Dear Mrs. Riches,
My wife has this persistent habit of "rounding down" when she's describing any household expenditures. The clothes she bought for the kids for $115 cost "just a hundred dollars," or the gym membership for $39.99 a month is "30 dollars." It's not like these expenses threaten to break our budget, nor am I trying to nickel and dime. I'm just wondering why she can't tell me the real cost of things.
-- Round and Getting Rounder
You mean you haven't fudged about the cost of something -- say, a new Palm Treo or that cool ride-on lawnmower -- just to make the sticker shock a little less . shocking? Really?
Call it the $19.99 effect. Most of us like the sound of a price that is a little rounded down so we can feel good, or at least less bad, about buying nonessentials. But does that mean you're wrong to question this dubious practice? Absolutely not.
Ask yourself whether your wife is doing this for her own benefit or yours. If she's had a lifelong habit of guilt associated with spending or grew up in a home where the soft toilet paper was a luxury, then her fudging may be about making the act of spending more psychologically comfortable for herself. But take a look at yourself, too. Do you raise your eyebrows over every expense or give her a hard time about the household budget? Have the two of you had a history of tension regarding money? She may be reacting to what she anticipates will be your disapproval.
Once you have your answer, you'll be able to figure out how to proceed. If the problem lies with her, you may need to simply reassure her that you're not angry over how much she spends and then accept her little foibles (while mentally adding an automatic 5% to her price quote). If it's you, pinpoint the source of your mistrust or annoyance. You said this isn't about breaking the budget, but do you secretly worry about that? This may simply mean that the two of you have some work to do in the area of communication. The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples and Cash, with its low-stress exercises and talking points, may be just the trick.
Dear Mrs. Riches,
I'm engaged to be married this June. As the date gets closer, I'm thinking a lot about a little something I've kept from my fiancee. My nasty little secret is that I have a bad credit rating left over from a college credit card five years ago. I guess I've been kind of hoping that the issue won't come up until after seven years are over and I can get it wiped away. But now my fiancee is talking about buying a house, and my "why worry about that now?" answers are starting to sound lame, even to me. Got some tricks to bail a guy out?
-- Sinking Ship
In a word, no. It sounds as if quick fixes and a love of instant gratification have gotten you in the mess you're in. Don't compound your mistakes by taking the easy way out now. There's still enough time before the wedding for your fiancee to forgive your dishonesty and for the two of you to have a lot of soulful conversations about your new and improved ability to communicate about money.
My suggestion is that you come clean -- no lame defense about being addicted to pizza and beer, or how the credit card companies should be strung up for putting plastic in the hands of someone so young and irresponsible -- though they should. Just make it about you, the simple truth, and some honest remorse.
Count yourself lucky if she forgives, but don't expect her to forget. In fact, forgetting might just be the slippery slope to more problems in the future. The two of you would be wise to follow The Motley Fool's "3 Steps to Fiscal Health" and to commit to a lifelong habit of financial prudence till death do you part.
Want to read earlier advice from Mrs. Riches? Check these out:
Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a counselor in private practice who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of the Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement newsletter. She can be reached via email if you have a question about money and relationships.