This week’s edition of Sleeping With Money is about the struggle lovers often have over how much to spend on food and includes hints on how to compromise.

I have never had a partner whose class status was the same as mine growing up. My family had strange values about money. eatingout1.jpgWhen I was small, we didn’t have nice cars and we lived in a veritable shack- but we visited Tahiti and ate French and Moroccan cuisine at restaurants in Hollywood. My parents moved from lower working class to upper middle class by the time I was fourteen, but the focus of their money was always the same, we explored (exploited?) different cultures and we ate expensive food, especially for celebrations.

My familial attachment to this way of eating has proven to be one of the biggest pitfalls in most of my romantic relationships. I have heard from my friends and life coaching clients that this is not unusual. Other factors make eating complicated, too. For instance, different tastes, pickiness, allergies or a truly tight budget. Having the same values about food as your partner would be the ideal situation, but as we know from being queers, somehow, Love is not always a choice. You might fall in love with someone who wants homemade nachos every night, beer for breakfast or lobster for every luncheon.

I was once in love with woman who came from a struggling working class family who would go out to eat with me and later berate for buying the most expensive thing on the item, even if I was the one treating her to dinner! When this woman and I became engaged, I settled for a very inexpensive ring, but I loved it. Our mothers both came into our town to help us plan the wedding, three months away. My parents had agreed to pay for most of our very small wedding because her parents were divorced- her mother (read Paula’s post on In-Laws) was struggling and her father not supportive. Of course her mother wanted to help with some things, but when it came down to feeding our guests, things got ugly.

I already had a dress, my cute butch fiance’s suit was about thirty dollars from Sears and our lovely queer church was free. We were having a 20’s croquet picnic and I wanted some catered sandwiches and salads, even from a grocery deli. That was deemed ridiculous and I was called a “Princess.” Her mother demanded that we feed the guests her own homemade potato salad. My bride-to-be, of course, held the same values as her mother and I was convinced to let my dad and her step dad barbeque veggie dogs.

I had lost the battle. My dream of a wedding as a child included nothing more than feeding people really well. And maybe just one ice sculpture. My sweetheart’s mother’s calling me names increased and our class wars became more violent. My love and I both went a little crazy and eventually called off the wedding. Ahh, the trials of youth.

Years later, my current partner and I have successfully lived through our own class wars. He’s a tightwad who doesn’t enjoy food like I do. I’m still a princess and want to try every restaurant in town. The following helpful hints about how I finally learned to stop fighting with lovers about food spending came from a rigorous self-inventory about how and where I spend my money and from about two years of intensive relationship coaching. But now I’m coaching others on finances and relationships, so here is the cheat-sheet!

1. I Own My Class And Culture:

Personally, it’s in my nature to be controlling about health as it relates to food and my loved ones. I recognize that women for generations of my Jewish family and all of my family members remember times when healthy food was hard to get, and so now everyone should eat the healthiest food possible and lots of it. “Essen, Bubalah” we say, “Eat, Dear”. As worriers, we think we are showing our love by caring too much about our partner’s eating. I also tend to spend money on food because I think it’s healthier, it’s organic, it’s local, or just because it’s my main luxury. These may not be things my lover values.

Get to know your own values about your spending on food and where they come from. Own them, decide if you wish to change them or if you are comfortable your lifestyle around food , and figure out how to compassionately explain this to your partner.

Do some research. Is Eating Out Cheaper Than Eating In? It depends on whether you count your time in preparing meals, how fast you can cook the meal you want. For me, I would rather work with my time and then be able to afford someone preparing and serving a meal to me at a restaurant. Also, what you eat when you’re in versus out may have consequences for your health. I tend to eat out mostly because of the change of atmosphere and the quality chat-time.

2. I Practice Acceptance of My Partner’s Eating and Spending:

I think that having dinner dates at nice restaurants is romantic. I value being able to do this in a relationship. My first step in being able to have dinners out with a partner who may have different financial situations or value systems going on is to offer to pay for their dinner too, no strings attached. I say, “Eating at a place I love with the person I love is a pleasure worth the cost.”

Sometimes, this has not been enough. Maybe my partner feels too prideful for my previous suggestion. Maybe he doesn’t like the kind of food I want to have. Maybe she feels so tight and scared about money that she begs me to let her cook tacos tonight and not go out at all. If you are the one wanting to spend less and eat in more frequently, or buy conventional instead of organic, make sure that you check in with your preconceived notions about people who spend more on food and decide whether you think it is more loving to judge, or more loving to accept.

3. I Get My Own Needs Met:

Trying to change someone never really works in our best interest, does it? Leading by example as you hold ownership for your own values and get your own needs met is actually a much better way to communicate. It’s proven that when you stop trying to force your partner to change to your way of doing things, they are more likely to agree with some aspects of your spending when they see you so happy.

Getting your own needs met means being okay with using your time away from your partner to spend the way you want to.

If you are more lax with food money, take yourself on solo dates to your favorite bistro or get a friend to take those trips with you. If you live alone and have your own money, stock your fridge with your favorite expensive foods and eat them as you like and be willing to eat less expensively when you’re with your partner.

If you wish to be more frugal about food spending, eat cereal or your fast food burger for lunch and then be willing to spend a little more occasionally on dinners out with your more spoiled partner. How about spending your Sunday morning clipping coupons and then making a beautiful dinner for your sweetie with some foods they love, which you got at a great deal? This is a very loving way to lead by example.

4. I Compromise:

Compromise is always necessary in relationships and is even more crucial in a domestic partnership where you share a bank account. When I have the money, I prefer to eat expensive organic restaurants whenever the fancy hits me. I think that dinners out are romantic, but when I am trying to pay a mortgage with my partner, spending $120 on dinner becomes less romantic when you have a fight for dessert and you both have indigestion for days from anxiety. Whether we share bank accounts or not, most of us are codependent enough (oh yes, that’s me) to be worrying about my partner’s financial situation even if we don’t share financial burdens. Either way, the answer is always a compromise. I have learned how to eat out more cheaply if I want company.

In the partnership of one my clients, Bob, I advised him to get honest with himself about just how he wished his boyfriend would change his spending on food when they were together. He said that he wished his partner would just get more relaxed about money (even though his partner truly makes less than he does) and that they could go out to a nice restaurant at least every other night and one breakfast a week. I then asked Bob what he knew of what his boyfriend really wanted. “He wants to eat cheap burritos for every meal and never go out with me.”

It later turned out that although Bob’s boyfriend had said this, it was merely a reaction to my Bob trying to force fancy dinners on his lover every night for a month! We used both of these extreme reactions to the conflict to negotiate the beginning of a compromise. Bob figured maybe he could eat out every other night with someone he loved or by himself and he would ask his boyfriend to go out with him every Saturday night and one Sunday brunch a month.

5. I Ask For Reciprocal Compromise and I Am Specific:

Compromise isn’t a quick and easy deal. We decide how we would like the compromise to go, and where we can give in. Equally important is the next step of making this known to our partner and then allowing them room to change the compromise so that they have equal input. Bob told his boyfriend about his childhood food stories and that he was working on respecting his boyfriend’s budget and values. As it turns out, Bob’s boyfriend was willing to spend two or three nights a week eating out with Bob, if Bob paid for one of the more expensive restaurants, but he still thought Brunch prices were ridiculous. Now Bob gets two or three romantic meals out with his boyfriend and his boyfriend never has to drink a Mimosa again.

In Conclusion:
Skillful self-inventory, acceptance and compromise can be more than a way to solve one couple’s issue, it can actually open each individual up to new ways of thinking about money. I had this fight not too long ago in my own current relationship. At the present moment, I eat at the most expensive organic restaurants with my two best friends. But I feel the need to go out less since my sweetheart stocked my fridge with goodies from Trader Joe’s. My sweetie has tried new and exotic foods since we’ve been together, as long as I don’t push it, and is willing to spend some money on romantic dinners as long as it’s just Mexican or Italian. Ultimately, practicing acceptance of another’s food frugality has helped me save a lot of money.

Hint: The above five steps seem to work wonders for just about any relationship conflict. It’s just that the way I learned them happened to be through food- the quickest way to many of our hearts!