Can you spend freely?

An open-ended question provides many answers.

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Happy Tuesday! Heather here to share with you a little glimpse into our interview process and a recurring concept that keeps coming up. If it piques your interest, maybe YOU should speak with us for our book! I’ll never stop asking. Maybe when it’s published. But until then…

My friend sees a hair stylist in New York City–one of those elite stylists to the stars. After each appointment, glowing with her fresh celeb-caliber ‘do, she goes to pay and splits the bill across several credit cards. 

Let me dispel your assumptions before you make them. She is a boss. A real boss. She makes her own money and ostensibly could afford to not do what she does with the bill. But at some point, she decided it wasn’t worth imposing the sticker shock onto her husband every time she visits the salon. To her, it’s just not worth the discussion. Knowing how open and loving this couple is, I find her little white lie pretty funny, but I’m realizing there’s more to glean from stories like these. 

How people spend money is incredibly interesting to me. Less through the lens of a financial professional, who can offer an objective opinion on what people can afford, and more through the subjective lens of what people believe about their own financial lives.

Your personal feelings around what you should or shouldn’t be spending reveal much about the weight of your past experiences, security in your current lifestyle, and overall perception of wealth.

When two people bring these spending philosophies into a relationship, they’re not always aligned. And even if they are at the start, they will probably diverge at some point down the road. How couples handle it speaks volumes. 

We recently began interviewing couples for our book. The conversations have been flowing freely and are collaborative and awesome. We are going so far beyond the numbers that the numbers don’t even really matter–feelings and attitudes around money reveal much more about the dynamics at play.

In one of our first interviews, a mother divulged that she didn’t feel she could spend for a long time because she wasn’t bringing in a regular paycheck. Her husband works in finance and budgets for the household, which added to her perceived scrutiny. They both agreed he wasn’t taking any steps to limit her. She just felt limited. We spoke at length about spending freely and what that looks like to each of them. I thought about it long after our Zoom ended. 

In these interviews, I’m now asking everyone: do you feel you can spend freely? 

Each partner must answer for themselves. More than anything, this is a question about aspirations and autonomy. About what you have and what you want, and whether your partner feels the same. 

Of course, responses vary. Some couples clearly state that yes, they both spend what they want, when they want, without any real or perceived limitations. These couples appear to be falling into certain archetypes, but I’m not ready to make any conclusions from our current sample size. Others answer quickly that no, they definitely do not feel they can spend freely. Many more express that their attitudes have changed over time. I fall into that camp, too. 

When I left my corporate law job to join Doug, I left behind a six-figure salary. We wouldn’t have made the decision if it wasn’t financially feasible for us. But what appeared okay on paper didn’t stop my sentiment from shifting. I quickly developed this deep concern around spending; almost like I had to re-earn my salary before I had the right to buy anything again. This weird punishment mindset stems from old engrained feelings linking my self-worth to how much money I earn. 

Again, my challenge over the past year isn’t significant due to our finances. I’ve written about changes we’ve made to spend smarter in areas we knew we could improve, like making sure we eat all of our groceries. But what’s more interesting is how far I let my mental pendulum swing, projecting my fear around the unknowns of my career outward onto my family. 

Someone else we interviewed was in an interesting place last year, too. After the company she worked for was acquired by a much larger one, her global role became unsustainable while pursuing fertility treatments. She left to focus on her health and ultimately had a beautiful baby boy, who I got to make goo goo noises at throughout our interview. She started a consulting business instead of returning to work full-time. 

When I asked if she feels she can still spend freely, even after leaving her salary behind, I loved her response. She acknowledged the difference between then and now but made a point to share that she doesn’t feel constrained. She asks herself more questions, like: whether she really wants something; whether she can find it cheaper; whether there’s a suitable substitute. She’s set up “filters” around her spending–not barriers. That’s why she still feels free. 

I think I’ll take a page from her book, as she adds a page to ours.


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Do you have a money question you’d like answered in a future issue of The Joint Account? Let us know!

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The content shared in The Joint Account does not constitute financial, legal, or any other professional advice. Readers should consult with their respective professionals for specific advice tailored to their situation.