Partner buys skin care you can’t afford. Carolyn Hax readers give advice

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We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My partner spends around $400 a month on expensive facial and body products. We’re talking about $70 for a 2.5-ounce bottle of this kind of oil, cleanser, etc. Obviously, there are people who can afford these products and buy them regularly. There are also people who can afford them but choose to buy less expensive products. Then there are people who can’t afford these products but buy them anyway. We fall into the last category.

The two or three times I’ve brought it up, my partner responds with comments about the pressures on women to look a certain way and about the objectification of women. To be sure, she’s correct. I’m in no position to really understand what it feels like to be a woman in our society. Still, that’s a lot of money. Meanwhile I buy one pair of Uniqlo jeans and wear the hell out of them.

On top of not being able to afford this kind of luxury (a fraction of her skin-care expenses could go toward us and our two young kids taking a vacation, which we don’t do for lack of money), it doesn’t seem right that she has effectively marked this issue as off-limits. It’s about her as a woman, so I have no say in the matter. I need a new approach. What do you suggest?

Too Much: In a calm moment, discuss finances, not cosmetics. Discuss your family budget, your retirement plan, your hopes for vacations and child enrichment (art, music classes? sports?). Within that discussion, include discretionary spending as a part of the whole, and see if you can come to an agreement on how much is reasonable for each of you to have.

You might also consult a financial adviser (do you have a will to provide for your children?). This is a business talk, not a commentary on discretionary spending. It might help if you set up three bank accounts: one for household expenses, like mortgage, insurance, utilities and food; and one for each of you for discretionary funds that you each agree not to question. You might also want to make sure that you have separate credit cards in your own names rather than joint cards.

When your partner sees exactly how much money she has to spend, because it’s in a separate account and not mixed in with what seems like plenty, she will realize she has to learn to budget or go into debt on her own credit card.

Too Much: She is deflecting the conversation to shutting you down with an irrelevant but factual statement. There are many ways that women can take care of themselves that don’t include spending $400 a month on skin care. Healthy diet, adequate sleep, exercise and not smoking are at the top of the list.

There are also many great drugstore and other skin-care brands that don’t break the bank. Do a little research and try to have another conversation. Concede her point and move the conversation to working together to get to the bottom of why she feels that these skin-care products are the only solution to the problem.

Too Much: Speaking as a sleep-deprived mom of two young kids, there are very few things in my life and the lives of my fellow mom friends that are solely for us. Self care often goes out the window and it is easy to feel as though we have lost ourselves.

It sounds like your wife’s luxurious skin-care routine is something that gives her what may be just a few minutes a day to feel pampered and to make space for herself. Applying some fancy lotions can be incredibly rejuvenating and as a bonus can keep us looking fresh (requiring less money spent on makeup!) in a world where our social and professional success is often directly tied to our appearance.

She has set a firm boundary on this, and before re-approaching her, I would pause; if you think of the cost as being for her physical and mental health, rather than on a set of products, does that change your perspective on whether you can afford it?

If you still feel it is too much, then I think you should set aside time to discuss your budget and priorities. Accept and respect that this is a big one for her, then decide together what your financial goals are rather than making it your sole mission to get her to acquiesce on this one thing. If vacation is a big one for you, there may be other things to cut back on to allow both travel and skin care. If not, maybe she can pick one product to substitute with a more generic product as you save that money for a trip. Still … tread carefully here and please avoid a you vs. me dynamic when discussing spending.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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