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Monday, April 2, 2012

Question 8

Dear Dr. T
    I loved the advice in your book and it has helped me examine my life and my life with my boyfriend. We have been living together for a little under 2 years now but we don't talk that much about money. He racked up a bit of debt to his family members in a short period of unemployment and now has a well paying job, but is still struggling to pay his family members back. How can I approach him in conversation about being better at managing his money and controlling spending habits? I don't want to come off as a nagging girlfriend, but I know if we are going to be together in the long run, we need to have more open discussion about money and I'm just not sure how to engage in said conversation.


Concerned Girlfriend

Dear Concerned Girlfriend,
    Money is still a taboo subject in this country, so you and your boyfriend are typical in that you don't talk much about money. Many people think talking about it is unromantic and get married without having had a serious discussion about it. The result can be a nasty surprise later on. You don't have to be a nagging girlfriend to want to understand your own and your boyfriend's way of relating to money, so that you can both think about whether what you want out of your future relationship will fit with your money styles, your hopes and expectations. The conversation about money should occur when you are ready to talk about the future of your relationship. You are thinking about whether you should stay together for the long run, so this is probably a good time to open up this area of discussion. Your question implies that it is not just the temporary debt your boyfriend accumulated while unemployed but something about the way he manages money and his spending habits which makes you worried about the long term. First, without mentioning money, you should tell him that you are thinking about what kind of future the two of you might have together and ask what he thinks. I would stop there – not yet mentioning money- and let him say what he is thinking about the future. If he does say he wants to make a life together with you, you could then say that you want that too, but you do have some concerns when it come to how he handles money. Don't criticize but use "I" messages such as "It worries me that if you can't pay off your debts now, we could end up in debt later on."
Dr. T.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Question 7

Dear Readers,

A while ago I expressed a wish to get more questions from younger readers to balance the ones coming  from those of use who are what we might call mature. Now because my book is being used as an assigned reading in a class on The Ethics Of Making Money being give at Hiram College, I have received a number of such letters from students in that class. Here is one of them. I will be sending more from time to time.

Dear Dr. T.,

I am reading your book about money and happiness. As a graduating college student I am trying to make the decision of whether or not to take on debt to attend graduate school.  I would really like to attend a master's program, and I believe that I will be able to work at a more enjoyable job if I attend graduate school. In weak economic times, should I risk taking on debt to achieve a more enjoyable job? Or, should I be more cautious and risk my happiness for more financial security?

Confused Graduate

Dear Confused Graduate,

            This is a very good and pertinent question in these economic times. First of all keep in mind that the economy is cyclical. It won't always be bad, but employment does seem to be the last to recover this time around. Also, different kind of skills will be in demand at different times so, if you are considering taking on significant debt to go to graduate school, it would be wise to do some research to get an idea what professions will be in demand in the future and what they might pay. I think the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics might be a good place to start. Also, speak to people working in the field in which you are interested, to see what they think, not only about future employability but also future earning capacity and what it is really like working in the area you are considering. Some jobs are not all they are cracked up to be. Some have a very high burn out rate. That being said, happiness at work is a very valuable commodity. You will spend 40 to 50 hours a week or more at work for a big chunk of your life. So, if you are sure you will really like what you will be doing, and are disciplined enough to pay off debt over time (are you disciplined about spending now?), going for the education may well be your best investment.

Dr. T.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Question 6

Dear Dr. T.

My husband is in need of your advice. His grandfather and father have spent their lives living on very little money in order to put their earnings away in "savings." They say that savings is money that is never ever to be spent in any circumstances. I love my husband, but we just do not make a large enough income to be able to sock away money quite this way. Instead of being able to be happy with our ability to get by and have a moderate but happy lifestyle in this economy, he feels worthless because he lacks net worth.

I've spoken to him about how money in no way determines his worth as a person, but I cannot seem to get through to him, and his depression worsens. In addition, our once happy marriage has for many years now been rocky as he resents every "unnecessary" expenditure I make (such as dessert, coffee, or haircuts).

Please help us sort the money issues before they ruin a wonderful marriage. My husband may have inherited money issues from his father and grandfather, but when we were younger they didn't seem to define him. I know there must be a way for him to get back to the way he felt back then.

Thank you so much for your time,
Abby in Arizona

Dear Abby in Arizona,
You have very good reason to be concerned, since your husband’s behavior is making you unhappy and undermining your marriage. But, while he may need my advice, it doesn’t sound like he would welcome or be ready to hear it – at least not without some groundwork being laid. It seems that his beliefs and attitudes about money have become a part of a fixed belief system, ingrained in him since childhood. Such beliefs, often act as a defense against some imagined fear which can grow in the face of life’s many stresses such as aging or going through a recession. We all have defenses but, when held too tightly, they can become rigid and maladaptive.
Money related behaviors are often based on irrational ideas. The idea that savings should never, ever be spent is irrational. Money has a purpose which is to store value for future spending or to build capital which will generate more income to be spent.  Ask your husband what the savings he wants the two of you to accumulate are to be used for. It could be fore a rainy day, or to use in case of catastrophe, or for security in old age, or to pass on to children so they will be ok. If he comes up with an answer, with which you can agree, then you have a basis for further discussion and creating a plan for balanced spending and saving.
But if, as you suspect, it is only to bolster his sense of self worth, he needs to learn that money alone never ends up making anyone feel they are worthwhile for very long. And focusing on money for this reason usually sabotages one’s personal happiness and his relationships.  There should always be some rational reason, based on valid values, for saving. Such a reason always allows for money’s possible use in the future. Ask him what values are important to him and how saving money now will further those values in the future. If he can give you a reasonable answer, you might have the basis for further discussion. But, my experience working with people who base their self esteem on net worth is that it usually takes a lot of work and time to even begin to modify their beliefs. So, be patient but persistent if you can.
You feel he is imposing his beliefs and expectations on you and you are unhappy, not only because he is resenting you for what most people would consider very ordinary and reasonable expenditures, but also because you feel your once happy marriage has become rocky.  I can suggest a few things you can try to make things better for yourself. One is to assure him that you know he is concerned about money and feels badly about how little you are saving right now, but also tell him clearly that he is making you feel badly and worried about your marriage. First make sure he feels understood and loved by you.  Then tell him that you want him to understand your feelings and consider your point of view as well.  If he loves you and also can accept that his behavior is causing you feel upset and worried, it might be the first step in helping him to change. But keep in mind  that often, before a person is willing to consider changing, he has to be pushed out of his comfort zone so that he needs something to change. So you have to be, not only kind, but also firm in getting your message across. If you can’t do this on your own you will need help.
Finally, you write about his feeling increasingly depressed. Depression is a serious matter. It can become both a psychological and biochemical illness. If he can recognize that his depression, and the way he is treating you, are problems, he might be willing to get help.  I think it would be a good idea for him to seek out a psychotherapist, or for both of you to see a marriage counselor. He should also see a physician (preferably a psychiatrist) who might prescribe medication to help him become less anxious and depressed. It might take more than just you to convince him of this. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people you respect and trust (friends, family, doctor, minister) to convince him that he needs the help.

Dr. T.

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