Husband vs. Wife: Cutting Back the Smart Way

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Lori and Marek Fuchs have never fought in their 16 years of marriage—except over money. In this column, Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs, a real-life married couple with three kids (ages 12, 8 and 5), articulate their very different approaches to personal finance.

In this round, she says: a cleaning lady was too expensive, that’s why we cut back.  He says: not having help costs us money—especially with your work strike.

Mr. Fuchs: We speak to financial planners on issues like insurance and college savings until I want to plug my ears, but what can they tell us about cleaning help? Nothing. Zip. Zilch. And in our lives, at least in the short run, that’s all that matters.

Mrs. Fuchs: Ah, the cleaning lady. With journalism imploding and my psychology practice down because of he economy, we had to cut back and stop using one.

Mr. Fuchs: But with three kids and two dogs who kick up dirt and dust around the clock, I swear it's losing us money long-term. To me, it seems a metaphor.

Mrs. Fuchs: To you, everything seems a metaphor.

Mr. Fuchs: No, hear me out. Because if you work for yourself and if more work can bring in more money, you should probably be careful that you don’t cut back in areas that’ll cost you more time. Time is money, quite literally. If, for example, we keep the house six degrees cooler this winter, that might be a better way to save money. That doesn’t cost time.

Mrs. Fuchs: I can’t type when my hands have the chilblains you know.

Mr. Fuchs: Chilblains? I suspect you have a good point, but what are chilblains, a bean dip?

Mrs. Fuchs: Funny. It’s what can happen when you expose me to too much cold weather.

Mr. Fuchs: Do you learn everything you know in life from those old English novels?

Mrs. Fuchs: Anyhow, you’re only concocting this theory because I went on strike and haven’t done the cleaning or laundry since last week. You don’t want to pick up my slack. As far as I can figure, there is no economic downside to doing your own cleaning — only marital ones.

Mr. Fuchs: I’m telling you, though, even the small amounts of laundry, dusting and (ugh, the worst) vacuuming I’ve picked up since your job action have me exhausted. I can barely write articles which, in an industry that is unraveling as we speak — from Gannett (Stock Quote: GCI) to Conde Nast to the New York Times (Stock Quote: NYT) — is no good. And financial planners support me. They say that when you cut back, especially if you are self-employed, be certain not to do it in any area that will cost you a ruinous amount of time and money. Compounding your troubles in this manner is a special risk for the self-employed. Remember a couple of years ago when I was going to paint the house to save us $7,000? Well, it would have taken me forever and cost me about twice that in lost work. If I were a tenured, salaried teacher on summer break—no problem. But the self-employed have to watch that cut backs don’t cut them down.

Mrs. Fuchs: I suppose you have a point on the large scale but you still have to have the money to be able to spend it. When you plan your budget you still have to make sure that things that are, ultimately, luxuries do not take away from things like saving for retirement or paying down debt. That will cost you even more in the long run than the time you spend sweeping – which I’ll bet you can do in the time it takes me to write my part of this column.

Mr. Fuchs: Are you saying I should quit my sniveling and start cleaning?  Hey, I resemble that accusation.

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