Dear Mrs. Riches,
My wife is driving us to financial ruin one name brand at a time. Our kids are dressed in designer clothes, we sleep on sheets with some ridiculous thread count that only she notices, and she shops only at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's "because they're the best." She regularly cites purchases made by other families in the neighborhood as if I should feel compelled to keep up with the Joneses, but meanwhile we have very little savings and a tidy amount of credit card debt. Our house looks like something out of a Pottery Barn catalog but I can't even enjoy it; I keep wondering when our house of cards is going to blow over. Do you have some words of advice for a husband at the end of his rope?
-- Suffering from Spending Fatigue
Drat those Joneses! If they would just move to some remote location, perhaps everyone could stop using them as human yardsticks to measure success. But let's not lay all of the responsibility squarely on their shoulders; surely we can blame Pottery Barn for making everything look so darn cute in their catalogs.
In all seriousness, your problem is a problem, not just for you, but I suspect for many of the people in your neighborhood who are busy trying to keep up with your wife. They may even consider you the resident Jones family. And isn't that a ridiculous picture -- everyone scurrying around trying to out-spend and out-decorate everyone else?
There are a lot of possible explanations for why your wife feels compelled to shop exclusively for name-brand items -- some are larger societal issues (all that advertising really does work!) and some may be more personal in nature. The personal issues could range from insecurity to boredom to a compulsive spending problem, from personal preference to simply emulating her family of origin, or a combination of anything therein. You can spend some time trying to analyze your wife in hopes that you'll hit on the reason, but you'll still be stuck trying to figure out what to do about it. I suspect that you've already hit a roadblock with that one.
I would turn the problem over to a pro, a financial planner who can sit with the both of you and get you working on developing a set of shared goals for your family. You can come clean about your debts, look at your savings vs. spending, and then develop a plan of attack. My guess is that your wife currently wears blinders when it comes to seeing how her spending affects the family. With a financial expert bluntly saying, "Your kids can go to college or you can help send the children of Pottery Barn employees to college -- which do you choose?" there will be fewer ways for her to dodge the impact of her name-brand fixation.
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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. To get your money and relationship questions answered, send her an email .