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Over the weekend my wife and I went to eat at one of those hibachi style restaurants, you know the ones where the chef does a little song and dance while cooking in front of you. Luckily I was able to escape with both of my eyebrows and a full stomach but it was an interesting meal all the same. When you eat at one of these style restaurants you only get sat when they have enough people for a full table. Typically this means you are going to end up sharing your table with a bunch of people you don’t know.  At our table we had me, my wife, my son, and three couples of what “appeared” to be varying stages of relationships.

To me there was nothing out of the ordinary about this meal, my wife and I both ordered and shared with our three year old son. The “Young” dating couple ordered 1 meal and split it for a $6.00 fee. The “Older” couple to our right both ordered separate meals. The “middle” couple at the end of the table ordered a single meal split, again with the $6.00 fee. Keep in mind a meal for one at this restaurant costs you no less than $16.00 without tip, drink, or tax.

We ate our meal, everyone paid, and we all went our separate ways. On the way home however my wife made a comment about how she could tell how the young couple was broke. My response was how could you tell they were broke? I find it hard to believe that in the short amount of time we were able to observe these people that we could make a determination on their financial status. I have written in the past about how knowing someone’s financial situation affects how we think about them, but here is a case of allowing simple choices at a meal to fashion an unjustified image of a person’s status.

Frugal Fundamentals

This is where we diverged in our thought processes. You see to me frugality is not indicative of a person who has no money. I find, more often than not, that frugal people have enough money and prefer to hang on to it longer than non frugal people. Anyone who has ever been to a hibachi style restaurant knows the amount of food your served is severely disproportionate to the amount of food you need. To me this is a great opportunity for people to lower their costs for eating out by sharing a meal. To my wife, at least in this instance, she “assumed” the couples splitting their meals were doing so out of necessity, not a genuine desire to just not spend more than they need to.

I am frugal by nature, I just do not see the reason in paying more for something than I really need to. This goes for just about everything I do financially. I will pay more for quality when it is needed but there is just a lot of places where it doesn’t matter. I don’t care that I still wear t-shirts and shorts from 5 years ago. It isn’t that I can’t buy new shorts and shirts, I just don’t see why I need to do it. It seems to me that in the case of diners splitting meals and drinking water they have made the decision that they just don’t need to spend the extra money when a single meal will be more than sufficient (they even had a togo box when they were done.) 

While I don’t think anyone is a bad person for making such assumptions, it always amazes me how frugality is looked at as something reserved for the poor and destitute. I have read The Millionaire Next Door , I get it that people who really get ahead financially are people who don’t spend ostentatiously. Keep in mind the next time you are out and about, that person haggling over the price of a 2 dollar hot dog could be worth 20 million, or they could be worth $20, but you can’t tell just by looking at them.

Photo: (purpleslog)

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Yesterday I was reminded of something I heard in my past. Peter from Bible Money Matters mentioned that someone had reached his site by someone searching for "should i use 401k to pay off hidden credit card debt?" This single question really gets your head spinning. We have all heard of hiding money from your spouse, while I don’t advocate hiding anything, this seems to make sense. You want to stash a little cash aside so you can by your wife something nice, so you hide it in a jar or elsewhere until you have enough to by that gift.

Why on earth would you want to hide debt from your spouse/partner? A relationship is inherently built on honesty and trust both of which go out the window the second you start doing things to undermine the financial well being of your household.  When someone takes on debt but does not involve their significant other in the decision they are putting their relationship in jeopardy.

You may think that your financial shortcomings only affect you but when it comes down to it both people in a relationship affect the financial future of the couple as a whole. I have a friend who is a mortgage broker and this is probably something he has seen pretty regularly. Imagine that you and your spouse go in to qualify for a mortgage and the broker comes back to you and says: “I could get you a 4.5% rate, however, there is this $10,000 credit card balance so the best I can do is 5.8%” to which your spouse responds with “what credit card.” All I can say is I hope you have a comfy couch when that scenario goes down.

What Can You Do About It?

Lets say you have made this mistake and you have hidden debt your spouse doesn’t know about, what steps should you take to make this situation better.

  1. Admit you have a problem, if to no one else but yourself. Most instances where you are trying to hide your spending, or debt, you are doing it to fulfill some obsession whether it be gambling or shopping. Admit your problem and if needed seek help from an AA or related group.
  2. Stop taking on any additional debt, hidden or otherwise.
  3. TELL YOUR SPOUSE! This is a must, you CANNOT maintain a healthy relationship when their are secrets and deceit involved.
    • Sit down with them and admit your problems, or reasoning for the debt.
    • TOGETHER come up with a plan to eliminate the debt
    • Eliminate the debt

The key here, as always in a relationship, is going to be communication. You aren’t going to want to be brutally honest, but you need to be. As I said earlier, your relationship is built on honesty and trust. You are going to lose points in the trust department so you might as well be completely honest and keep, or even gain, some of those.

Once you have the air cleared on the subject it is going to be just like tackling any other debt you have. To Peter’s Googler, under no circumstances should you take out of your 401k to payoff your “hidden” debt. Plan your attack method and then, in the words of Dave Ramsey, work the plan with gazelle like intensity. You are going to feel better because you don’t have the weight of lies, deceit, and debt on your shoulders and eventually your wife will forgive you.

Photo: (SashaW)

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