Wow, how about that title. I can almost smell the politically correct outrage! But let’s explain right away, lest Mr. Money Mustache 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 Mr. Money Mustache 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 Mr. Money Mustache”, 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!
* “This is the person you Love”.. but who do you ask for Purchasing Permission if you are single? Well, you can ask Me, Mr. Money Mustache, 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.