“My husband and I have very different styles when it comes to money,” said Lisa, 46, who has been married for 21 years. “Drew is a tightwad who agonizes over every purchase. I make my decisions — even big ones — fast. I actually bought the first SUV I test-drove — and never looked back.
“Until recently Drew and I didn’t argue about money. We made enough to raise three kids, pay our bills, save plenty, and buy what we wanted without too much thought. But over the past few years our incomes have dropped: Drew is a civil engineer and he was laid off when the recession hit. He got a new job pretty quickly but took a big pay cut. I run my own PR firm and my business has slowed, too. Like everyone else, we’ve been hurt by the stock market. Things have improved, but we’re still down about 25 percent in our retirement and college funds — and the growth we were expecting didn’t happen. Our future suddenly doesn’t look as secure as it once did, and we’re nervous.
“We’ve been trying to spend less and it’s been a big adjustment, especially for me. We’ve cut back, canceled a vacation, stopped eating out every week, and postponed some home repairs. At this point I think we’ve tightened our belts enough, but Drew keeps looking for more ways to save. The other day he freaked when I came home with takeout for the second time this week. And yesterday, when I told him I bought a suit, he asked me why I needed new clothes right now. I’m not used to being questioned like this. He’s driving me crazy!
“I grew up in a family where money was a constant problem: My father couldn’t keep a job; my mother was an alcoholic. I’ve been supporting myself since I was a teenager and I’m used to being self-reliant. I met Drew when we were in college. We bonded over the fact that we were both putting ourselves through school. I really liked how responsible he was about money.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Drew as stressed out as he is now. All he ever talks about is how bad the economy is and how we’ll never have as much money as we used to have. I think he’s overreacting. He says I’m in denial. Unfortunately, his anxiety is upsetting our kids. Ellen, 20, asked me the other day if she’ll have to take a leave of absence from school, and Ryan, 17, wondered if we could still afford to send him to college next year. Kate, 11, hasn’t said anything, but I know she’s scared because she doesn’t nag me to take her shopping anymore.
“Drew and I constantly argue. Our worst fight was over our daughter’s college housing. Ellen wasn’t eligible for a dorm room this year, so when she couldn’t find a nice apartment I suggested that we buy a small condo near campus. I figured we’d rent it or sell it after she graduated. But Drew said we couldn’t afford it although the mortgage was only $200 more than what rent would be. It was our first blowup about a major purchase. I told him I’d borrow the down payment from my IRA and get the mortgage myself. He then let me use our joint savings and cosigned the loan, but he’s been bitter ever since. He keeps telling me the condo’s lost 20 percent of its value and that I bullied him into buying it.
“I love Drew but I hate his negativity. And I can’t stand it that he constantly questions my spending. Last month he canceled our cleaning service without telling me. Was he trying to get even with me for the condo? Maybe counseling can help us figure out how to handle our differences because I really can’t go on living like this.”