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How We Finally Stopped Fighting Over Money

Photograph by Twenty20

People always told me that the number-one thing couples fight about is money. I can’t remember how many times I saw that same old line in relationship articles or advice columns. However, I never really believed it. That must be something that unhappy people fight about, I thought.

Well, I wouldn’t be writing this today if I wasn’t dead wrong about that.

I came from a very frugal family. We lived in a house built in 1899. My parents were DIY’ers to the extreme. My mom spent hours canning vegetables and sauces. She would wash out Zip-loc bags and re-use them until they fell apart. Same thing with tinfoil and yogurt/cottage cheese containers. We were—and still are—avid garage sale bargain hunters.

I went into my marriage thinking all of this was just the way life is done. You never hold a debt, but if you have to, pay it off immediately at the expense of everything else. Never waste anything and you’ll never want for anything.

My husband came from a similar background. Yet, his way of handling money was very different from mine. As we settled into marriage, issues arose as our philosophies about money clashed.

“Why do you do that?” He asked me one night as I patiently washed out all of our used Ziploc bags and hung them in random places around the kitchen to dry.

“We can reuse them,” I said. “It saves money.”

“Seriously?” He retorted. “How much does a bag of Ziplocs cost?”

I was huffy about it. More than huffy—I was mad. This is how my mom taught me to live. This was how I was raised, and I felt like he was attacking me and my parents. We clashed over this several times. He even calculated the total money I was saving reusing the bags in an attempt to show me that it wasn’t worth it. Yes, really.

That’s when it finally clicked on both sides. This wasn’t about the money. It was about family.

My husband, on the other hand, couldn't care less about bargain hunting. He would often come home with brand-new clothes for our daughter that she would just go to pee on or spill chocolate milk all over! Not to mention that she'd grow out of them in the blink of an eye. It drove me crazy.

“We don’t work this hard to put our daughter in used clothes!” he'd exclaim.

And so we argued. Over and over and over again. Neither of us were really listening to the other and we just couldn't seem to make the other person understand.

That’s when it finally clicked on both sides. This wasn’t about the money. It was about family. But both of us were so focused on the dollar amount that we weren’t addressing the underlying reason why the baggies and new clothes were important (or not) to us.

I started to understand how our attitudes about money are shaped by our family values.

For me, reusing those baggies was tied to my upbringing and connection to my mother. But to my husband, me recycling those items meant I was spending time on something that didn't even save us that much money—time that I could've been spending with my family instead. And this made total sense to me.

For him, buying new clothes for our daughter meant he was able to take care of his child without fear of people judging us. However, from my history with bargain hunting, I knew that you could often find practically new kids' clothes at a million places. Once I showed him some clothes I’d bought her at a sale that were so barely worn they looked brand-new, he realized what his hangups were and could see my side.

Now that we’re coming up on our six-year anniversary, we don’t quibble over money anymore. We have, through many heated or not-so-heated discussions and "I feel" statements, come to an understanding. My husband understands that bargain hunting can pay off, even if it is a little more work. And I've come to understand that time and experiences with your family are more important than money.

It was by no means an easy road to get here, but by keeping the lines of communication open, we’re going to be a solid unit together, for richer or poorer.

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