Money for dummies

Dear Dissonance,

Since we are going through a little pre-marriage counseling, let’s talk money.

You shouldn’t worry so much about whether your Patient and her soon-to-be husband have it or not. Being without it or having an abundance of it is only important in so far as it dictates our tactics. One or the other isn’t fundamentally good or bad in the eyes of Our Father – or the Enemy for that matter. It is the person’s relationship to money that matters.

Obviously, there are fundamental benefits to each position. Having lots of money can blind humans to the Enemy’s preposterous idea of redemption, because who needs to be saved from the hell of private schools, custom marble baths, curated wardrobes, luxury SUVs and regular sushi? Thus the whole thing in the Bible about it being easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Not having money, on the other hand, often makes humans think all of their problems would be solved with more of it, blocking a self-examination of potential character flaws. Those are both ideal situations for us.

But there is a difference, for example, between being broke and being poor. The former is a state, the latter is a worldview. We are interested in worldview.

In regards to your Patient, she has certain ingrained habits that will work in our favor during her married life.

She is used to buying things whenever she wants them without having to explain her purchases, for example. Through experience my guess is that it will be very difficult for her to put her spending in the open for her husband to assess. I know plenty of wives, for example, who pay cash for designer shoes and handbags so none of it shows up on a joint credit card statement. Most men don’t notice new clothes and accessories to begin with and it’s really easy to pull off the “This old thing? I’ve had it for years” deception. I even know one super rich one who put an addition on her house with cash without her husband realizing it because he travelled so much for work.

The key is to encourage her to create a secret spending life. Once the foundation is established, small purchases here and there can lead to ever larger ones, which could interrupt mortgage payments or delay fulfilling other important recurring expenses, like food. More importantly, the more she spends on her own, the more she thinks she deserves to have a hidden life not just for buying things, but with friendships, ways to raise children, etc. The list is almost endless. That will without fail lead to feelings of betrayal and, frequently, massive blow ups when one spouse finds out what the other has been up to without his or her knowledge.

Another key point on this topic. Never let your Patient and her husband set a budget. Why? A budget is a list of priorities and a statement of shared values. We don’t want them sharing anything, for starters. And we certainly don’t want them individually focused on achieving the budget they created together. That requires honesty, self-discipline and commitment and unfortunately builds more of those vulgar qualities the longer they are practiced. It’s one thing to think that you spend too much on alcohol, for example, and quite another to see the monthly liquor store bill on an Excel spreadsheet. As long as things are in the dark, they don’t get fixed.

In addition, budgets are remarkably powerful at lifting people out of debt and focused on goals. We like people to feel as if they have no control over their finances so that poor choice builds on poor choice until a person feels helpless to change their behavior and is so underwater that they lose a house, a car or can’t get a job because of a bad credit score. This can lead to shame, or more likely, self-pity and days filled with hours of sitting on the couch watching HGTV and Cooking Channel shows offering advice on home improvement and baking tips the watcher has no intention of trying.

So, be vigilant. When money discussions come up, distract your Patient quickly with making dinner or needing to run out to the gym before it closes or sending a work email – whatever, so long as it delays the talk. With enough of these, the topic will stop coming up altogether.

Your affectionate aunt,

Pandemonium

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