Money Talks: What’ll it cost me to never have to have one?

I’ve always been squeamish about money: internally; with my husband; with my Stitch Fix stylist, who’s a robot.

Accountant
Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

I’ve always been squeamish about money: internally; with my husband; with my Stitch Fix stylist, who’s a robot. When I first filled out the Stitch Fix survey, I felt cheap checking the lowest price point for every category of clothes, so I picked the second-lowest for shoes because what can you get for $50 in shoes? Aside from Toms, which are $40. So now you know how much I spend on shoes, and all it cost me was this rash slowly encircling my wrist and creeping along my arm to my collarbone.

Money. I don’t like talking about it. I especially don’t like Money Talks, which couples, especially married ones, are familiar with. Eventually one had to happen to us because we’re married with children, for Pete’s sake, and the day’s going to come when one of them asks us about money. We owe them a better answer than garbled axioms and telling them to look the rest up on the internet (easily 99 percent garbled axioms).

It’s not like we’ve spent the past five years being married and never doing a thing with our money other than blindly spending it though obviously that would be my strong preference. But we can’t—because consequences—so we sock it away in retirement accounts and college accounts and pride ourselves on maintaining good credit scores and a low level of debt.

Somehow.

Somehow this has all managed to happen without our ever having been rich and without our ever having strictly adhered to a budget, which is a thing I never wanted to do, never wanted to even imagine having to do.

Can’t he and I just agree to only buy essential groceries with the occasional yummy, nonessential grocery, purchase clothes as needed and keep stealing the neighbors’ internet? Come on. Wasn’t there a time before budgets when this was how people had to live their lives?

If I’m starting to sound arrogant, my rash and I will share with you here that my starting salary out of school was $26,000. Please recall this was in 2006, however, and that adjusted for inflation, $26,000 in 2006 was still bupkis. So maybe now you’re thinking that it’s a good thing I took that personal finance class in college, but I’ll have you know that class was taught in what appeared to be actual hieroglyphics; furthermore, whatever I gleaned from it I pay back in nightmares that I still suffer from 11 years later.

As for the budget, my husband and I finally got around to it thanks to one of those budget apps filled with pictures of beautiful people there to trick you into thinking you’re on a dating app and that, if you shave just 6 percent off your utilities spending next month, you can be 22 forever! With a nice-looking dog.

“How much do we spend on groceries?” my husband asked.

“In an hour?” I asked him.

“A day.” He looked at me, disbelieving.

“A hundred dollars!” I declared. “At some point I’ve definitely spent $100 on groceries. This chicken sandwich cost $5.99.”

“How much would you say we spend eating out?” Ahem. It wasn’t the time or place, but please note as an aside that at the pizza place he always wants meat-lover’s, which is 2 dollars more than the veggie.

We have people in our family who work in money, in the Excel spreadsheet kind of way, not in the way of Scrooge McDuck. My brother-in-law’s one of them. A great guy. Also a money guy, and that’s as specific I can get in describing what he does without having to send an extremely embarrassing email. Money guys: mysterious in the way of people who have, at one time, lived in New York. The rest of us don’t really get it, but we’re told it’s better there and to not think too hard about it.

Nor do I try. When my brother-in-law, who works from home and thus also on the road, comes to visit my parents’ house, he always greets us warmly before retreating to the guest room for the morning. When he comes out, he looks like someone who just suffered through a bar exam while stationary-biking the Tour de France. What happened to him in there? I’ll bet he had to draw up a damn budget.

So if I have questions about money, why can’t I just ask him? I could, and he would be so nice about it. He’d start by asking me to print out some basic things concerning my accounts, and only after I’d presented him with my Facebook account password, an AllRecipes.com ingredients list and a drawing of a horse would he glimpse the enormity of what he’d agreed to take on.

If my parents are reading this, everything is OK. This is not a cry for help. It’s not a cry for you to send money, although I did just notice I have $0 allotted in the budget under hygiene, so if you just won’t take no for an answer, send shampoo. And a single shirt-jacket combo every six to eight weeks because I’m canceling my subscription to Stitch Fix.

Here’s my question. Let’s say it all goes according to plan. Let’s say we save up a whole mess of money and we’re just Scrooge McDuckin’ it daily. (We won’t be. That’s not the point.) Can I ask my brother-in-law for help then? I still don’t think I can. I have an ex-boyfriend who once found out his roommate had $10,000 in his checking account. Can you believe that idiot? I think those were my ex’s exact words, which were terrible, but I probably smiled at them in a weak effort to cover up that I had no idea where he was heading with that—besides, obviously, the pending breakup.

All hope isn’t lost. I dumped the ex-boyfriend. I did my best to at least show up to my personal finance class, which was enough to learn not to put rent on a credit card or invest in gold bars. And I may not wash my hair this month, but I’ll cut off an arm before denying my kids the money for college, where they’ll learn the same things I did and choose not to invest in gold bars.

Actually, if all goes according to plan, they can skip personal finance completely because we’re going to make them start budgeting in high school. As much as I resent being held accountable to a spreadsheet dressed up as a social network, I have to admit it has its uses, and they’re not all terrible.

For instance: I’m not great at breaking up. It took me a year to give that one awful ex the heave-ho—my human ex-boyfriend, which I emphasize here because you’ll recall I’ve lately learned I can’t afford Stitch Fix, which puts me up against a beast of a different nature. What if “Stephanie” just won’t take no for an answer? If that’s even her real name. What’s real about her is she has my email address. She has my shipping address. She knows about my weakness for jeans with cleverly incorporated elastic.

What will it take to convince her? Well. I’m told money talks, and in my Stitch Fix column there’s simply none of it.

Catch you on the flip, Steph. Please, not in my dreams because that’s where personal finance lives.

(September 2017)

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