- Jo Piazza
In cheapness and health, till death do we part.
I still remember the moment I knew I’d marry my husband.
“Do you really think we should pay $8 for strawberries?” he asked me during one of our early dates as we shopped for ingredients for dinner at the local organic grocery store by his house in San Francisco.
“No!” I shrieked, practically smacking the compostable basket of designer fruit from his hand before I realized I was shouting in a room filled with people who likely had strong beliefs about expensive strawberries. I lowered my voice to a whisper and hoped he wouldn’t judge me. “No, I think that’s borderline insane.”
And I knew, in that moment, that a man who would comparison shop for produce was the man for me.
(Courtesy Jo Piazza)
This is a pattern that repeated itself after we got engaged and married and moved into our first home together. Nick didn’t even flinch when I said “Hey, let’s see if we can fix our whole backyard with things we find on Craig’s List Free.”
“Coco, I like the way you think,” he replied and began searching the website for lemon tree planters (a savings of several hundred dollars, I might add).
This isn’t something I talk about a lot, but let’s be clear: I’m cheap as hell.
I’m not sure where my spending tendencies come from. My own parents weren’t particularly thrifty. They often fought about money, particularly how one of them was spending it without consulting the other.
Maybe my thriftiness isn’t an inherited trait, but rather a reaction to the behavior I learned growing up. My parents’ tumultuous marriage and arguments about money made me long for something steady and grounding and I found that safety in saving my own money and being cautious about how I used it.
For years I dated men who spent like crazy on extravagant things—cars, vodka with fancy labels and summer beach rentals. It was fun, but it wasn’t forever. They’d choose the most expensive dinners when we’d go out with groups of friends and I’d feel a swell of anger when we all went to split the bill. The same thing often happened around the holidays when I’d gravitate towards thoughtful and meaningful presents and they’d buy something flashy that had nothing to do with me.
One of the reasons I knew I would never be compatible with these guys in the long-run is because I felt uncomfortable telling them what a tightwad I was.
We hear a lot about the importance of marrying someone who has the same values and the same goals as you do, someone who likes to do the same things, someone who has a compatible sex drive. There’s also plenty of talk about the big money things. Do you feel the same way about debt, about owning a home? But we rarely talk about the nitty gritty little things, like will that person scour the Internet with you to find the best price on a vacuum cleaner? Will they travel to the dodgy part of town to buy half-price dog food in bulk? Do they mind flying through Dallas to get to New York if the plane tickets are half the price? These little things matter a lot, sometimes more than the bigger things.
Courtesy Jo Piazza
“If being frugal is a priority to you, and your partner is not supportive, you will feel undermined, and that at the very least will create constant tension between the two of you,” Bobbi Rebell, the author of How to Be a Financial Grownup, told me.
It also creates a situation where it becomes too easy to lie about what you spent on things. In the weeks leading up to my wedding, everyone I came into contact with offered me marriage advice. Some of it was great and some of it was disconcerting.
“Never tell him what you spend on things,” one very fancy woman at a very fancy dinner said to me. I cocked my head to the side.
“So, I should lie?”
“Yes. Of course,” she said, pursing her lips.
This woman wasn’t alone in her perfidy. According to creditcards.com, 19 percent of respondents had spent more than $500 without telling their spouse or partner.
But spending habits seem like something silly to lie about. Isn’t it easier if you have similar spending styles to begin with? That was what I realized when Nick held those expensive strawberries up in the air like they’d been cursed. There are so many things that make marriage difficult. The melding of two lives can be like an obstacle course. Isn’t it nice if some things do just work?
“If you do successfully marry someone who is in sync with your cheapness/frugality/thriftiness it will be a bond and a strength in your union. You will both feel good about the financial decisions you make and will amplify your family’s financial power,” Rebell said. “On a practical level, it will also better position you for the many unexpected highs and lows of a lifetime together. We think it won’t happen to us but people do lose jobs, get sick and or have some other unplanned event hit their bank accounts. But if it is big and strong enough, you have a much better shot and getting through it, and staying together.”
We’ll also never run out of cheap dog food.
Jo Piazza is the author of the new book How to Be Married.