I Earn; She Won’t Spend

Dear Rabbi and Susan,

I don’t expect an answer, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt trying.
For context, I am a 29-year-old evangelical roofer, with about a $700k net worth. Our house is paid for and our insurance/utilities/electrical/heat/property taxes equal $420 a month. These last few weeks, I’ve been earning about $2,000 a day.

My wife enjoys giving, but feels guilty spending money on herself, and she projects that attitude on to me. While still good with money (at least I think I am), I have a much easier time spending cash. I’ve bought a few electric unicycles and one-wheels to ride with friends, as well as some business/ investment items. After me begging, she begrudgingly lets me acquire an item, but then resents me for it. It’s a frustrating cycle.

Any marriage advice would be appreciated.


Ricky J.

Dear Ricky,

Some stereotypes reflect reality while others fall far short of the mark. In the 2nd half of the 20th century, there was a trope that showed a hard-working man with a wife who was constantly shopping with utter disregard for a budget. There are probably such couples, but in our own marriage as well as in many marriages with which we are familiar, the women are more frugal than their husbands.

As in so many issues, husbands and wives enter marriage with entirely different perspectives on money management. They have separate family histories, personalities, and ways of approaching finance. This is one of those areas where joining together to become one is a challenge; albeit a challenge that we should embrace. Marriage is a gym for life. To carry the analogy further, it sounds to us like you and your wife are working out on the wrong equipment, with frowns on your face. This is not a successful strategy.

You don’t mention how long you have been married, whether you have children, and if your wife earns money as well. Each of those factors affects how to deal with this mismatch between you. We will try to suggest some questions and topics of discussion that should be raised. From your description, we recommend that you consider involving a carefully chosen financial counselor with marriage experience.

  1. What ‘baggage’ did each of you bring into your marriage? Did you both feel well-taken care of as children or was there financial insecurity in one or both of your homes?
  2. What was the spiritual attitude to money in your homes and education? In our book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money, we spend quite a lot of ink encouraging people to dismiss the negative views towards money that persist in society and often in religious organizations. Charity is wonderful and obligatory according to the Bible, but that does not mean that spending on oneself is wrong. Poverty does not equal virtue and wealth does not equal immorality.
  3. Does your wife feel secure that if something were to happen to you so that you could not continue your physical labor, you would both be able to maintain your standard of living?
  4. Is it clear to both of you that the money you earn belongs to both of you? Does your wife feel that she needs your permission to spend money on something that could be considered frivolous?
  5. Is your wife coming from a place of fear? Often, men have more of an, “We can always make more,” attitude while women worry, “What if we can’t make more?” A combination of those attitudes is healthy.
  6. How can you work on removing words like ‘begging,’ ‘begrudging,’ and ‘resentment’ (and the ideas they represent) from your relationship? Whether you are talking about money, sex, child-raising, in-laws, or anything else, they are damaging concepts.

Ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that the two critical areas in marriage that must be calibrated correctly are money and physical intimacy. It is not unusual to find that if one is not operating smoothly, neither is the other. Obviously, your letter could not and does not reveal the whole story. You are both young enough to tackle all this now and it would be well worth trying to find an older and more experienced person, man or woman, to make the conversation a three-person rather than a two-person discussion. Often that additional perspective and voice helps de-stress what would be a sensitive dialog.

You’ll both be so much happier when this friction point in the machine of your marriage is eliminated.


Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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