We were a two-income house that, after the coronavirus hit, is now one. My wife, thankfully, still has a job and so we’re not in dire straights yet — but we’re definitely waiting for that stimulus check. Here’s the problem: I want to spend it all, every last penny, on making a pantry that could bring us through the year. Like, 100-pound bags of rice, crates of beans — you know, the kind of load you’d find in a fallout shelter.
My wife, on the other hand, thinks we should be stimulating the local economy — and buy stuff to keep the kids sane like books from the local shop, puzzles from the toy store, and their favorite (all too pricey) takeout from restaurants.
I think this is wildly irresponsible and have told her as much. She says we’re fine financially and can afford the small splurges that also give back to the community. This back and forth got out of hand and words were said. Names were flung. I regret some things I said — because they were mean, not because I’m wrong in defending the well-being of my family. Now we’re not talking. But when that check comes (whenever that happens), the fight is going to come roaring back.
Oh, the kids are involved and on her side. I mean, duh, they want toys. So it’s the family versus me. What do I do?
Fighting in Fort Lauderdale
The issue you’re having has little to do with how you should spend your stimulus money and more about how you discuss finances with your partner. To be clear, I am not the person you want to offer opinions on how to spend your stimulus check. I mean, I plan on spending the bulk of mine on Mai Tai deliveries from the local Tiki bar that I desperately want to stay in business. Financial wizard or wise spender I most certainly am not. But I can offer you some tips on how to navigate the financial discussion so that it becomes educational and edifying for your offspring, regardless of whether you decide to go all-in on prepping or embark on a shopping spree.
I will say that being thoughtful about money discussions in front of your children is not an issue to take lightly. One of my first real childhood memories is a screaming match between my parents about finances. Later in life, I discovered that I carried some serious anxiety over finances (it’s not for nothing that I’m going on a Mai Tai binge). If that harrowing anecdote doesn’t move you to the importance of having calm and reasonable discussions around money, then consider the research. One 2010 study published in the Journal of Economic Psychology, for instance, found that parents who avoided talking about money with their children were more likely to have children that experienced problematic financial behaviors in college.
And yes, it does sound as if you’re talking about finances. However, instead of a discussion, you’ve got yourself a fight. One of the big problems with fights is that it enables people to take sides. Taking sides in a family kind of runs counter to the whole point of a family, that being that you’re all in this together.
And now, more than any time in modern history, you have to be in it together. Divisiveness in your home will just make things harder than they have to be. This means that in order to move forward you’ll have to rethink your position.
In fact, it might help if you simply say, “I’ve rethought my position” to your family. I’ve found it to be a hugely helpful phrase. It shows that you’ve taken time to ponder and deliberate and have decided that your previous position or method was untenable. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It’s a great example for your children and allows yourself to get out of power struggles you’ve accidentally gotten yourself into.
Then, gather your family around the dinner table and start that money discussion from scratch. Importantly, you need to take great care to ensure your communication is calm and that you listen as much as you talk. Seek compromise.
One thing that may help the conversation is connecting your spending with your family’s most important values. Do you most value charity? Community? Togetherness? Health? Understanding what’s valuable to your family may help you determine your path forward. What’s more, it will help your children understand that the decisions you and your partner make (whether about money, discipline or work) aren’t arbitrary — they are rooted in values.
As you talk, make sure that you ask your kids for input. Ask them to consider the family’s values as well. You might be surprised at their contributions. I know my children can be far more thoughtful than me sometimes, you might discover the same considerate streak in your kids too. It might even behoove you to carve off a small percentage of your stimulus check and put the kids in charge of it. Give them a couple of reasonable options for using the money.
I truly believe that if you make money discussions with your partner calm, transparent and thoughtful, your kids will benefit. Connect those discussions to a strong set of values and the whole family will benefit.
As much as it might pain you, the greatest good for your family may not be about protecting them from future calamity. It may in fact be helping them develop the intellectual skills to weather the calamities to come.
In the end, know that what we’re doing as parents right now is hard. But every day we are presented with valuable opportunities to use this awful time to help our children grow. As bizarre as it may seem, these stimulus checks are one such opportunity. I urge you to take it.
Hang in there and I wish you the absolute best in these very weird times.