Time and Money

My husband works all the time, and I’m a stay-at-home mother. He says he is working to maintain our lifestyle and future retirement, and I say that our children’s lives are passing him by. He is a devoted father and good man, and yet his (constant) working is often a source of struggle in our relationship. What would you suggest I do?

First, accept your husband as he is. It is not your job as his wife to change him.

We each have two things to spend: money and time. Thich Nhat Hanh says that the best gift we can give someone we love is our time. He also says we should ask our loved ones, “How can I love [you] better?” So this brings us to the question: Is time money? And the answer is, yes, time is money.

In our world we trade time for money every day. If we have a $1,600 monthly mortgage and earn $40 an hour after taxes, we must work one 40-hour week just to pay for our housing. This example illustrates how the “love or money” connection came into being. If the best gift I can give someone I love is my time, and if time is money, then money must also be a gift that shows love. And yet, there are some important differences between money and time. We can save money but not time. Time just goes on, regardless of what we do with it. We can only substitute one way of using our time for another.

If your husband says he would like to spend more time with you and the kids but can’t figure out how, then I would suggest you get a fee-only financial planner. Ask the planner to show your husband that the family will be OK financially if he cuts back on work, 401(k) contributions, and evening conference calls a bit. Leo Bascaglia says, “Happiness is the relaxed enjoyment of life.” If the family is enjoying life more, I don’t think he will mind the “risk “ that he might retire a few years later.

My parents are celebrating their fortieth anniversary. They are financially well off, yet there is no spirit of philanthropy or “giving” in our family culture. Ironically, I work at a nonprofit and know the meaningful rewards of service and givingand I would love for them to connect with giving.

Just love your parents and relax. If you’re into being a bit sneaky, I would dress up an opportunity for them to spend time with you. Invite them to go with you on a “site visit” vacation, somewhere where they can see what poverty really is. Once they see kids eating garbage from a dump, AIDS children in an orphanage, a school without books, a hospital with no electricity, or starving children, they will most likely have their hearts opened. And if they don’t, that’s OK too. It sounds like they raised a great citizen.

Over the years, I’ve seen several friends who are married with children stay in very bad relationships because of financial dependency and fear around money. What advice would you give them?

I would say: don’t be guided by fear. Think long term and realize you have options. And ask yourself a few questions: “Is this relationship best for the children? Can I make this relationship better by looking at how I relate to the relationship? What were the commitments I made to the relationship? to my spouse? to my kids? Am I wishing for more from life and feeling stuck and expecting others to change around me? What are my support options for housing, a job, child care, and such if I were to leave this relationship?” Armed with the answers to those questions, you can then see a financial planner and a therapist with the skills to help you sort through your options using a rational, fact-based approach. Most important in such a dramatic life change is the family and friends who will and can support you.

What do you think is the best way to teach children about generosity around money?

By your example. The way we spend our time and money reflects our values. We can choose to live in a way that allows us to practice and demonstrate generosityor other values we hold important. Do you tip? Do you smile at people with gratitude even when you don’t feel like it? Do you share with others? When your brother-in-law needs money, do you help him? Do your children hear you chatting about the different needs in your community and the ways you can give your support, or do you just silently send off a check?

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