The Moneyist: My wife has 125 lipsticks. Her $11K cosmetics bill is our household’s largest expense — exceeding vehicles and housing

United States

Dear Moneyist,

My wife and I have about $ 4,000 in expenses each month. She brings in 14% of our total income while I bring in 86%. Before we married she lived with her wealthy parents and, from my point of view, lacks vital adult experiences she would have gained fending for herself had she lived on her own. 

I’ve been employed since I was 12. When I was 12, I had three paper routes. From there I moved on to washing dishes, cooking and delivering pizzas, and finally utilizing my STEM degree. I moved out of my parents’ house at 18 and never looked back. I’ve been budgeting, planning, and saving for 20-plus years to achieve my long-term financial goals.

I don’t really need the money, but in an attempt to help my wife gain a little adult experience, I’ve suggested she help with 14% of our expenses each month, roughly $ 560. I was hoping she would learn skills such as budgeting, saving and making regular payments on the same day each month, while also understanding the volume of my contributions to our relationship. 

Payback time for my wife

I let her pick the due date, but each month it rolls around, she begs to wait for one more pay period, because her account is empty. She begs to reduce the amount owed, and complains about the portion of her income. 

Each month I move the date back a week, to the point where she’s really only contributing 9 to 10 months out of the year. She’s never able to pay the full $ 560, and she completely fails to understand that the percentage of income for me is identical, and that I am making the exact same contributions in comparison to our household. 

Additionally, I deposit $ 155 after tax directly into her checking account from my paycheck. So she’s really just giving me my own money back. In April, there were three pay periods, where I deposited $ 465 into her checking account. She begged to contribute $ 500 late, instead of $ 560, essentially netting me $ 35 towards $ 4,000 in expenses.

Surprise credit-card statement

In January, I came across a late credit-card statement in our mail that caused me to take a closer look at her expenditures. For the past two months she had been spending, on average, $ 100 a day, on cosmetics. After 60 days her account was overdrawn and she had spent $ 6,000. I informed her of my extreme displeasure and said that this behavior absolutely has to stop. 

Since then she’s been spending almost $ 1,000 per month, cutting back because she only has an income of $ 1,000, and not a result of our previous discussion. In 7 months, she has spent almost $ 11,000 on cosmetics. 

I came from a frugal lower-middle-class family. My mom has three lipsticks total. My wife has over 125 lipsticks, costing $ 15 to $ 30 each, and she keeps buying more. She spends 100% of her free time watching teenagers, with $ 100,000 cosmetic collections, play with makeup on YouTube GOOG, +2.63% GOOGL, +2.92%.  

She earns $ 12.50 an hour working at a bookstore, and my brain is short-circuiting trying to figure out how someone with that level of income can justify spending tens of thousands a year on cosmetics. 

Household’s largest expense

It’s to the point where her cosmetics expenditure is our household’s largest expense, exceeding our vehicles and housing. Meanwhile, I’m keeping us afloat single-handedly.

I’m just exhausted. I’ve been working, planning, saving and living below my means my whole life to achieve financial independence and provide a comfortable life for my household. I max out both of our IRAs, and I am the sole contributor to our other long-term retirement goals. I am insulted and disgusted with the amount of money being spent on cosmetics. 

I’ve been patient and tried to approach her numerous times. She very quickly raises her voice and talks over me to control the narrative and prevent me from finishing my sentences, only vowing to double down. I just can’t get through to her. We desperately need couples therapy but she absolutely refuses to recognize the problem or participate in a solution. 

I am extremely frustrated. I thought I was marrying a teammate to help me tackle life’s problems and goals together. However, my wife is only contributing extreme liabilities. My patience is wearing extremely thin. What should I do?


Team Player

Dear Team Player,

First, the budgeting: Your wife is making you the marital equivalent of a warm cup of tea. She is playing along with the pretend budget to a point, making the entire experience taste just bad enough for you to finally give up and take care of it yourself.

And now the cosmetics and jewelry: The proverbial cup of tea is piping hot, and the nearer you get to it, the bigger the risk of being scalded. It’s a no-go zone, and you get closer to it at your peril. This threatens your wife in some way, the question is how and why.

She is unwilling to give up this part of her life. Marriage, of course, is about compromise, but your wife gets something from this jewelry and cosmetics. Whatever need this addiction fills requires constant replenishment. It may not end until your wife realizes what’s at stake.

The question is, how sustainable is this kind of financial isolationism? She is fulfilling her needs alone, while you keep the rest of the household budget and planning afloat. You could continue like this for months or years. The question is how long do you want to do that?

You know what you want: your wife to stop buying stuff she doesn’t need and acting like she is responsible for no one but herself. But the question is: what if she continues to spend this kind of money, and rely on you to look after her retirement and everything else? 

No more facilitating her compulsive shopping. If she does not have the money to pay off the credit cards, you need to intervene. Depositing money in her accounts so she can spend thousands of dollars on cosmetics she will never use must end. You should both be accountable for how household money is used.

Compulsive shopping

Here is a snapshot from “Advances in Psychiatric Treatment” on compulsive shopping, which speaks to the attempt to flee one’s deep-seated fears and anxieties. “Most compulsive buyers purchase goods that are of little or no use to them and feel a release of tension after the act,” the authors write.

It can happen at anytime. “The behavior can take a chronic course, with frequent episodes of shopping. In contrast to normal buyers, who usually plan and calculate their budget before they actually shop, compulsive buyers act on their impulses without prior planning,” the researchers write.

“Compulsive shoppers often suffer from poor self-esteem and marked distress, and commonly have comorbid conditions such as anxiety disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), binge-eating disorder, other impulse-control disorders and personality disorder,” they add.

This is a black, white and red situation. With the intervention of an adviser and/or financial therapist, you can bring your wife’s finances back to reality so she can see them in black and white. Then show her where the red line is for you, your relationship and your marriage.

Tell her how it makes you feel, and what you believe she is saying about your life. Show her on a chart how much is spent on jewelry/cosmetics versus food, housing and transport, and how this threatens the chances of you enjoying a comfortable life together, if not your retirement. 

Because this would be an intervention. Just like gambling or alcohol or sex or food or drugs, shopping can also be an addiction, and she risks losing your respect and your love. It provides your wife with an escape. Somewhere to forget. The question is, what is she escaping from? 

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