My boyfriend is cheap

He makes me pay him back 44 cents for a postage stamp!

Published September 28, 2010 1:01AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have been dating a wonderful man for six years. We have a great time together; he is funny, smart, quirky, intelligent and kind to animals. I look up to this man in so many ways. He is inquisitive, cares about his family and is very independent. I could see myself marrying this man.

Here is the rub: He is cheap. Not thrifty, CHEAP. Since we started dating, we have split everything (meals, gas, etc.) but we both make about the same salary and I was raised to pay for myself so this never bothered me. What bothers me is when he picks up a stamp for me while he is at the post office and then asks me for the 44 cents. What bothers me is that when he comes to my place for dinner (about five nights a week), he doesn't bring anything. If we go to a party thrown by his friends, he expects me to help pay for the wine we bring, but if we go to a party thrown by my friends, I'm on my own to pay for it. If I run out of money and need to borrow a dollar, he is damn sure to get that dollar back from me. He won't go certain places if he has to drive (even a few blocks) because he doesn't want to pay for gas. It's crazy. This is unlikely an actual money issue as he came from a well-to-do family, has enough money to live comfortably and frequently buys himself very nice things.

Apparently, his father is very cheap as well, and perhaps this is where he picked it up, but I'm worried that it is a deeper issue. He will go out of his way for me: He is very generous to me with his affection and time. But, when it comes to cash, he is just absurdly cheap, and his strange deal with money makes me think that there is some deeply selfish side to him that is being reflected in this cheapness.

I'm not interested in finding out how to get him to buy me presents, I don't care about splitting the bill with him for everything, but I do want to deal with this for myself, once and for all so it can stop pissing me off. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill or is his cheapness indicative of some bigger problem? If so, how do I possibly bring this up to him without sounding like a gold digger?


Dear Wilted,

You could give him an invoice.

He might dispute some charges. For instance, on the

bottle of wine for the party: 1/2

he might dispute his share because he didn't drink any of it. You would have to say: Note the

category: gifts.

On the postage stamp thing, if you give him a postage stamp, bill him

$USD 0.44 first class postage, 1

Give him a monthly invoice of all the charges for which he is in arrears. See if he will write you a check for those things.

If you're going to marry each other you're going to be using money together all the time. You're going to be eating together and buying groceries and cars.

You are going to have to get to know what money means to each of you.

Try this. Take his wallet and look in it for dollars. Ask him if you can have a dollar. Look at his money. See how much he has. Does he panic? See what happens if you open his wallet and take some money out of it and say to him, Can I have this?

See what he does if you take his wallet and take money out of it.

Here is something else you can do together about money that may be fun:

Put a jar on the kitchen counter.

When he comes over for dinner, ask him to put any spare change he has into the jar. Say it is a jar you are saving money into so that you and he can go do something cool. Then when the jar is full you and he can take the money out and go into the world together and do something cool with the change you saved in a jar on the kitchen counter.

I would work at total acceptance of his behavior around money. That might give you the courage to ask him to pay for things. Not because he has to change. But because you want the money.

It's just money.

Make it about the money. Don't make it about the relationship or his attitudes or his cheapness.

He pays his bills, right? He gets invoices and pays them? He probably scrutinizes them but he pays them because he recognizes them as legitimate. Maybe he does not recognize the bringing of wine to a party as legitimate. So you could explain to him that wine is the money of friendship. It is money in the economy of the friend. In the economy of the friend, we pretend that money is not the issue, because we like to have this primitive fantasy that friendship exists when we are cavemen, before money was invented, because we are still tribal in our friendships and no other countries exist; there is no France or England, there is only our cave or our tent into which we invite you if you bring a Snickers bar or a bottle of burgundy. We elevate friendship by insisting on barter because barter requires intimacy. We feel that friendship is poetic and tribal. We bring bottles of wine and little gifts. There is no door charge at a dinner party. There is no man at the little restaurant desk by the door with a pen and a little lamp; your name does not appear on a list; you do not tip the hostess. You bring flowers or wine or a card. We are strange bankers in the primitive economy of friendship.

Here is something I was thinking about the other night.

Army guys in movies are always borrowing 10 bucks from each other and then paying it back on payday. Buddies borrow money from each other. Usually they're in barracks. Or they play poker and win money from each other. I wasn't in the Army but I had a buddy who had been in the Army and he was always borrowing 10 bucks until payday.

So here is the insight I think I had about money the other night.

Friends don't borrow money from each other now, because they each of them has a relationship with a credit company. All these relationships that used to be horizontal, between people of equal status, are now vertical, between individuals and powerful companies.

Borrowing money from each other involved charm and trust and morality and integrity. The trust and security that involved has shifted from individual-to-individual relationships to individual-to-company relationships. All that beautiful friend-to-friend commerce has shifted. All that borrowing from friend to friend strengthened the friendships; it bound people together. It created gratitude. We like to lend money to our friends. It makes us feel good. And we like to know that our friends will lend us money. Every time you lent money to a friend you thought, well, if I ever need money, I can probably ask. So you felt secure in your network of family and friends, if you ever had a car break down or an emergency repair, or something came up like a death, and you were short on money, you had this calming thought of all the money you had lent to people, and how if you got in a pinch, they would be there for you.

Now you have your credit limit.

Your friends never charged you interest, did they? They'd just lend you the money. So it was a gift. There was a lot of gifting of money. People got to feel kind. Hey, I'm doing a favor. I'm lending him 10 bucks. And if we were in a jam, it was cool. It was massive social reciprocity.

So what would your boyfriend do if you were in a jam?

Those of us who grew up without money also grew up with a sense that we didn't belong near the fur. We didn't belong in the perfume store. The people with gold rings and shiny shoes gave us looks. We were tattered and frayed. We had dirt on us. We didn't stand the way they stood.

You go into a big hotel lobby if you're poor and you feel like you don't have permission to be there.

It's about class. You can confuse the raw tribal feelings of class condescension with the money that is the medium of class condescension.

But, strictly speaking, money is free and ahistorical. It's like water. That's what gangsters figure out. Anybody can get money. Money can be found. That's the beautiful thing that makes capitalism a medium of social change and social mobility, is that money itself is classless; everybody needs stuff and anybody can provide it. Think about garbage. Garbage isn't high-class. There are fortunes to be made in garbage because people confuse money with class. If you're high-class you don't want to make your money in garbage. You want to sell books or furs. But money doesn't care. Cash doesn't care. Cash is classless.

Once you get that, you can separate your class hatred from your feelings about money.

Anyway, that's a digression. But the digressions are the best part, no? And this has to do with thinking about money, what it means, and what our behaviors with money mean.

Your boyfriend loves you. He just has certain ways of thinking about money.

We say, "It isn't about the money." But it is about the money. To say it isn't about the money is to demean money. Like money isn't important. But money is very important. Money is just slippery and hard to deal with, but it is the issue. We say, it's not about the money, it's about fairness. It's about not being cheap. Or it's about attitudes. But attitudes toward what? It's his attitude toward money.

He loves you. It's not his attitude toward you. He doesn't think this is about you. He thinks this is about money. And it is. It's about your attitude toward money and his attitude toward money.

"Attitude" is an interesting word. It means relation toward. Like where you stand. So to be graphic we could have you each stand in relation to money in a certain way, so you are both regarding money as a third thing.

We get in the habit of regarding money as ours. There's my money and your money. Like money is attached to us. But money is outside of us.

So the one approach is to invoice him. And the other approach is to get into what money means.

Wouldn't it be great if there were a money museum where you could just go and look at money?

The SYA eBook is here!

Want more?


By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Coupling Since You Asked