Speak Up and Don't Hold Your Peace
Frequent commentor Rosie alerted me to a new section at Chabad.org on The Economy: Surviving and Surmounting the Current Financial Crunch. There are a number of columns up ranging from inspiration to tips. I will probably review some of the better ones, as well as the ones that require some alternative commentary. The one I am taking a look at now definitely requires some alternative commentary.
A newlywed wife writes to Rachel with the complaint that her husband, a freelancer with an inconsistent income, is spending like he has endless resources. She is watching the credit card bills mount and doesn't want the things he keeps buying for her.
Rachel's advice all falls into the "gentle" category:
- The wife should make the husband feel secure so he doesn't need to resort to shopping as an outlet. It is true that some people get a (temporary) feeling of control when making a transaction.
- The wife should refrain from making comments about material things because it might be putting the husband under pressure is he feels he is not supporting the wife as she would like. Earlier Rachel wonders if the husband is spending because he thinks that is what he should do to keep a wife happy. In the frum world, sometimes it can look like buying is a competitive sport. And young newlywed husbands are often advised to buy their wife trinkets and flowers for Shabbat. This is not advice I'm fond of.
- The wife should look for alternatives to lessen overall spending and replace extravagances. As an example, Rachel suggests "Surprise him and cook a nice dinner for the two of you or make a picnic."
- The wife should remind the husband that she didn't marry him for his money and that she doesn't love him for the things he buys for her.
Unfortunately, if the husband keeps up his current spending pattern, despite such assurances, he may find that the marriage begins to crumble because of, yes, money. Women generally marry with the expectation that the bond of marriage will better our lot in life as we undertake the task of having and raising children. The ketubah puts the onus of supporting a wife and family on the husband, and a husband who lacks impulse control is going to make marriage a lot harder.
If the letter writer wrote a Dear Orthonomics letter, the advice would be a lot less "gentle." Instead of recommending the wife reassure her husband that she didn't marry him for his money and recommending that the wife undertake the task of finding more and more ways to lessen spending while the husband runs up credit card bills laden with compounding interest that will quickly overtake the money saving ideas she implements until it is simply no longer to keep up, I would recommend a direct and urgent approach.
I see no reason why a wife should not approach her husband and just say want needs to be said (no dropping clues, no sugar coating, no infantalizing the husband because he should be able to handle hearing that the budget isn't working out, well, it isn't), e.g. she could say, "We need to get on a spending plan NOW because if we do not get on a spending plan immediately there will be long term consequences." There is a place in life for the gentle approach, but I believe that dropping clues to the husband while he reinforces behavior patterns and a "lifestyle" and the interest continues to compound, is doing neither the husband or the wife any favors. Eventually debt will catch up to them (I noted the newlywed wife refers to the credit cards as "his" but finances in marriage "ours" even if you keep separate accounts), and compound whatever other challenges come their way.
Rachel does writes, "If over time you see that there is no way for the two of you together to bring your (or his) spending under control, you may want to consider seeking the advice of a financial planner or even a therapist." I wouldn't wait to tackle the problem because it will only get bigger because that is what debt does: gets bigger.
Back to the beginning of the letter to Rachel, I noted that the newlywed wife was under a false impression about her husband's means. She writes: "I always thought he could afford his more lavish lifestyle." Those in the shidduch parsha, please take note. Appearances are deceiving and the extension of ridiculous amounts of credit makes appearances even more deceiving. Part of due diligence should be to ascertain what the financial position will be in the marriage. In a world where credit is extended so easily, you cannot trust your eyes.