re not rich now, we’re quite comfortable financially. Our finances aren’t fully merged; we split responsibility for bills, agree to save a certain amount, and otherwise have spending money of our own. But we have very different philosophies towards discretionary spending. He loves bargain hunting, waiting for the perfect sale, and finding every possible coupon, whereas I like supporting small businesses and often don’t shy away from paying near full price. Normally, this isn’t a big deal, but it becomes a problem with gifts. Last year I saved up for months to buy something expensive for his hobby—that he’d been wanting for years—and within hours of opening it, he asked if we could return it and exchange it for something else because it hadn’t been on a good enough sale. On the flip side, he’s an amazing gift-giver, but he also loves to brag about how little he spent on the presents, which makes me feel kind of bummed. I’m feeling a bit bitter about how I treasure his presents, but he rejects mine. I almost feel like putting a moratorium on gifts altogether. How can I reconcile (or at least come to terms with) these differences—ideally before Christmas morning?
—Not Willingly a Grinch
Dear Not Willingly a Grinch,
I had a conversation with a friend recently about people who brag about their shopping, and how much they spent. She suggested it may be because growing up they didn’t have much and now want everyone to know as an adult that now they do. Your husband is doing the opposite of that. It sounds like despite you both having a similar upbringing, you each processed the situation differently. While I’m not a psychologist, the idea of your husband suffering from chrometophobia may be worth looking into.
Chrometophobia is described as an “irrational fear of spending money.” It presents itself in different ways, such as someone only buying the cheapest items available, refusing to spend money despite their daily life being affected negatively, and the automatic habit of finding ways to spend the least amount of money possible. It doesn’t excuse him for taking the wind out of your sails when it comes to gift-giving, but it may explain the reasoning behind why he wanted to take the gift back to get a discount somewhere else. Look at it as a self-soothing technique—and try to understand where this behavior is coming from.
Take a deep breath and explain to your partner that, though you understand and even respect his shopping skills, your shopping approach is a bit different and while he may not have realized it, the situation was actually very hurtful to you. Share that while he may not see it, you were also being responsible with your shopping and the situation is making you want to not give gifts altogether. With an example of a consequence stemming from his extreme behavior, he may be able to realize he needs to tone it down. It might also be a good idea to have a check-in with a couple’s therapist that specializes in finances if he continues to act this way.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I recently started my first year of college, with the immense privilege of having my university costs fully covered (via my parents) without financial aid or any student loans. I started working part-time around one to two years ago and built up around $10,000 in savings through aggressive saving (around 80 percent of each paycheck). The idea was to use it to cover the out-of-pocket payment for gender-affirming surgery, but I recently learned that with my school’s health insurance, the out-of-pocket cost would only be a tenth of the projected $10,000 amount, which leaves me with a chunk of cash I have no clue what to do with.
I still work part-time while in college (and receive an allowance each month), but without a savings goal, I’m floundering. I’d like to start saving for a car, grad school/post-graduation, and future emergencies but have no clue how to do that. There isn’t any kind of trust fund waiting for me at 21, so I’m “on my own” post-graduation. How do I budget my current monthly income so that I can begin saving for those future goals and stick to that budget? Do I open a savings account for each savings goal? What do I do with the money in my savings account other than letting it sit there? When should I consider getting a credit card/building my credit score? These are probably basic financial literacy questions, but my parents treat finance-related questions like taboo, and the financial literacy course my university had us take didn’t really apply to an 18-year-old with no true financial obligations other than the Trader Joe’s snack aisle.
—Young, Dumb, and Not (That) Broke
I’m impressed that at a young age, you recognize the privilege you have financially. It’s easy to take it for granted.
The first step of budgeting is to make a list of your expenses and match it up to your income. This will give you an idea of how much money you’re working with each month. After going over your expenses, categorize your spending to see how much money you should be putting aside each month. Then check how much you have left to save towards your goals. The lower your expenses are, the more money you’re able to save, so double-check to see if you can cut back on any areas like your Trader Joe’s snacks. You can track your spending in an app like Goodbudget, which utilizes the cash envelope in a digital way, allowing you to check your budget on the go.
You might want to set up a checking account with Capital One so you can utilize their 360 Performance Savings Account feature. You can open up to 25 separate savings accounts so that you can assign each account to different savings goals you may have. It will be easier to track your progress this way instead of having all of your funds in one general account. Capital One also pays 3.30 annual percentage yield (APY) savings rate on the funds you save in your account so your money can make you money while you sleep.
As for credit, look into opening a student or secure credit card. These types of credit cards can help you establish your credit with a smaller limit so you’re not tempted to overspend. Pay for expenses like gas and groceries with your credit card then pay your bill off in full every month to avoid paying unnecessary interest. Good luck!
Want more Pay Dirt every week? Sign up for Slate Plus now.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband and I both work full-time, and have never received any family help. We take financial responsibility seriously and follow a budget. We are both millennials so our pay is good, but not great, and we don’t have a lot of money left over for extras.
This brings me to my question: My husband’s cousin Sally has consistently been asking the entire family, extended family included, for money. She is now asking us. She asked my husband for $50 a few times over the past year and he at first said no, then stopped answering. She has now moved on to asking me for money directly.
The kicker is, Sally lives with my husband’s parent’s house in his childhood bedroom, rent free. She moved in over 6 months ago and still lives there despite promising to only need a few months to get on her feet and move out. She is in her late-30s and has a job. However, she bounces around from retail job to retail job so I understand that her pay is low. We technically could afford to pay her this $50 here and there. However, she has asked other family members for sums like this that ultimately ended up being hundreds of dollars that are never paid back.
I plan to not send the $50. I feel like Sally is putting me in an unfair position to ask for money when she is already receiving financial help in the way of free room and board from my husband’s parents. Am I being overly harsh by not sending her the money? I don’t want to become her personal piggy bank when I have my own budget to follow.
Dear Tough Position,
As long as people enable her, she probably won’t change her behavior. I wouldn’t, if I had free rent and board. While it’s not any of your business what she does with her money or why she needs to borrow it in the first place, that doesn’t mean you need to continue the family tradition of being a personal piggy bank. You’re absolutely not being too harsh by not wanting to send her money. Also, $50 here and there adds up.
Next time, be firm and straight to the point. Try saying, “Hey, I’d love to help, and thanks for feeling comfortable enough to ask me, but at this time, I’m not in a position to.” It’s short and sweet while still letting her know you heard her. If she asks again, you can say, “We have already discussed this, and my answer remains the same.” You can then join your husband in avoiding her texts.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My wife (26F) and I (24M) got married two weeks ago and are in the process of joining assets and accounts. However, we’re at odds with our banking. We both have separate accounts at two separate banks but want to set up a joint account together to hold the money we’ve received from the wedding and have a portion of our income go into it.
We have agreed to use her bank and set up our own account. The issue is, her father is still linked to her current account. She says he doesn’t look at her finances and it’s just easier for him to put in and take out money when he needs to. She would like to link her current account to our new account, but neither of us knows if he’ll inadvertently be linked to our joint account and be able to see our information.
I don’t want her father to have access to our account. I know for a fact that he does look into her finances because he is always making side comments about her spending and how many points she has on a given card. We are both adults with jobs and don’t need our parents looking into what we do with our money. It’s too intrusive for me.
My questions are will he be able to see our joint bank account if my wife links her current account to it? If so, how do I talk to my wife about unlinking her father from her account so we can have our own? I’m sorry if these are stupid questions. I’ve only had one bank account and one credit account that I opened myself when I turned 18 so I never had to deal with this.
Dear Joining Woes,
Congrats on your marriage! These aren’t stupid questions. Personal finance isn’t usually taught, so it can feel like randomly feeling your way around in the dark when you’re trying to learn.
The answer to your first question is yes, her father will be able to see the joint checking account information if it’s linked and your accounts are opened at the same bank. I’ll use my own banking system as an example. At Bank 1, I have my primary checking account, a business checking account, and my savings account which holds my emergency fund. Because all three of these accounts are at the same bank, I can easily see them simultaneously when I log into my online banking platform. At Bank 2, I have another checking account. My Bank 1 primary checking account and Bank 2’s checking account are linked together so I can transfer funds between the two as needed. While I can see the bank’s name and the last four digits of the account, I can’t see what the total is in that account.
I suggest your wife open an entirely separate account where she’s the sole account holder, withdraw the funds in her checking account with her dad, and then remove herself from their joint account entirely. Your wife will be getting grief either way, so it’s best if she just removes herself from the situation and allows her father to keep that account. It sounds like a boundary was never put in place between her and her dad when it came to finances and now is a great time to start.
I’m Jewish. My partner isn’t, but knows it’s important to me. We’ve had a lot of conversations about the subject and agreed that we’d raise any kids we had Jewish, etc. I didn’t grow up with Christmas and, quite frankly, don’t enjoy it (he knows this), but we exchange presents because it’s important to him. He chose to propose to me on Christmas, by hiding a ring box in a stocking. It was a surprise. I wasn’t excited.