DEAR MARY ANN: My husband is a spender and I am a saver. When "John" buys me small trinkets out of kindness, I feel loved. The gifts are thoughtful, poignant and heartfelt. When the buzz of the gift receiving wears off, though, I feel a small bit of regret for his spending money that we do not need to spend. "John" will also buy himself items that he really does not need, but he believes because they were "on sale" he cannot pass up. I am sure that getting these little gifts for himself also make him feel good. How many pairs of tennis shoes does one person really need, though? We are on a fixed income, and I do not want to end up in debt without a retirement nest egg due to a fleeting feeling from a trinket or the too good to pass up sale.
Can you suggest how to redirect his affection away from material items (for us both) and how can I get him to see the benefits of socking away money for a rainy day?
-- I'M SPENT
DEAR SPENT: I understand your concern about ending up in the poor house because your husband buys tchotchkes and gadgets for you. Looking at boxes of unused purchases is frustrating. Short of asking your husband to wear his high school letter jacket to save on the expense of a new winter coat, you must strike a balance between the saving and spending patterns in your marriage.
Initiate the delayed gratification conversation and discuss short- and long-term goals. To clearly see how the $20 here and $50 there expenditures quickly add up, agree to abstain from frivolous spending for a month. Drop a note in a large glass bowl or jar with the amount you would normally have spent impulsively in lieu of actually spending it. At the end of the monthlong experiment tally the amount you have "saved." The sum may be larger than he imagined or less than you believed it would be.
Money in itself is meaningless and saving money cannot be the total focus of your lives. The value of money lies in the opportunities it creates and the dreams it can fulfill. Don't become a policeman and try to control your husband's last dime. On the other hand don't look the other way if you feel his spending is out of control. Recreational shopping, retail therapy and impulsive Internet purchase sprees can wreak havoc on a budget. Compromise so you spend your dollars wisely not frugally.
DEAR MARY ANN: I am fortunate to be very close to my in-laws. Not only geographically, but also emotionally. When I met them 15 years ago they were truly a happy family. About two and a half years ago, my father-in-law fell off a roof. Prior to this event he was a very active man who enjoyed his work and participating in physical activities. I considered him a second father.
The fall resulted in him fracturing his hip and pelvis. He has subsequently had several surgeries, which have only left him in pain and unable to walk without the assistance of a walker. Since this time he has become depressed and has not made any serious attempts at getting on with his life.
My mother-in-law is stressed beyond belief and the finances of the household are significantly being stressed, as my father-in-law is not able to work. I feel helpless watching this unfold. I want to help, but financially I am not really able to assist much as I am barely getting by. Part of me wants to have a conversation with my father-in-law about the tough times they are having and hope that he finds a will to begin living his life again. It makes me uncomfortable to visit now because of all the tension in the household.
I understand that I am not a professional health care or mental health worker, but I want to help. What are my boundaries? I don't want to damage any relationships, but I feel helpless watching my family's lives crumble.
-- PAINFULLY HELPLESS
DEAR HELPLESS: You are in a complicated family situation that requires action. You cannot sit on the sidelines as an observer and watch stress and depression consume your in-laws. Be tactful but forceful as you encourage them to get the medical and social help they need.
Your emotional support is as important as financial support. Invite them to dinner at your house, offer to run errands, grocery shop and do small house projects. Show how much you care as you ease some of their burdens through your thoughtfulness. Gradually you may be able to share insights that will help them make critical lifestyle decisions.
There are few boundaries if you approach this delicate situation with respect and love. Talk openly with your in-laws. Let them know they are not alone and while you cannot take your father-in-law's pain away you are always going to be there for his support. As a family you will survive this transition.
Need some Steel Advice? Email questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Mary Ann Wellener, Steel Advice Column, c/o Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Follow Mary Ann on Twitter at @PGSteelAdvice.