We had just received a $200 electric bill for the month of July. I was trying to avoid another one.
“You’re ridiculous. There is no hot air coming in.”
Insert eye roll, as I can literally feel the hot air wafting in. This is exactly the type of argument I was trying to avoid, but instead of continuing to push it, I shut my mouth. (And braced for another high electric bill.) I chalked up my silence to the cost of getting along.
Relationships are constant negotiations, and it can feel like you’re having the same fight over and over. Often money is at the root of a disagreement. I decided the roughly $10 more a month I might be paying to acquiesce to my wife’s temperature preferences — however I disagreed — was worth it to avoid a fight. It made me wonder what sort of similar calculations other families might make.
So I asked regular people, therapists and financial planners what they spend money on to keep the peace in their homes.
The most common thing people were willing to spend on?
The cost of cleaning services from happy couples I spoke with across the country range anywhere from $50 to $400 a month, depending on location, frequency and other factors. “We used to pay for a cleaning lady once a week and we called it our ‘marriage saver.’ They just did the floors, wiped the surfaces, and cleaned the bathroom and kitchen once a week, but it was amazing,” said Rachel Hennessy, a wife and mother living in Florida. Erica Webster, who lives in Ottawa, said she pays $500 to have the driveway snowplowed and the walkway shoveled. “It’s worth every penny to not argue about who has to go out early and freeze before work,” she said.
“I pay $200 a month for cable,” said Mitch Gobetz, who works in business management and lives in Pennsylvania, even though he’d rather cut the cord and do streaming only. “I pay because [my wife] Audrey likes a lot of the channels we can’t get on streaming and the convenience of a solid DVR. It makes her happy. At the end of the day, with having five kids, if the shows she likes give her an escape, I’m all for it. We all could use an escape,” he said.
Another theme for how couples invested in keeping the peace centered on therapy. “My fiance and I both invest in individual therapy (roughly $500 a month). For me, I don’t want to dump everything on him and drain his energy, so I choose to pay a pretty penny to see a therapist. For him, he wants to learn to better manage anxiety, which benefits him individually and us as a couple,” relayed one friend who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the stigma surrounding mental health treatment.
Some couples invest in therapy together. “We are generally kind to what one another values even if it’s different,” says Jennifer Bowman-Frye. She and her wife spend $400 a month on couples therapy.
Name-brand or designer clothes
In addition to talk therapy, Bowman-Frye indulges $172 a month on retail therapy: She has a Rent the Runway subscription to fulfill her hankering for new clothes without busting the wallet. “It’s cheaper and easier than shopping and dry cleaning in San Francisco,” she said.
Johanna Goodman, from New York, has a shoe addiction that her wife turns a blind eye to because they both agree there are bigger things — breast cancer and menopause, to name a few — to worry about. “My shoe addiction equals happiness," she said.
Gobetz concedes to his wife’s television-viewing pleasures, but he also has his own indulgences. “I change phones all the time,” he said, citing that he’s spent $600 on three new phones so far this year. He also likes to collect electronics including iPads. “We work hard to have a nice life and be happy. Might as well spend the money on things we enjoy. Otherwise, what’s the point of working hard?” Gobetz added.
Just how much should you spend to keep the peace?
“Some money issues are a relationship killer; others are more manageable and are just not worth fighting over,” said David Rae, a financial planner and founder of DRM Wealth Management in Los Angeles. He suggests allocating about 5 percent of a couple’s household income to “keep the peace” money, meaning each person can spend 2.5 percent of their monthly budget any way they want without the other spouse getting mad.
Of course, 5 percent might feel unmanageable for households with tight budgets. The bottom line? “I see relationships as a ‘home’ — and just like any safe, reliable home, there can be costs in uptake and maintenance,” said Damon L. Jacobs, a therapist in New York. “Each couple will have their own give-and-take in terms of what gets prioritized monetarily, but ideally these negotiations will take place in a space of integrity, compassion and compromise.”