I am devastated; certain that my husband of five years is ready to leave me, and don’t know what to do or where to turn. When I was a teenager, I would cry out my problems to Butterball, my cat, but Butterball died years ago. A friend showed me your column; so here I am, writing to you.
This past fall “Zach” told me that he wanted to join an after-work fantasy football league with some friends, at a local pub-style restaurant. They would meet one night a week after work – a guy’s night out kind of thing, and then at someone’s house to watch the games on the weekends. I thought this was a great idea, since Zach works very hard and deserves some down time with his friends.
Zach is horrible when it comes to balancing the checkbook or paying the bills on time, so he gladly handed this responsibility over to me when we got married. Since both of our checks are direct deposited, neither of us actually cashes our paycheck. In order to avoid multiple ATM receipts that could easily get lost or go unrecorded, we each get a small amount of cash at the start of each pay period, and load our Dunkin’ Donuts pre-paid cards online at the same time; we also use pre-loaded gas cards to fill up our vehicles and pre-paid Wal-Mart cards for our store purchases. In this way, we have managed to save money by not carrying cash and avoid expensive overdrafts on our checking account. I have started to budget additional $50 cash for Zach each week, so he has enough spending money to cover his night out – dinner, a few beers, and a round of drinks for him and his buddies.
Now that football season has ended I expected Zach’s nights and weekends out would slow down until next year, but they have not. Zach continues to be out of the house one night a week and on weekends. I asked him how long the league would be continuing – figuring he would surely be done by the Super Bowl – and he told me that the league will continue year round; that a baseball fantasy league is starting. This sounded plausible, so I dropped the subject.
Last night, I went out to pick up a few items at the convenience store, and almost died of shock when I saw that Zach was the cashier! I marched up to the counter to pay for my things and Zach pre-empted my anger by telling me that he was on the clock and we could discuss things when he got home. As it turns out, Zach has not been going out with his friends a few times a week – he has been working part-time at the convenience store!
When I asked Zach why he would deceive me – first lying about his whereabouts and then taking the extra cash each week – he told me that “a man doesn’t feel like a man without money in his pocket”. Between what he makes at the store and the extra money from our budget, he is carrying around an extra $150 a week! How much money does he need to feel like a man? When I mentioned to Zach that we have budgeted enough money for him to carry around, he gave me a withering look and said, “I’m not a child; I shouldn’t have to ask for my allowance”.
Tazi, what does all this mean? I have never made Zach feel like a child! I only take care of the finances because he won’t, and I receive my share of personal money on the same schedule as him. I asked Zach if he is seeing another woman and spending the money on her, which he denied. I asked him if he was saving up to leave me, but he said no to that, too. I want to believe him, but I can’t. Why else would my husband do this to us, Tazi?
Not Broke, Just Brokenhearted
Dear Not Broke, Just Brokenhearted:
Jerry Seinfeld once did a monologue about the difference between how men and women act at the store when paying for something by check. Seinfeld compared a woman with a checkbook to a cowboy and his gun – she will whip that thing out and put it to work without missing a beat. A man, on the other hand, will sheepishly pull out a check and tell the cashier that he doesn't have any real money on him, but if you take this piece of paper to the bank, those people will give the cashier money on his behalf. When you put it that way, it makes paying by check sound pretty lame. Seinfeld recorded that bit back in the early ‘90’s, before pre-paid cards were in existence but it could be that Zach feels the same way about using a plastic card to pay for his $1.50 tab at the coffee shop.
The fact that Zach felt strongly enough about having cash in his pocket to take on a second job speaks strongly to the lack of communication in your marriage. Has Zach been spending the extra $150 a week that he has in his pocket, or is he saving it? If he is spending it, on what is it being spent? Does Zach have a gambling problem, drinking issue, or other expensive issue that he is keeping from you? If Zach is saving the money, for what reason? Is he planning a large, expensive purchase that would otherwise not fit into your budget?
Your husband’s response to you – that a man needs money in his pocket to feel like a man – tells me that he needs to be more involved in your bill paying and budgeting process. Just because you handle this responsibility does not mean that he should be excluded from it completely; doing so has made Zach feel like a child asking his Mommy for his weekly allowance. This is not healthy from any perspective.
My larger concern for your marriage is that your husband felt that he had to go behind your back in order to have money in his pocket. You may not realize it, but you could be exerting too much control over your joint finances. (Pre-paid cards for almost everything?). While your system may work for you, it is clearly not working for your husband. I suggest that – together – the two of you figure out how much money Zach needs each week for his expenses, and give him that money in cash, not on a pre-loaded plastic card. Stop giving him the extra $50 for going out, since he obviously is not, and if he wants to keep his second job for extra spending cash let that be his business. However, if he runs short of cash because he is spending more now that he is carrying more do not allow him to break your budget by giving him more money.
Many couples keep joint accounts for bill paying and savings, which is where they keep the bulk of their money, and separate, smaller individual accounts for their personal spending money and savings towards extravagant personal items. Perhaps the time has come for you and Zach to consider this idea for yourselves. This idea would require Zach to keep track of his own banking records, but then that might be just what he needs to feel more like a man.
Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.