I have frugal ears. I have frugal ways. I make meals that cost $5 or less. I make my own laundry products. I wear op shop clothes. And now I am dating again – to someone who likes to live life in the fast lane.
Having been separated not quite two years and with my divorce not yet final, I wasn’t sure if I would date again. But it happened. And I am smiling.
Mr Red Sports Car is chivalrous, likes fine dining and good wines and enjoys taking me to expensive restaurants. Exclusive restaurant where the pollies dine? Not a problem. Three courses? Of course. Matching wines? Best get the sommelier’s advice. And those specials on the blackboard? No need to ask how much (just as well seeing steak came in at $72 during a recent meal).
Sounds like a dream date, and yes he is pretty special. But I must admit that in the early days I felt quite uncomfortable about this. I mean, I am frugal. REALLY frugal. I love good food but I rarely eat out, preferring to dine at home with meals cooked from scratch (often incorporating ingredients grown in my own backyard). While I enjoy being with him and being taken out to nice dining establishments, I worried that this new lifestyle would corrupt me, that I would stray from my financial goals, that I would change into becoming someone else.
Through this, I continued to be me. I continued to save whenever I could and blog about my frugal exploits. I continued to talk about my financial goals, and how I was committed to achieving them. I talked about how I was rebuilding my life after separation, and how financial independence was important to me. I talked openly about my income, my assets, my debts, and where I wanted to be. I didn’t feel the need to race out to a boutique and max out on a credit card to buy new clothes to impress him. Or change my spending habits in any other way.
And you know what? I think he finds my financial resilience sexy. Well, at least he admires my honesty. ‘Stewardship’ he calls it, in reference to the biblical teaching about investments. In return, he has opened up a lot about his own financial situation, and how he is also rebuilding his life. While early days, there is a strong degree of trust. Oh, and he has even shopped at ALDI. Well, not all the time. But sometimes.
It is difficult to find statistics about the true causes for relationship breakup, and often there are more than one. But a distressingly large number of relationships end because of money issues – if I had to guess I would put a figure of at least 70%. In a country as affluent as Australia where people are more likely to die of obesity related illnesses than stave to death, I find this sad. But unsurprising because it is not really dollars and cents but the values underpinning them, and communication about those values.
Do you have a family culture where your family talked about money? Did they complain about not having enough money, or did they talk about how to grow savings into good investments? Do you believe the most important thing is having a good lifestyle? Is it important for you to save to buy a house? If so, do you feel a need to buy an expensive one to house your most important asset – your family? Do you intend to pay for expensive education for your kids or save for your retirement? Did you plan to be at home with your kids as they grow up? Or have a career? Is it important to you to always look good and engage in retail therapy now and again? Or to dress your kids in the very best? Or do you scrimp and save and are you so cheap that no-one wants to go out to dinner with you?
I don’t have the answers about how to merge different money values in a relationship. Every person is different, and everyone carries their own set of underlying assumptions regarding wealth (or lack of it). All I can say is that the solution is to begin talking about money and, more crucially, what money means to you. And for women, it is so important to have carriage of your own financial destiny – or at the very least have a say in the direction in which it is going, to speak up about what is important to you.
As to my date, well he still takes me to some pretty special restaurants. He has impeccable taste, and I am not complaining – I enjoy every bit of it. But sometimes he lets me to take him out, admittedly to less high-brow establishments and places that accept Entertainment Book vouchers. He says he likes it when I order for him in Chinese and dine at Asian restaurants (I was amazed he had never eaten Pho Vietnamese beef soup before). He also cooks for me. He makes a mean coq au vin. I also like to bake for him and make him desserts, or give him things like homemade pesto or chutney. He tells me I am good to him. My gifts rarely involve a lot of money, but they come from the heart.
I also like how he shows me a bit about another side of the wealth accumulation process: attracting abundance. Sometimes I find myself so fixated on saving a dollar or two that I miss the bigger picture. What more could I be doing to, say, get a promotion at work or earn more from my writing? Would I be better outsourcing some things (e.g. cleaning) so that I could focus more on doing things that (I think) I am good at like writing? I feel he gives me the confidence to value myself and my skills, to not sell myself short. And sadly, many women in particular do sell themselves short.
He has just bought a red two door BMW. I laugh a bit about this as it shows just how different we are: I am driving a 15 year old vehicle that is littered with my kids’ peanut butter sandwich crusts. But the car is important to him. He has budgeted for it, he really wants it, and he can afford it. He asked my opinion about it, worried I would think that I would declare it an extravagance. Well, that thought might have crossed my mind as a luxury vehicle is not a priority on my current financial journey. But it is his journey. I am keeping my own frugal vehicle for now, but I definitely enjoyed having him take me for a spin in his new car. And I really like the fact that he had the conviction to get what he wants, and to make it happen.