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- For Love & Money is a biweekly column from Insider answering your relationship and money questions.
- This week, a reader wonders if it’s worth buying “frivolous” flowers for a spouse who loves them.
- Our columnist says: If gifts are your wife’s love language, just buy the flowers.
- Got a question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.
Dear For Love & Money,
My wife’s love language is gift-giving and receiving, but I struggle with buying items like flowers and cards that seem frivolous to me. I want to make her happy, but I also don’t want to be recklessly spending our funds. What should I do?
Not a Cheerful Giver
Dear Not a Cheerful Giver,
Let me begin by pointing out a feature of your letter that I found especially telling. You categorized buying “flowers and cards” as “reckless spending.” Unless you are attempting to crawl out from under crushing amounts of debt and poverty, and from the tone of your letter, I don’t think you are, spending $6.99 on a card and $30 on flowers (if even that much) is miles away from “recklessly spending” your money.
That said, I recognize this is your perspective, so rather than simply telling you that you’re wrong, I think we should work on aligning your financial goals with your values instead. The best way to do this is to reframe how you feel about your money’s purpose.
You need to challenge your own ideas around money
You used the word frivolous to describe buying your wife gifts. The term “frivolous” implies that something is silly and unnecessary. So, to you, flowers and cards are silly and unnecessary.
But you also acknowledge that the most effective way to love your wife is through gifts. Do you think loving your wife how she needs to be loved is silly and unnecessary? In a way, you answered this question in your letter when you wrote, “I want to make her happy, but I also don’t want to be recklessly spending our funds.”
Per the wisdom of “Game of Thrones,” “Nothing someone says before the word ‘but’ really counts.”
I’m sure you mean it when you say, “I want to make her happy,” and yet, the word “but” still serves as a line between your competing ideals. If you want to make your wife happy, it sounds like you know what to do: buy her gifts that you personally deem silly and unnecessary because your relationship with her matters more than money.
On the other side of your “goal” lies your second option: guarding your finances, your wife’s emotional fulfillment be damned.
I have a feeling your best-case scenario is one where your wife goes to bed a high-maintenance princess and wakes up the coolest of cool girls — one who considers a bouquet that will wilt into garbage in five days a ridiculous present, one who would happily trade a romantic card for an evening spent together on the couch.
And yet, your wife will not wake up a different person tomorrow, and you will still be forced to choose between loving your wife and penny-pinching.
The princess is not morally or intellectually inferior to the cool girl, but to believe this, you must challenge your own ideas around money.
Is there something inherently wrong with spending money on things that aren’t necessary for our survival? If I were to tell you that spending money on washers and dryers in a world where running water and antique washboards exist is frivolous, you would second-guess my sanity. And yet, washers and dryers are technically convenience items unnecessary to our survival.
Now, if I say nice dinners out are unnecessary, you might find yourself nodding in reluctant agreement. Yes, they’re nice, but they are probably best seen as a treat. But a treat you still like to give yourself now and then. And as we know, you feel that buying your wife a handful of sunflowers at Trader Joe’s for $5 to show her that you love seeing her smile is a frivolous expenditure.
This is because the way we rank the conveniences and pleasures of modern life is relative to our personalities, circumstances, and finances. Thus, there is not one correct way to prioritize our “fun” money. There is, however, a correct way to love our partners, and that is in the way they want to be loved.
Just buy the flowers
Now, you know the ins and outs of your finances, as does your wife. Given that you both have this knowledge, I understand you may think she should reach the same conclusion as you have on what financial responsibility looks like in your specific situation. Feeling like the only one who recognizes your financial reality is probably hard. But this is where you must challenge yourself to trust that your wife understands your financial reality as well as you do, and yet she’s still reached the conclusion that you can afford to buy her flowers.
This means that when you choose penny pinching over loving her in the way she has expressed she would like to be loved, your wife doesn’t feel like she is asking too much; instead, she likely feels unloved.
You asked me what you should do. And here it is: Buy your wife the flowers. When you’re at the grocery store and see her favorite cookies, put them in your cart. Pick up a card that tells her how much you love her, and fill every last inch of it with a love letter of your own.
And when you are making these purchases, instead of thinking, “What a frivolous way to spend money,” think of it as a cash deposit into the most important relationship of your life. Because that’s what it is.
Rooting for you both,
For Love & Money