‘The Marriage Umpire:’ Sales: Saving money or wasting it? You decide!

This is our second round of “The Marriage Umpire” today. You send us your marital problem and we’ll help you solve it. (We actually do this all the time but we’re officially playing this week as we await the new show “The Marriage Ref” by Jerry Seinfeld on NBC.)

Our second problem has been sent to us by a man. He’s apparently already divorced his wife but maybe we can help solve this issue for other couples. It’s a common one too. Here’s what he writes:

“When the ex was constantly shopping, she always seemed to “justify” her spending with the “it was on sale” argument.  When the budget was tight, the bank doesn’t care if you saved 75% if you bounce the check for the 25% that you DID spend.  She couldn’t understand my statement that it is 100% off if you don’t buy it at all.  Moral of the story, the great bargain justification eventually wears thin.”

This was a very common argument early on for me and Michael. My mom would always come home bragging about how much she got off of something so I would do it too. Michael would go bananas. That doesn’t mean you got a good deal. It just means it was overpriced to begin with.

We don’t have this fight much any more because I basically have curbed my shopping habits.

What do you guys think: Is a sale saving money or actually just spending? Is shopping in general a major problem area for you as a couple?

Speaking of money habits: Rana Cash is looking for people who would like to be interviewed for a story she’s working on about what our parents taught us about money (or didn’t teach us). Also, what are we teaching our kids. If you would like to be in Rana’s story you can email her at rcash@ajc.com.

33 comments Add your comment


February 24th, 2010
11:14 am

If you keep saving us that much money, you’ll bankrupt us!

I am blessed...

February 24th, 2010
11:16 am

…with a wife who does not like to shop – she retired a couple years ago and now goes out just to go out. Yesterday she came home and said she had spent 5 hours shopping…I asked what she had bought, as she is one that when she does shop likes to tell “what she saved”. After 5 hours she had purchased nothing, then she said she realized WHY she does not like to shop!


February 24th, 2010
11:28 am

Early in my marriage, my wife bought a fake Christmas tree for several hundred $, on sale, after Christmas. Her justification was that we wouldn’t have to fork out $ for a real tree for many many years, so we were saving money in the long run.

You guessed it, 3-4 years later, she wanted a REAL tree. I know, I know, she’s just one woman and doesn’t represent every woman. but she’s not alone in that ballpark either.


February 24th, 2010
11:35 am

If it’s somethiing that’s on sale – that we will definately use – then fine. Such as if laundry detergent is on sale – buy a couple bottles, good deal. But if a blouse is on sale for $30 and she wasn’t actually looking for / needing a blouse, then that’s not good. Fortunately, my wife didn’t grow up with much money, so she really doesn’t spend much.


February 24th, 2010
11:39 am

I hate to shop…

But, my MIL loves to shop and if it is on sale she buys it and saves it. Several years ago I lost my job which had a very relaxed enviroment. So I needed to get a more professional wardobe, she broght boxes and boxes of clothes my size she had, great I thought since I am not a overly picky person. uh oh… there were skirts in the box that matched the skirt I wore for my senior photos. Many of the clothes were from stores that were closed at least 10 years ealier.

She also purchased a new bedroom suite. The store called and said they were closing and needed her to pick it up because they could no longer store it for her. Come to find out she had purchased it 5 years earlier.

I am forbidden to enter her home. My FIL says when they pass to “just toss in a lit match”. From my understanding she has paths around the rooms. She brings foodstuff which has expried dates. When cleaning out my hubbys pantry she had stocked it with food that had expired 4 years before he moved in, nad he had lived there for at least 7 years. He never noticed and was not worried about it. Same with OTC meds, stocks up when on sale and then they sit around for years….


February 24th, 2010
11:40 am

I guess what I was trying to say is “on sale” has limits. It does no good to stock up on stuff your never gonna use “just because”….


February 24th, 2010
11:46 am

Exactly, Dave. If I need to go clothes shopping, I’ll look around and see which stores that carry what I’m looking for are having sales. I don’t decide to go clothes shopping just because there is a sale. Last week, I stocked up on frozen pizza and laundry detergent at the grocery store because the brands I normally buy were 2 for 1 — I know for certain I would be buying those items within the next few weeks anyway, so that’s significant savings.


February 24th, 2010
11:51 am

LM – that sounds more like hoarding


February 24th, 2010
11:52 am

My husband and I have a plan that works for us. We have separate checking accounts. My name is on his account should I need to pay for something for the kids, something he needs, etc. He wanted a joint account last year, but I don’t see the need. We do have a joint savings account. The way I see it, if I want to buy an expensive pair of shoes with money I earned, that’s my business. The same is true for him. As long as the bills are paid it’s all good. This has kept us from having any money issues. I’m not a big shopper anyway. And when I do shop, Marshalls and TJ Maxx are my BFFs. Of course Neiman Marcus Last Chance online comes in close as well. They have the best deals:).


February 24th, 2010
11:53 am

My wife has always worked so what she buys is no big deal to me; and, she does not get on me whenever I bring home new stuff, either.

I have said this before...

February 24th, 2010
11:56 am

…but it does fit today – my friend says he and his wife have the perfect spending agreement – he will earn the money and she will spend it….


February 24th, 2010
11:59 am

LM, your MIL has issues — and they aren’t just bargain-hunting. For the last eight years, my MIL was on a kick to “simplify”, and would periodically clean out a closet, a room, and one memorable week, their attic (think 35 years . . .) Every time she’d do it, she’d tease us, “I’m doing this for YOU!” She distributed lots of lovely silver and crystal pieces amongst her children, since we were entertaining and their entertaining had slowed down quite a bit. When they moved into a retirement community, the move wasn’t nearly as traumatic, because she had been sloughing off stuff for several years beforehand.

As to the topic: If I need it, I buy it. If it’s on sale, great. If it’s not, eh. If I don’t need it, I don’t buy it. I never buy somethig on sale just because it’s on sale. There’s a difference between stuff I NEED, and stuff I WANT. Stuff I want, I will do price comparisons, etc. and get the best deal possible. However, if I’m not looking for a sweater or a blouse, I won’t even notice they are on sale, because I’m just not looking at them, period.


February 24th, 2010
12:00 pm

I only buy stuff that is on sale that I actually use and that almost exclusivly applies to groceries. I have seen women who were simply compelled to ’save money’ even though they were buying stuff they didn’t need or wouldn’t use for months. My husband can walk in a store with a list of 5 items and walk out with 5 items but he usually pays full price, doesn’t bother with coupons and won’t go to Publix because 2 of the 5 items are on sale if Target is closer (I hate Target’s grocery dept but that’s another story). I guess I should be happy he goes and only buys what is on the list. But if I have a list and have my coupons with me, I’ll check the sale ad and pick up the other BOGO items I know we’ll use. If I see something like clothing on clearance that I know one of us needs and will use, I will considering buying it then even if it is off season (can you say swim trunks for the boy in November or a jacket in April that will get used next season?) That being said, I’m not buying anything if I know we don’t have money for it (did I used to? Yes, but we are on a no credit card budget now so if it’s not in the checking account, I don’t buy it).

Jeff in Roswell

February 24th, 2010
12:02 pm

My wife buys all this crap, comes home and says “Ooooh, I got it on sale, blah, blah, blah” Then we sometimes argue about the purchase and she then decides to take it back. It’s a little game – don’t ask me the purpose. I think it’s a couple of thrills for her. First, it’s the thrill of the purchase, second, it’s the thrill of taking something back and having the cash back in your hand. We’ve been round and round about it. Anymore, I just let her go about her business of it. The only thing that really ticks me off is if I open her trunk and it’s filled with returns, that haven’t gone back for MONTHS – lol, I’ve found stuff in there that’s about a year old.

And yes, she keeps those employees at the returns desk in a job.

Jeff in Roswell

February 24th, 2010
12:12 pm

@ DB, My FIL has been doing that for the last few years. Unfortunately, in our case, the items are garbage. He just can’t bear to throw away his stuff, so it ended up coming here for years. We’ve asked him to ASK us if we even want the stuff. It falls on deaf ears. Finally, the last time they visited, he brought his trash in and I promptly took it into the garage and threw it away. Then I made sure to leave the open garbage can by his car, so he could see it. LOL, we’ll see what happens! Who wants a portable black and white television from the early 80’s with a 4.5″ screen? LOL NOT ME!


February 24th, 2010
12:15 pm

I’m not the spender in my marriage!!


February 24th, 2010
12:48 pm

I’ve never been a big shopper. I hate the Malls!!! However, I love to grocery shop, don’t know why, but I love being in a grocery store. Probably because I love to cook and try new things.

I’m perfectly happy in a pair of jeans and comfy shoes. I hate dressing up. I think the last time I put on a dress, hose and heels was for a funeral last year. I don’t feel comfortable in dressy clothes, and I don’t care what anyone thinks. I certainly don’t dress to impress anyone. I dress for comfort. I work in a warehouse setting, so no need for high end frilly clothes. I gave up panythose YEARS ago and never looked back.

But, my weakness is sandals. Anything that show my feet in the summer. I love getting pedicures and wearing sexy sandals. I have about 10 pair, but guess what I wear them with my jeans.

I’m a single parent, no child support, and no credit cards, so I have to be thrifty. I have no debt except for the house note and monthly household utilities.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

February 24th, 2010
1:42 pm

tune in at 3:05 p.m.. for next case — from none other than Jesse’s Girl!!


February 24th, 2010
1:43 pm

@ Jeff I got my articifical tree (7 ft) for $10 after Christmas. I think I put up 6 trees 2008 (all artificial) Thing is I put them all up, I enjoyed doing it. This year not so much, just the 1 $10 tree.

To the topic:
As to sale being a savings. Would you have bought it anyway? Ex: BOGO ketchup where one goes on the shelf and you need ketchup–yes it is a bargain. You need a car (the current one is dying) and there are rebates all over, you get something that will last and get a tax credit too…CHACHING! The kids need shoes, BOGO again—yes that is a deal.

The iPad is finally on the market (sorry that thing looks SWEEEEET!) and they take $100 off. The old computer runs just fine. Not a sale, just spending money (though I truly empathize with why you bought it). The Blue Ray finally comes down in price, has a rebate but the DVD player is fine too and as someone said it would bounce a check or whatever….just spending money.

That is why you should BOTH have a mad money stash. In your budget you line item $$$ to his fund and $$$ to her fund. He saves it all and gets new sports car and she gets that Coach purse so be it. Course, I want the sports car ;)


February 24th, 2010
1:58 pm

When we pass an outlet mall, my wife says, “If we stop there, we could save a lot of money” and I say, “If we don’t stop there, we will save even more money!”

But overall, my wife doesn’t buy too much junk. And even if she did, she earns money too.

She has to force me to go buy clothes for myself. If you knew how many holes are in the undershirt I am wearing today, you would laugh. But who cares, its UNDER a shirt with no holes.

Jesse's Girl

February 24th, 2010
2:07 pm

I’m not a big shopper….the people in the stores tend to annoy me. And the lights in the dressing rooms are TERRIBLE! You’d think stores would get the picture already! I go in and get what I need…then I get out. If you don’t need it…then buying it on sale in case you may need some time down the road is silly to me.

Unfortunately for those who love to try to zing me….I will be unable to attend my topics debut:( But have fun with it….I know my family does:)


February 24th, 2010
2:11 pm

Sometimes when you buy stuff on sale for future use, it actually costs more in the long run. Buying stuff at 10% off today, holding onto it for a few years, then using it – can be more expensive than just buying it when you actually need it. You’ve lost the earning power of that money by spending it years to early.


February 24th, 2010
2:24 pm

Most of my bargain shopping is groceries, and replacing worn-out clothes. I probably could be a professional shopper, and by scouring the ads and coupons, I save our family hundreds of dollars a month on the stuff we have to buy. I am the woman who buys a six-month supply of soap at once because I’m getting it for pennies. The one who hasn’t *had* to buy toothpaste in a year because I have a stockpile of 15 tubes (all purchased for $.25 or less apiece), so I only buy it if I can get it for free (sales + coupons, people). Doesn’t matter if I need it in the near future or not . . . if it’s free, I’m saving money somewhere down the road! I shop the same way with food. When I can get boxes of whole-wheat pasta for $.19 a box (last week), I’ll get eight of them so that I won’t have to buy pasta again until I can get such a low price. I just stay aware of expiration dates, and make sure I operate on the first-in-first-out guidelines, so none of those foods or supplies go to waste. I probably could count on one hand, the numbers of items I’ve bought at full price in the last year. Except fresh produce . . . you can’t really stockpile fresh lettuce or oranges.


February 24th, 2010
2:26 pm

Dave, I’m trying to imagine a scenario where someone would buy something (presumably a large-ticket item, if you’re losing investment opportunity) to save 10% and then hold onto it for years. But maybe that’s part of my mindset: 10% off won’t even make me take a second look. 50-60% is where I start even paying attention. Groceries and clothes, that’s usually my minimum discount requirement. With a few exceptions.


February 24th, 2010
2:35 pm

Oooh, I just remembered one savings failure on my part. After my son was born, I knew I wanted a jogging stroller. I was looking to buy a lower-end model for about $130. I decided to check the kids’ consignment sales first, since I wasn’t sure if I’d really use it that much. I spent $65 on a stroller that was a couple years old. Used it twice and realized it was lacking one MAJOR feature that the other stroller had, and it was something I couldn’t compromise on (a pivoting front wheel). I tried to sell it at the next season’s consignment sale, but by then the model was five years old and that sale wouldn’t accept it. I found out at the end of the sale, AFTER I’d purchaed another jogger (for $50), with the pivoting front wheel.

So at that point I had two used jogging strollers and had spent $115, compared to $130 for the new one (and I probably could have saved 10-15% with a coupon). I finally sold that first jogger at another sale, for $35. So in the end, I’d spent $80 and ended up with a used jogging stroller. After all that effort, I should have just paid full-price for the new one. Oh well. My husband only made fun of me a few times. :)


February 24th, 2010
3:20 pm

I love to shop, but I will only buy if it’s really, really on sale..I use coupons for grocery shopping..I’m not as good as cld though..I’m working on that..Like JJ, I’m not into flashy and most of my clothes come from the thrift store or yard sales..Been there, done that for the dressy stuff..I’m not one for change, so once we buy furniture, that’s it until it falls apart..

@Jesses Girl..I do not try anything on at the store..Depending on what it cost, once I get home and try it on, I eitehr take it back or give it to someone in my family..

@Dave..I love your first comment..Have a coworker that him and wife bought a house..She wanted 2-3 rooms wallpapered, as soon as he finished the bathroom, she told him that she wanted it changed..I would never tell my husband that..


February 24th, 2010
3:41 pm

My hubby is the spender in our house. If there is something he wants, he will buy it, even if we have other things we should be paying for first! He is finally starting to get a clue though! It’s been a LONG road getting there though!


February 24th, 2010
7:11 pm

I am hopeful that folks are getting a handle on money/spending with the current financial problems going on.


February 25th, 2010
5:32 pm

I used to tell my mother that she’d buy dog food on sale even though she doesn’t have a dog. “Sale” only matters when you were going to buy it in the first place. Spending $20 on a $40 sweater is still $20 out of your pocket that you thought you were going to have in your pocket. Still a negative to the account. I say be smart about what you buy and then you won’t have that many regrets. From what I hear from married friends and family, separate personal accounts (and sometimes family accounts that one spouse cannot access without “permission”) is the way to go. (Before you go off on the “without permission” piece, this friend’s husband withdrew money THREE TIMES without checking how much they had and they ended up bouncing ALL their bill checks those 3 months. He cannot be trusted around the money. Period.)


February 26th, 2010
7:30 am

Having seperate checking accounts just means that you’re trying to make it easier for the divorce. Period.


February 28th, 2010
8:31 am

Lisa, thanks for the info…we’ve had separate checking accounts for years and this perhaps saved us from divorce.


March 1st, 2010
1:46 pm

MJG – no, the fact that you both know you’d never find someone else gullible or dumb enough to marry you has kept you two together.


March 10th, 2010
2:28 am

Good topic, You can also visit savingyourmarriage.co.uk that can help you during this tough times.