I like him but he's weird about money

I'm reasonably thrifty but I have my pleasures. He on the other hand is an absolute miser!

Published April 29, 2008 10:25AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a 55-year-old woman. I have a boyfriend 10 years younger than me. We've been dating for three years.

He cares nothing for the material world, lives frugally and rarely spends any money. He drives an old wreck of a car he bought for $1,000. I don't believe he has bought himself any new clothes since I've known him (I'm not counting his occasional trips to Goodwill). His idea of food is cheap, warm and plenty. His home is shabby, dirty (very dirty) and cluttered. He earns a decent income as a teacher and has investment income. He has plenty of money because he spends very, very little.

As for myself, I live modestly, but appreciate comfort and beauty and the occasional indulgence. I have no debt (besides my home), drive a sporty, but well-maintained 7-year-old car. My home is small but comfortable, clean and orderly. I have a few pieces of art that give me great pleasure. I have a small retirement account. I enjoy trying new recipes and having friends over for dinner.

My boyfriend criticizes my lifestyle and spending as being too extravagant (I bought a laptop computer! I buy perfume! I have lunch out once a week!) and he says I'll be living in poverty when I retire. I'll admit I could save more and spend less -- fewer shoes and more money in the IRA. But I don't want to sacrifice everything now for a room with a view in the nursing home!

In the beginning, I didn't realize the extent to which our financial/lifestyle differences would be a problem. Our differences are a daily obstacle too great for me to consider the possibility of us living together or marrying.

We do, however, enjoy each other's company. He's funny and smart. And frankly, we have the best sexual relationship I've ever had.

I have a job I love in education, my children are successfully launched, I'm in good health, and I have a circle of friends that I enjoy.

But ... there are times when I long for someone with whom I might fully share my life. Someone with whom I could share interests and experiences and life views. However, I've been divorced for the past 15 years and a loving, committed relationship has eluded me. How do I come to terms with my situation?

No Spendthrift

Dear No Spendthrift,

You and your boyfriend are in education, so you know how to teach and learn. That is good. My father was in education, too. He knows a great deal about how to teach and learn. But he does not know much about money and so he did not teach me much about money.

I read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" recently and enjoyed it because the poor dad in the book was also an educator. He knew how to teach and learn but not much about money. He was paid well and yet had money problems. I read "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" with interest because I could relate to being well-educated yet ignorant about money, powerless to manage it, embroiled in relationship troubles because of it, and seemingly unable to learn its simple qualities, attributes and procedures.

I have thought about money a lot. Thinking about it didn't do me much good until I saw that my problem with money was emotional. It wasn't mental. It wasn't that money was too abstruse a topic. It was that I literally could not deal with money emotionally. I could not bring myself to humble myself enough to buy books and take classes to learn how money really works. I was afraid to even watch Suze Orman; it was like she was emasculating or something. Seriously. Like if I listened to her she would take all my money away and I'd have nothing to play with. OK, maybe I am more screwed up than most. But I do think I am not alone in finding that while I am intellectually capable of understanding money concepts, I have resisted changing my behavior with money for emotional reasons.

You and your boyfriend have a really good situation. It would be a shame if you couldn't spend your lives together just because you refuse to engage in a serious dialogue about money. It's an emotional thing. You look at his dirty house and your head may say, Well, he's made a rational decision. But your heart just says, Loser. Your heart is kind of heartless that way. Likewise in his head he respects your need for occasional luxuries, but his heart says, Weakling! Won't survive!

If each of you could learn the emotional roots of you attitudes about money, and change your behavior just a little bit, you might gain a great deal of personal happiness. I think you and he ought to go see a therapist and try to systematically identify the emotional components of your behavior about money.

Once you get over the emotional thing, each of you could probably be a champion money manager, because once you get over the fear thing, it's just like any other subject. It has its rules and its history and its properties and its different cultural manifestations and all the rest.

I myself, I have just started learning about money. I did not really know what equity was, or what an asset is, or why you depreciate things, or what a balance sheet is, or a cash flow statement. I knew almost nothing. Now I know a tiny amount. But my goal is to learn enough about money so I can use it as a tool to be flexible in life.

I too am concerned about how to satisfy my Zuni habit into my 80s if I don't figure out the money thing. So I'd advise all my fellow ex-hippie-generation teachers and other smart-type people to get on the money wagon and figure out how to make the stuff. Because we can't count on anybody to help us. We're going to have to do it ourselves. We're not like my dad with 18 different pensions from the war and different jobs and all that. We're going to have to do it ourselves.

Thinking about money? See p. 44, 47 and 81.

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