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Ask Dave

Permission to Spend

Beverly and her husband have a paid-for house and no debt. Beverly finds herself doing more impulsive buying. She's feeling guilty about her spending. Is it okay for them to stop tracking every penny?

QUESTION: Beverly in Buffalo is in her 60s, and she and her husband have a paid-for house and no debt. Beverly finds herself doing more impulsive buying, and while she isn’t spending more than they bring in, she’s still feeling guilty about her spending. At some point, is it okay for them to stop tracking every penny?

ANSWER: Yes. It’s when you give it a category or it’s within boundaries. You would never be comfortable—even if your husband wasn’t looking over your shoulder—you’re not an irresponsible person. If I gave you a large number like $100,000 and said, “Hey, go buy a $100,000 trip and cruise around the world,” you would go, “Oh, no! That’s not what I’m talking about.” You wouldn’t go there, so you have self-imposed boundaries. We just need to agree what they are, and then that lets you buy it without guilt.

My wife is wired kind of a little bit like you. She’s not impulsive or anything like that, but she doesn’t want to do something wrong. What we have to do is in order for Sharon to have fun with money, we have to set aside an amount within our overall budget that we both agree to and we say that this is Sharon’s fun money. If she completely takes this money and throws it out the window into a ditch, then it doesn’t harm us, and if that gives her happiness, throw it in a ditch. That amount of money will not kill us, and that amount of money we’re labeling as fun or blow money, and then she is not only released but she is requested to have fun with that money. The more money you have, the bigger that account can be.

You have been in a deal where your husband ran the money and gave you an allowance. You didn’t have a vote. Now he says, “Go vote,” but there’s no guideline for you to vote with and so it makes you nervous when you do something because there are no boundaries. Instead, let’s go back to the table. Let’s create a written plan with your husband that you both agree to. You’ve got a vote now. This is not him telling you what to do anymore. This is you having a vote and saying this amount of money—and I don’t care how much because you’re not going to put the wrong amount of money in there—you can blow and you can see when you do that by looking at the whole picture that that’s not going to ruin your life or your lives that you’ve built so carefully.

For the first time in your life, you’re going to go buy a $3,000 thingy—you name it, whatever it is—and not worry about it because you have the money, Beverly. It’s time to live like no one else. It’s time to enjoy. He just let his foot off the gas where he’s been holding so tight on everything. Now you’ve got this extra slack in the leash, and you don’t know what to do with it.

You and your husband sit down and look at the budget so that you can do this guilt-free. Then you’re going to enjoy it. It sounds kind of weird, but we’re planning your impulsiveness. The bottom line is there is a number that is a boundary at which point you leave the safety of the expenditure and you go into the risk area. We don’t want to go that far. Let’s find a number that you can spend and feel good about.

You’re speaking for a lot of couples out there. This is a great call. Thank you very much.