Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Couples Do This Eighteen Times a Month


When teaching money management classes, I often cite statistics from authoritative sources such as Psychology Today and American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists indicating that arguments about money are responsible for more couples breaking up than even infidelity.

I may have to modify my presentations.  According to studies cited in the Wall Street Journal, the average American household has 18 arguments a month over…dishes; “from leaving them in the sink to who should empty the dishwasher.”  The paper even interviewed couples about the subject and referred to an interview with the prime minister of Great Britain that touched on the subject of how he and his wife differ on how to load a dishwasher.

Eighteen arguments a month.  More than one every two days.  That very well may supersede money as to frequency, if not in intensity, as a subject for marital fighting.  But it got me to thinking about how the matter of dishwashing has evolved between my wife and me.  Our first house did not have a dishwasher, and that in itself led to some “discussions” about prioritizing home improvements or listing desirable features to have in our second house.  But for years now we’ve had a dishwasher, and it is almost never a subject of discussion.  How did we get there?

Neither of us had a dishwasher in our childhood homes; so when we finally purchased one as adults, there was a bit of a learning curve.  Rinse before loading?  How to load?  Who empties it?  Who washes what could not go in the dishwasher?  My only “lesson” in dishwasher science came from my brother who worked for a while in a college cafeteria to earn his way through school.  He would come home and tell the family how the workers there packed the silverware so tightly together in the dishwasher that he could not fathom how they possibly got clean.  I think he started packing his own plasticware when he ate there.  So my take-away?  Load the dishwasher strategically to maximize water flow and promote thorough cleaning.  Unfortunately, I didn’t explain this very well to my wife, and she did not appreciate my undoing her machine-loading job to re-organize the dishes and utensils.  But I still don’t think we argued 18 times every month.  In fact, my insistence on there being a correct way to stack the dishes eventually led her to just leave the whole task to me.  So now nearly always (like 99 times out of 100) I load and unload the dishwasher and handwash what I choose not to cram into the machine.  I won that battle, huh?

Reading the Wall Street Journal article left me pondering whether there might be lessons in all this for how to handle arguments about money—which I am still convinced are generally much more serious than proper dishwasher loading.  But if there are any lessons that carry over, they are lessons in what NOT to do.  For example, neither partner in a couple should throw up his/her hands and turn over all financial matters to the other, just to avoid fights.  First, it just won’t work.  Attitudes and emotional reactions, learned in childhood from our own parents’ relationship with money, are woven too tightly into money matters to just surrender control to someone else without some resentment creeping in.  And second, if that partner dies, becomes disabled, or just leaves, the other will be hobbled by not having been involved in financial affairs and may even be unable to handle them alone.  It has become a problem for both widows and widowers and the survivors of gray divorce especially.

So you can cede control of the dishwasher or the remote to your partner, but insist on being involved in financial decision-making.


Until next time,


“Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles!” James 3:5 KJV

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Why Fred and Barney are at Knee Level

 I changed grocery stores.

For years I have been shopping primarily at a national chain grocery store, being pleased with their dedication to lower prices and decent quality.  But then they re-arranged their store.  I went in to shop one day and there was a team of contract workers who were moving merchandise en masse from shelf to shelf.  When I went back a week or two later, their task accomplished, I found….no, that’s the wrong verb.  I didn’t “find” anything.  Nothing was in the place to which I had become accustomed over the years.  Paper towels in an aisle opposite frozen food?  I literally spent double the normal amount of time doing the grocery shopping that day.  And I haven’t been back since.

Perhaps if that store had done some other things right I’d still shop there.  But of late even during busy hours they had at most two cashiers working.  The largest part of the checkout area was devoted to self-checkout machines.  And I often found mistakes on their pricing at the checkout.  (Yes, I admit it; I do check the receipt for mistakes and have been amply rewarded.  I’ve been refunded more than enough to pay for a nice restaurant meal in the last year or two and have received some merchandise for free for catching their errors.)

So I have started shopping at a smaller chain grocery store, as well as at a specialty local grocer, and am very pleased.  I’m saving money, which I did not expect.  The stores are cleaner, brighter, and less congested, and there are enough cashiers all the time such that I’m never more than third in line, and am usually first or second.  And there’s no self-checkout area.  Mistakes on their receipts?  Non-existent.  If the shelf or weekly circular advertises a sale, that sale price invariably comes up at checkout.

Thinking about this experience, I thought it might be a good time to review some grocery store tricks for getting you to spend more money, because that shuffling of goods that turned me against the one chain is a frequently used ploy; if you are having to wander the store looking for what is on your list, you will be exposed to more items, more temptations to buy stuff not on your list and not really needed.  But how about these tricks:

·         Placing higher priced goods at eye level, lower priced goods on the top or bottom shelves

·         Large shopping carts, to induce us to fill them (this works like a charm on my neighbor)

·         Cartoon character-themed goods placed at children’s eye level

·         Music playing to both keep you in a good mood and slow down your shopping experience so you purchase more (Then, once you are in the checkout line, the cashier rushes you through; one even told me they are evaluated on how quickly they move customers through the line.  No chit-chat, please.  Very impersonal.)

·         Essential and often-purchased items placed in the back of the store or the middle aisles, forcing shoppers to pass more shelves and hopefully purchase more non-essential items


And of course, don’t go to the store hungry.  It’s tempting to go to Costco to get a light, free lunch from all the samples, but that only whets your appetite and causes you to spend more, not to mention the temptation to actually purchase a box of those Girl Scout-style chocolate mint cookies being sampled just feet from the checkout area.  You get an A+ for your grocery shopping if you’ve ever resisted that pitch.

Until next time 


 “Don’t let anyone trick you with foolish talk.” Ephesians 5:6 CEV