Spouse Conversion or Being A Team (Part 2)

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It is hard to change someone else's behavior without coercion and even harder to change someone's way of thinking.

It is hard to change someone else’s behavior without coercion and even harder to change someone’s way of thinking.

So you decide to stay. Overall, you and your children are better off if you stay with the spendthrift. Now comes the hard part. Fixing or at least modifying your spendthrift spouse’s ways. It is hard to change someone else’s behavior without coercion and even harder to change someone’s way of thinking. If you could change someone’s long-held beliefs through a closely reasoned argument, then they didn’t really believe what they claimed at all. Think of atheists and Baptists arguing at cross purposes!

You can, much more easily, modify your own behavior. First and foremost, you cannot expect anyone to do what you won’t do yourself. If you leave your clothes all over the floor why should anyone else pick up theirs? If you buy whatever strikes your fancy, why would your partner reign in their spending? So you can spend even more? That won’t ever happen.

If you are disorganized, random in your habits, refuse to plan your trips to save on gas, won’t reheat and eat leftovers, and turn up the thermostat in the winter to 70 degrees, then don’t expect your partner to suddenly pick up the slack because you are concerned about resource depletion and waste. They won’t do it and why should they? You don’t.

Since we do what is important to us, if you want tidiness and refuse to tidy up yourself, the message being sent is you are a control-freak jerk who wants other people to clean up after you. If you claim to be genuinely concerned about the environment, then start walking and bicycling and stop driving everywhere. If you don’t, then you are a hypocrite expecting other people to cut back on their carbon footprint while you continue to do everything you want, when you want. If you really believe hard, economic times are coming, then don’t sit in front of the TV without darning socks or some other hand work. You have to model the behavior that you want to see.

So, back to what you can change. If you want to start cutting down the debt load and building up the savings, then you need to curb your spending first. Set up an emergency fund (if you don’t already have one) and start funneling the savings into it. If you know your partner will spend every extra penny on comic books and overpriced shoes, then you may have to take over paying the bills so you can divert saved dollars to debts and saving.

An easy trick to show how money can add up is to get a gallon glass jar and start putting all your change into it, every day. Keep it out of sight. Find out how much your spouse spends every day on vending machine snackies and store-bought coffee. Put that amount in the jar too. When your partner bemoans how much she needs some spare cash, present the jar, count the amount, and show how little expenses add up. Then use the saved change to pay a bill off or stock up the pantry. This method can help because many people have no imagination at all. They simply cannot understand that a dollar or two a day can really add up to lots of dollars over several months or a year. They have to be shown.

If you keep your paychecks, bills, and other monies separate, then focus your energy on paying off your personal debts and building your personal emergency fund. Keep a ledger as you go to prove that you succeeded at getting debt free by not spending. That is, you did it the hard way by saying no, and not by winning the lottery and hiding the money from your spouse.

While you are getting your financial house in order, stop ragging on your partner for their spendthrift ways! It doesn’t work, so instead, mention that you are cutting back so as to pay off your student loan and thus improve the household’s long-term security. When the transmission falls out of your car, pay for the repairs from your emergency fund instead of your Visa card. When your spouse asks how you did this, tell them you stopped shopping for recreation and started planning ahead for the long-term security of the household.

Explaining why

Notice the use of this phrase: long-term security of your household. The whole idea behind planning for the future, savings, getting debt-free, reskilling, becoming self-sufficient, being energy efficient, improving your health, and bettering relationships with other people is long-term security for you and your loved ones. If you don’t care where your future meals and lodging are coming from, then you might as well drift along. It is a lot less work.

Does your partner know and understand why you want to turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater? You must lay out your reasons. Unless your spouse is a mind-reader, then he won’t know why you want a fully stocked pantry. You have to explain to him that you want to be better prepared for disruptions at the grocery store because of hurricanes (like Katrina and Sandy), tornados, earthquakes, blizzards, ice storms and other natural disasters. Your natural disaster will vary depending on your location; no one in Florida will believe you are prepping for an earthquake but they all understand the concept of hurricanes. Any area with a winter is vulnerable to ice storms and extended power outages. These are easy reasons to explain and easy for most people to understand. “I want our family to be better prepared, just like the Red Cross and FEMA recommend.”

If your partner has trouble even conceiving that anything bad could ever happen, then you can turn to the media. Seeing or reading detailed scenarios can really clarify to the non-imaginative person why you want to have some food stashed away. Disaster movies, TV shows, and novels can all be great aids for disaster preparedness. Observe and comment on the poor communication skills and total lack of preparedness and ask your partner what they would do if the power went out for a week in January. A good novel like “One Second After” or “Alas, Babylon” can illustrate what-ifs in an easy to understand way. The author’s scenarios more than compensate for the lack of imagination of your partner.

This is magical thinking on par with refusing to make a will since if you don't have one, you can't die.

This is magical thinking on par with refusing to make a will since if you don’t have one, you can’t die.

Your spouse may answer that preparing for problems invites them to happen. This is magical thinking on par with refusing to make a will since if you don’t have one, you can’t die. I think this kind of thought pattern is really a fear of the future and a fear of not having control. You can explain that having money in the bank and food in the pantry does not invite problems into your house. It means that you can still put food on the table even when the grocery stores are closed or you had to take an unpaid furlough at work. Having savings and no debt give you more options if you are laid off. Your household does not sink into an immediate disaster; you have some leeway, some cushioning in which to find other work while still meeting your bills.

It may help to show your spouse that you are not one paycheck away from disaster. You are two, four, even twenty or more paychecks from disaster. Does knowing this make your spouse feel more secure? More willing to not buy those unwearable shoes? That radial-arm saw that will never be used? Point out to your spouse that the long-term security of your family and household is your main concern. Prove it by your actions.

“Just in case” preparedness

Another way of illustrating the need for disaster preparedness is insurance. Why do you have house insurance? It isn’t because you expect (or want!) your house to burn down. It is just in case. Why do you have term life insurance? Same reason again. You don’t expect (or want) your partner to die. But if they meet the Mack truck at the red light, it would sure be nice to have some extra money to take care of the kids. A big cash payout won’t lessen the grief. But it will give breathing room while the family recovers.

Why do you wear a seatbelt? In case of an accident. Why do you lock your doors? To discourage burglars. Why do you floss your teeth faithfully? To prevent long-term, expensive dental problems. These are all actions we perform, not because we think we will have a burglar or an accident, but because of “just in case”. “Just in case” is the purpose behind disaster preparedness. Use “just in case” when talking to your partner about stocking the pantry, learning how to garden, taking a martial arts class, and exercising every day. It may make why you are concerned about the future much clearer.

The basics of disaster preparedness and thrift can then lead to a deeper understanding of the need for a food garden, no debt of any kind, basic home security, and lots and lots of skills that you actually practice.

It can be deeply depressing to contemplate disaster, both short term like a tornado or long term like a years-long economic collapse. If your partner is overwhelmed by an uncertain future, then your actions can show how your household can exert control. That planning ahead, that getting ready, that doing things “just in case” can make your lives better and safer. Show how savings can add up. Show how the emergency fund paid for a car repair. Show how a full pantry kept your household eating when the stores were closed. Show how insulating the attic lowered heating bills. Show how a vegetable garden put fresh salads on the table.

Remember that your spouse won’t do a blessed thing if YOU don’t act on your beliefs. Model the behavior you want to see in thrift, exercise, preparedness, reskilling, anything. Read and leave laying around books on thrift (such as “The Complete Tightwad Gazette”), disaster preparedness (“Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient when the Unexpected Happens”), gardening (“Gardening When It Counts” and “The Resilient Gardener”), health improvement (“Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat”). Whatever you are currently working on. Explain why you are doing what you are doing. Repeat as necessary. Don’t sit with idle hands in front of a game show on TV and expect your partner to be darning socks. Explain some more.

Don’t forget the power of positive reinforcement. When your partner picks up a hoe to weed the garden, then praise, praise, praise! Praise every positive effort and ignore (as best you can) the unwanted behaviors. Stop belittling and demeaning comments. They don’t help. Spouse conversion is a process that can take years, so better start now. And, most importantly, don’t ask your partner to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.

Next Week: Ice Station Maytag, or Winter Laundry