We can all learn a valuable lesson from this story of how a couple almost lost their money and marriage . I just got off the phone with Bert, a good friend of mine (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent). We were friends and had been discussing how he could improve his family’s financial situation and end money stress.
He and his wife desperately needed to get out of credit card debt, but they continued to spend more than they earn. What kind of advice would you give this couple?
Pretty simple, right? Spend less. Earn more. They knew this already.
The couple had committed to getting on track in the past, but when push came to shove, Cynthia (Bert’s wife) would not make the cuts she was supposed to and Bert was unwilling to call her on it.
To understand this mess, we have to go back into the couple’s history. A few years ago, Bert made a huge mistake. He had an affair with another woman and spent money on her lavishly. Cynthia found out about it and was about ready to leave the marriage. The couple worked through their problems, but Cynthia was still (understandably) angry. Bert was willing to accept the consequences of his behavior. He understood Cynthia’s pain and tried to help as best he could.
When the couple came into financial hardship, Cynthia’s anger got the best of her. She concluded that it would be Bert’s responsibility to fix the problem. In her mind, Bert “owed” it to her. He had spent their money on the other woman. Now he had to make amends. She thought that Bert should find a way to make more money and cut spending.
When I discussed this option with Bert, he agreed that he should find a part-time job to increase the family cash flow. After a few months of hearing Bert agree but not seeing him take action, I asked him why he hadn’t looked for a part-time job.
“Well Neal, I’d love to start looking for jobs I can do on off hours, but who is going to watch the kids?” Bert asked.
“How about Cynthia?” I responded.
“Cynthia goes out and gets her hair and nails done on Saturday and she has lunch with her friends on Sunday. We can’t afford a sitter so I’m the designated Mr. Mom,” Bert told me.
I just about fell out of my chair.
He knew that the couple could catapult their financial future if Cynthia would cut out her expensive weekly ritual. It would be a win-win-win. The kids would get time with their mom. Bert could find part time work. The couple would earn more and spend less.
But Bert wouldn’t dare bring it up to Cynthia. He was afraid of opening up a can of worms. Cynthia was so angry that she was willing to subject her entire family to financial instability rather than become willing to be part of the solution.
The bottom line is that nobody can help Bert and Cynthia except Bert and Cynthia. This is a problem that money alone can’t fix. But it illustrates the importance of communication and willingness to take responsibility – for both parties. Even though Bert made a huge mistake several years ago, does that mean Cynthia gets a hall pass to act like a 15-year-old? Even though Cynthia is acting irresponsibly, does that mean Bert has an excuse to be a coward?
Has your anger or ego contributed to financial difficulties? Do you know anyone who is dealing with a problem like this now?