In praise of DH’s adult allowance

I don’t tend to spend any money unless I want something and I hate the process of shopping (exception:  grocery shopping and Trader Joe’s).  I’m the type of person who would totally hire a personal shopper to decide what I need, hunt it down, and purchase it for me.  I tend not to buy anything for long periods of time and then to go on a single blitz to get things that I need.  I don’t do much impulse buying (at least that isn’t edible).

My DH, on the other hand, seems to get more enjoyment out of the shopping process often than he does from actually owning whatever it is he’s purchased.  He spends days poring over consumersearch or boardgamegeek comparing and contrasting, reading reviews, and so on.  (Me, I decide I need something, I go to consumer search, see what their top choices are, compare prices, then I hit Amazon and buy it.  Unless it’s something I have to try on, but I still try surgical strikes.)

DH also has an interesting relationship with money in which he wants to spend all the money he has or none of the money he has.  Given how much he enjoys the shopping process, you can see how neither of these outcomes leads to anything but misery for poor DH.

So early in our marriage we hit upon the adult allowance.  GRS describes the adult allowance here.  We mentioned it briefly before here in our post on couples and finances.  Basically, DH gets a certain amount of money per week and 10x the weekly amount at Christmas and at his birthday.  He keeps track of it in his little black day planner (this year a somewhat larger Moleskine version).  Early on this was awesome for me too because I could get him to do annoying phone things by telling him he could have half of whatever money he retrieved from whatever customer service thing had messed up.  Win win!  It also works out because if he buys me something nice and expensive as a gift, or something that I think is a waste of money, I don’t feel like I would have had better uses for that money because it’s not my money.  He can get whatever he wants with his money.  When we got real jobs he gave himself a raise, though not a huge one because his needs are simple.  He tells me he’d been getting $30/week.

Things worked great with respect to the allowance for the first 10 years or so of our marriage. Recently though, he hadn’t been buying as much stuff.  He got a french press which really cut down on his latte factor, and he’s been working through rather than going out for lunch.  He feels like he needs to play more with the board games he has before he buys new ones, and so on. He’s also between hobbies.

So right before Christmas (and, importantly, right after doing our holiday donations), I noticed that DH had put in a $600 Zingerman‘s order.  I love Zingerman’s as much as the next person, but $600 is a LOT of money for fancy foodstuffs to get shipped from Michigan.  I literally felt sick to my stomach.  It’s really best if I don’t know these things.  ($300 probably would have seemed excessive, but I could probably have handled that.)  I tried really hard to fight down the negative visceral reaction because the whole point of the allowance is that it’s his money and he can do whatever he wants with it, but I had to leave the room to do so.

Anyhow, DH canceled the order completely (despite my encouragement that he just cut it down and get some stuff… he’s really an all or nothing kind of guy) and decided his allowance was too high.  Having $600 to spend was causing him to go a little crazy in the looking for things to buy.

So he dropped it to $15/week (!) and $150 and bought a couple boardgames or something for himself.  However, recently he realized he wants a super fancy desk chair, so he’s reinstated the weekly allowance to $30 and made the reinstatement retroactive. We’re going shopping for chairs this weekend.

My moral would have been “don’t go looking for things to spend money on because things to spend money on will find you and it’s good to have cash saved up when that happens.”  But I think his moral is that “it’s good to keep your spending money to your wants and just a little bit more.”

Do you use an adult allowance?  Do you need one?  Does your significant other?

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45 Responses to “In praise of DH’s adult allowance”

  1. eemusings Says:

    “I don’t do much impulse buying (at least that isn’t edible).”

    YES. I may have to pinch this for my Twitter bio.

    BF loves new toys and, most of all, buying random milkshakes and burgers and whatnot. Allowances have saved my sanity.

  2. Meg Says:

    Yes, we have allowances but only because I didnt agree with what hubby was purchasing (chew and beer.) And I would feel guilty about going out for lunch at work. So…the allowances took care of both issues. We get $25/week. He can get all the chew and beer he wants. And if he wants to go get a $10 container of McNuggets, I cant say anything about it (he did this on Friday.) Also, I can go and spend $20 at a sushi restaurant for lunch and feel no guilt.

    So, it’s a win-win. Hubby has saved up his money and bought himself a netbook (something he definitely did not NEED but wanted.)

    After implementing the allowance early on in our marriage, the money arguements diminished. Win-Win!

  3. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    If you can unilaterally raise or lower your allowance, both prospectively and retroactively, can it really have much influence on spending habits? Indeed, it sounds to me like your reaction to your husband’s hugeasse food purchase had a much bigger effect on his spending behavior than the allowance gimmickry.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Nah, before we instituted the adult allowance he was miserable because he tried to spend zero money. Before we got married, he was miserable because he spent all his money. The adult allowance allows him to spend frivolously (even on Zingermans which he would have been perfectly in his rights to do– that was his $600 that he saved up) without making an impact on our family spending.

      And it’s not like he can change it to some crazy number… we have joint finances so we discuss changes. (I was against the drop to $15, but hey, whatever he wants. He tried it, it didn’t work out.)

      Also if there’s something he wants to buy and doesn’t have the allowance for, we discuss it. The allowance is just spending he can do without me having to think about it at all, or him having to worry about how it fits into our finances.

  4. Everyday Tips Says:

    We have no allowance, no constraints on spending at all. Mainly because neither one of us spend much. He doesn’t have any expensive hobbies, except maybe reading. Our highest discretionary spending bill might be Barnes and Noble, but that is still barely anything.

    However, when the kids are out of the house, things may be different. We will have a lot more time on our hands…

  5. Perpetua Says:

    I used to have a very stringent self-allowance, when I was in grad school. I worked on cash, and would give myself some number a week to spend (not including groceries or other bills). I got paid $75 a week for my babysitting job, and that’s what I had to spend. I LOVE cash, because you have in your hands and when it’s gone it’s gone. Virtual money is too abstract for me. DH and I always fight about cash vs. credit – he prefers credit because he says it’s the same money, and he can’t seem to see that I spend differently when I have cash vs. credit. I say “argue” but really we just disagree, and I’ve mostly moved over to credit. We have similar spending habits so we never fight about money expenditure. We often try to figure out how to save more, but find this difficult (we just have a lot of expenses – we live in different cities, so we have two rents, two utility bills, two kids in daycare & diapers, etc etc).

    I did just go on a spending spree at the AHA book exhibit, even though I knew I could get the same books cheaper on amazon. I couldn’t help myself, looking at all those pretty titles.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think cash works better for some people and credit for others. And some people are probably insensitive to type of credit. On balance, the research favors you, but I’m thinking there’s unexplored individual heterogeneity.

      Books are awesome.

      • Debbie M Says:

        What if you take a certain amount of cash (maybe play money would work) and moved it from your wallet to another place every time you bought something. If you ran out of this money, you couldn’t buy anymore. (You’d need lots of ones because you’d have to have exact change.) Then, the next budget period, move it back to your wallet. This might help your brain.

        What I do is subtract my credit card purchases from another column in my checkbook. I used to put the budgeted amount at the top–this might work for you, too. Now I just show the actual amount I owe, and I have to look at what’s in the checking account (positive) and what’s on the credit card account (negative) and make sure the leftover amount stays reasonable.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    I have some friends where the husband buys very few things, but they are expensive–he tends to be an early adopter of electronics. The wife buys lots of less expensive things such as jewelry and clothing. They use the allowance system to keep them from complaining about each other’s priorities, and this works great.

    I have some other friends where the husband is bad with money and the wife is good with money, so the wife gets all the money except the husband gets an allowance. He tends to spend all that is available, so this makes it so that the spending is reasonable. Then they still have plenty of savings. They do still negotiate for some things–like he might ask her to subsidize a big screen TV because she is using part of it, so she might pay half of what she would consider a reasonable TV purchase plus a small amount extra for the extra features she would actually be using. Again, this totally works.

    I am not married, so my money is separate. Basically we each have an allowance based on our entire paycheck, but it has to cover everything! I love not feeling guilty about not working myself sick to get a big paycheck and then am willing to live frugally as a consequence, and of course it’s nice for him to make a pile of money and get to spend it all. If he wanted to move somewhere more expensive, he’d have to start paying more than half. But currently he enjoys having low housing costs, and he’ll enjoy them even more in two years when the house is paid off. However, I do want to renovate, largely because of him (he has a lot of clothes and is famous for dirtying up a lot of dishes when he cooks, so a walk-in closet and a dishwasher would be great).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ve totally done that with large consumer items. Like, we’ll say, an average TV costs X amount, but DH wants to get a projector, so the family budget pays X and DH pays Y-X from his allowance.

      In the old days we could get DH to do things by adding to his allowance, but these days he does the opposite– pays things out of his allowance so he doesn’t have to call up customer service to get the $25 back that they mis-billed or whatever.

      I’m not sure I could live without a dishwasher these days.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Interesting about how doing things relates to the allowance.

        You could live without a dishwasher. But it’s nice you don’t have to.

  7. Squirrelers Says:

    I have heard of this working for people, where each gets their own “personal” money, where they aren’t accountable to the other person. I’ve never done this, but one guy I know has his own “stash” that he uses for poker nights with the guys. His wife has her stash for shopping and saving for an occasional spa day or girls night out.

    So – do you not have an allowance too? How did it work that the husband has an allowance and the wife doesn’t? :)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t need an allowance. I don’t buy enough stuff for me to need to have spending money that doesn’t get discussed with DH. What this ends up being is generally me discussing every purchase I make with DH prior to making it, except the occasional lunch out with colleagues. I just don’t spend much money. Generally if I see something I want (usually books), I stick it on my Amazon list and someone gets it for me for Christmas or a birthday. When I do spend money, I tend to spend a bunch all at once and discuss it first.

      I would be irritated if I had to remember to add to my allowance every week and keep track of things. DH seems to get some pleasure from doing that.

  8. First Gen American Says:

    We don’t have allowances as we’re both pretty cheap most of the time. But I do value not having him know how much I spend on my hair or how much he spends on collecting fishing lures.

    Part of the reason we both work is to have that freedom. If our budget were tighter, it would be a different story.

  9. Donna Freedman Says:

    Last year I decided to put $40 a month in an envelope marked “to be squandered on riotous living.” You’d be surprised how much riot $40 will buy if you have a coupon.

  10. retirebyforty Says:

    I have a $100/week allowance, but that include food, groceries, toys, and anything I can use cash to pay. It’s been working pretty well. I just saved up enough for a new lens for my SLR. This is pretty expensive, but I’ve been saving up for over 3 months. :)

  11. Amanda Says:

    We have done “personal budgets” since we got married (3 1/2 yrs ago). I think we started at $20 a month, but now we are all the way up to $50! I usually fritter mine away on lattes or books, but he just bought a kindle with his savings- totally guilt-free!! :)

  12. Invest It Wisely Says:

    In our case, we are both working and with similar salaries. We both see the value in saving a large portion of one’s income. So, what we do is make sure that all of the common expenses are paid for, and beyond that we don’t really have too much say into what the other one does. If she wants to go on a vacation with the girls, that’s fine. If I spend some money on something then there’s only so much we can say, since I’m spending my own money. The most important thing is that we’re each saving a good portion for the future and in case of emergencies, and that all the common expenses are taken care of.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That sounds like it is working well for you guys.

      • Invest It Wisely Says:

        Well, there are sometimes conflicts but there is only so much to be conflicted about when each has their own salary.

        Not sure how things will work when she stays at home with the (future) kids (until they go to school). I think I will end up paying the current bills while we use her savings as a buffer in case anything happens, but then she will have to go on an allowance. I’m not sure if she’ll like that! haha…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        well, maybe you can go on a much smaller allowance, since presumably she’ll be taking care of the household expenses

        or maybe she’ll change her mind about not working (we have a future intentionally controversial post about that coming up)

      • Invest It Wisely Says:

        Haha, you’re right, maybe I’ll be the one that ends up on the allowance!

        I’m looking forward to the controversial post!

  13. Becky Says:

    I’m a bit late, but we do allowances too; they are purportedly for lunch out during the week (otherwise hubby will spend WAY too much going out with his coworkers), but each of us will occassionally skip lunch out altogether and use the money for something else. We do $15/week each. It also helps me keep my sanity, since I balance the checking account and he would forget to tell me he went out pretty often. This way I just budget that money out from the start, and then zero the amount in our budget spreadsheet after it’s gone (if that makes sense).

  14. Money Reasons Says:

    At one time I had $200 slotted for my adult allowance, but lately It’s been more like double that amount… I need to get a financial grip!!!

    I like the moral of your post! Just because you have an allowance, doesn’t mean that you must spend as soon as you get it! Maybe he can save half and spend half?

    Great post!

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  17. Broke by Choice Says:

    Me and the BF talked abou this last night. He asked if we were married would I be mad if he just decided to buy a fishing pole without consulting with me. I told him that it would me my expectation that we both received a lump sum each month for “Blow Money” that we spend any way we want.

  18. slackerjo Says:

    I have no DH or BF and I still give myself an allowance. I would be lost without it!

  19. Peach8321 Says:

    I know this post is a bit old, but in case anyone else comes across it, we also use the “fun personal money” idea – $100 a month right now, while we are finishing grad school.

    The issue I have though is how much should be spent – that is, spend it all down or save it up. My lovely husband goes through “save save save” phases and then “spend spend spend” but I tend to get a little concerned if my amount goes below around $800 – meaning I tend to restrict myself a lot.

    So if anyone reads this – do you spend all of your allowance every month and if not, how much do you allow to build up?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DH goes through save/spend times. After buying his chair he’s almost at zero allowance (he’ll be back up when his birthday hits), but around Christmas he had a lot of money saved.

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