Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My wife and I make a decent living and have always been able to enjoy a relatively comfortable life — dining out without scrutinizing our budget, buying new gadgets and clothes when we want them, taking regular vacations. We have savings that modestly increase over time, but in general we live within our means and enjoy the nice things in life.
Cue COVID, and we’ve been doing our part, hunkered down — and hardly spending a dime. Our savings account has been increasing all the while. It was a positive effect of the craziness we’re all living through. I have to admit, we were both surprised by how much discretionary spending we did before, and it was pretty surprising to see how quickly these savings added up.
Now that the economy is opening up again, I’ve suggested we start adding some of our old normal activities back into our life. For example, maybe we go out to dinner once a week. Maybe she starts getting pedicures again. Maybe we could actually leave Anchorage for the weekend and stay at a cabin somewhere.
Well, wife isn’t having it. She said she has realized how much money we can save when we make “smart choices” and she likes the way we’re living now just fine. She wants to focus on building our savings and limiting expenses. I don’t know how much of this is coming from her being anxious about being out in the world, or how much of it is just dollar signs and her being excited about our growing savings account. I do know that I miss our old life and want it back. What can I do?
I read recently that one must do something 50 or more times to successfully build a new habit; I also read (I read a lot) that in the time of COVID-19, we are primed to build new habits because we have so much time and blank space to reimagine how we want to live our lives. My point: While it is possible your wife is speaking strictly from a place of defensive anxiety over reentering the society stratosphere, it’s highly likely that after 50+ days of hunkering down and hoarding cash, she’s totally good with this new way of doing things.
As businesses are invited to reopen and gatherings beyond our households are once again permitted, many of us will weigh our old lives against our new routines and try and cobble together something that seems not only safe and reasonable, but also — dare I say — enjoyable. It’s only natural to look for ways to get some of our joy back after the last few months of sacrifice, uncertainty, bans and closures.
However, for everyone, this will look different and will move at a different pace. When managing through this transition time with a partner, it’s important you talk about your needs and feelings. Start by articulating yours instead of trying to guess at hers. Why do you want to get back to your old routine? Why did you like it better? What is missing in the current way of doing things? If you can explain these needs and feelings to her, she may be more inclined to compromise.
Well, it’s always a bummer when your running mate suddenly goes from baller to budgeter, big-tipper to coupon-clipper, making it rain to saving for a rainy day. And when your co-pilot is your romantic partner or spouse, that basically means that you’re committing to that seismic lifestyle shift, too.
But let’s appreciate that this pandemic has blown up everyone’s routines and we’re all just trying to get through these crazy times the best we can. Some feel most comfortable changing as little as possible: pandemic, CDC and social distancing be damned. Some flip the script (by choice, necessity or demand) from their routines and transition into their best versions of a “new normal.” Some folks, like you, are trying their best … but get the shakes just thinking about going back to their favorite corner table at their favorite restaurant with their favorite friends and their favorite meals made by their favorite kitchen crew. And some are so anxious about setting foot — and mouth and nose — back in this wild new world that they snatch and hold on tight to anything that resembles an extra level of protection from the presumed dangers lurking outside the doors.
In this case, I’m guessing your partner feels that saving money is providing a sense of security amidst an unpredictable job market, erratic economy and shaky stock market. And I’m with her — heck, anyone with a career or job they love, a 401(k) or emergency savings account, a mortgage or rent payment, and a dream of a comfy retirement or a fridge with enough food for dinner tomorrow has to be feeling some serious anxiety right now.
I understand your frustration and excitement about getting returning to some normalcy, and, well, having some freaking fun again. But really, at this point, what’s the hurry? You’ve made it this far. Will it kill you to give your wife and yourself a little extra time, a little extra money, and a little extra clarity on our world as it becomes “normal” again? You both will know when the time is right to venture out and live it up a little again. And I’m betting she’ll be just as thrilled as you for an excellent and expensive meal and a break from hunkering down.
[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]