x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

With financial responsibility comes an element of guilt

Finances are the number one cause of arguments in a marriage. If this isn't the case in this union, why rock the boat?

Google "marriage and finances" and you're presented with more than 28 million results, led by a Forbes articles titled "5 Financial Mistakes that Ruin Your Marriage". Dr Phil, that alleged bastion of human relationships, believes money is the number one problem in marriage, the number one reason couples fight, the number one cause of divorce. Money and marriage, it seems, is an age-old problem, or so we're told.

I am hesitant to subscribe to this adage because Mr T and I have never had an argument centred around money, finances or budgeting, except maybe when I admonish him for leaving his coins all over the house.

Our financially themed spats usually have to do with me wanting to pay for something – dinner, most likely – and him demanding I return his confiscated wallet and stop insisting I pay for a date that he organised.

Mr T and I were never really clear on exactly how much we spent each month.

How irresponsible, I know. But it's easy, in the UAE, when you're both bringing in decent salaries that are not taxed, to be lulled into thinking you're well off enough not to need to keep tabs on spending. The rent can be paid up front, instead of becoming a monthly expense, as are utilities most of the time. Save for a phone bill here and there, maybe an internet bill and some car maintenance, there are no pressing monthly expenses to keep track of, making your salary fair game most of the time.

My husband and I have the type of relationship where I don't need to go to him for spending money; I don't need to create a household budget and he doesn't need to figure out how much that would be. We just spend as we go along, eat out whenever the notion strikes, plan weekends in Dubai's fancy hotels and shop for my wardrobe like our lives depend on it. Creating some sort of budget and sticking to it was never really a concern; we had become so comfortable that we couldn't really be bothered, and although it was admittedly the smart thing to do, it never seemed imperative.

A few months ago, Mr T and I decided our spendthrift ways had to change; it became our delayed-by-a-month New Year's resolution. We didn't know where we had to cut back on spending, or what area had to be monitored, but we resolved to find out. We decided to start recording every dirham spent.

The easiest way for Mr T was to simply enter the information into his iPhone and then tally up the information at the end of each month. Since it seemed repetitive for me to do that as well (OK, fine, I knew I'd forget to keep a record after a maximum of two days), we decided I'd just tell him what I spent each day and he'd make a note of it.

Which means that, at the end of each day, as we're getting ready to sleep, Mr T reaches for his iPhone and asks: "So how much did you spend today?"

Yes, it's just as bad as it sounds. On days when I'm cranky, I resent the question just as much as I did when I'd come home from a marathon shopping session, laden down with bags, only to run into my parents in the living room, their eyes bulging at how much damage I'd done. "How much money did you spend exactly," they'd ask, and I'd swear up and down that everything was on sale - no, on clearance.

To avoid owning up to my parents that my salary was being spent on shoes, I'd usually hide my purchases in the trunk of my car and sneak them into my room only when the coast was clear. Then, when my mother would stare suspiciously at an unfamiliar top or pair of heels, and ask me where that latest purchase was from, I could easily shrug and say: "What, this old thing? I've had it for ages, it's not my fault if you can't remember it and think it's new." She never fell for that.

With Mr T, I am suddenly expected to be accountable and own up to every purchase, like that ice-cold frappuccino I swore I'd stop buying, or the stack of books that I had to stop and grab on my way home because I read an article that told me I had to have them on my bedside table. Suddenly, it's not just one lipstick and one little pastry and a bottle of lotion because my favourite brand is not always easy to find. Instead, it's Dh300 at the end of a day when I should have spent nothing at all, seeing as I was at work and meant to come straight home, and it's Dh300 at the end of a day when my husband only spent Dh70 on gas. Oh, and Dh500 on my phone bill.

And, apparently, I'm supposed to own up now when I shop online. I didn't think that counted - I was using my credit card, not cash! Plus it's not like I come home with the product in my hand; I have to wait for it to arrive. So am I supposed to own up as soon as I click the "buy" button, or as soon as I get an email confirming that my purchase is on its way to me, or as soon as the package actually arrives?

And when one of us buys groceries, does that automatically mean we can't order in that night? Because grocery shopping is really a very arduous business, and who wants to slave over a stove after unpacking all those vegetables? It never used to be a problem when we weren't aware how much we'd already spent on groceries as the month progressed; ordering take-out never used to elicit so much guilt.

I miss our old arrangement - the one where neither of us knew where the contents of the other's wallet was going. I also think we should start keeping separate records: owning up to my expenses at the end of each day has made me feel like I'm confessing to my boss or parent, instead of keeping track with my partner. Plus, each of us keeping our own record and then comparing the result at the end of the month may cultivate a healthy sense of competition, right?

It's really all very confusing, and makes me reminisce about the days when things remained hidden in the trunk of my car. Which reminds me; I better get that extra car key off Mr T before he begins to suspect anything.

Hala Khalaf is the deputy Arts & Life editor at The National. Contact her at hkhalaf@thenational.ae.