Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My husband gets angry about the amount I spend

Dear Virginia,

As a full-time mother of two young boys, I'm financially dependent on my husband.

The problem is that in the last six months he has become increasingly angry about the amount I spend. He's got no job worries as far as I can see, but I only have to buy a new T-shirt for the boys, or boots for myself (mine were irreparable), or chocolate biscuits as a treat for his mother, who lives with us and whom I care for, and he's furious. I'm not a spendthrift – I hate shopping. But what can I do?

Yours sincerely, Nina

I think you're right to feel worried. There's something wrong in your family life and whether it's really anything to do with overspending is, I have to say, a moot point. Obviously, if your husband is secretly terrified that he's going to lose his job and hasn't confided in you, then it's understandable that he's a bit freaked out when he sees any kind of expenditure that he thinks might be remotely frivolous. Actually, were he really worried about money, he'd probably be freaked out about any spending at all, even on essentials.

Anyway, I think you should get this possibility out of the way first. Clearly, with looking after three people in your life, you don't have a minute to get a part-time job, but you might be able to share some of the burden with your husband were he to confide in you. You could make a list of expenditures and see if there's any way of cutting down – check on your insurance policies, and phone your energy providers to see if you're getting the best deals – and then make some kind of gestures that would take the burden off him. Or at least make him feel his worries were being taken seriously. Camping holidays instead of B&Bs. Future T-shirts from Primark. Chocolate bics from Lidl.

But there are other things that could explain his character. He might be feeling depressed and be harbouring some widely fantastic ideas about you and your family living high on the hog, drowning in clothes and sweetmeats, burning £50 notes just for the hell of it, while he drags off to work where, because he's feeling low, is becoming increasingly difficult for him to perform satisfactorily. Maybe he should have a holiday, or see his doctor. He might also, if he's depressed, be feeling super-sensitive. Perhaps he's aware that you're holding the family together in some way – that despite your difficulties, you're all happy, held together perhaps by your good humour – and he might feel jealous. You don't say how old your boys are, but it's quite common for fathers to feel resentful of adolescent boys entering a world of sex and fun, while he's an ageing office drone. He might feel left out and unappreciated. If this is the case, it would be no bad thing to involve him a bit more in what you're up to, and to butter him up to make him feel needed and wanted.

But he might – and I rather hesitate to suggest this – be having an affair. It's amazing how bad-tempered having an affair can make a man. In order to assuage the guilt he feels, he has to justify his actions by painting his home life, in his mind, as far blacker than it really is. He inflates things that only mildly irritated him before into huge obstacles, so that he can, when he has a pang of conscience, say to himself: "It's small wonder I'm having an affair! My wife's a spendthrift!"

I think that if you pursue all these ideas you'll find what's at the bottom of what seems on the surface to be irrational behaviour, but which might, if you dig deep, be something that can be dealt with.

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Readers say...

Take charge

This is a perfectly ridiculous situation – that in this day and age, even if you are not earning, you should be so utterly dependent on another human being for your very existence. Have you never had your own money, your own bank account, your own savings, even before you were married? How come you have descended into this ghastly situation? For you are partly responsible. My father was a banker and even in the Sixties, as we were growing up, used to say that a married woman must have her own money and the right to spend it as she chooses. Your husband should be paying you an allowance every month for your own personal needs, even if it only covers the cost of tampons. There should be a separate account for housekeeping and an allowance also to cover the boys' needs.

Tell him you refuse to buy another single thing for the household, including food, until this is satisfactorily arranged. This is the 21st century! Take charge – and get it sorted!

Ruth Hill

By email

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Put your house in order

The very fact that he has become increasingly concerned about expenditure over the past six months indicates that he, like the rest of the population, is becoming very concerned about the economic outlook. With a wife and two children the pressure on future financial security is tremendous. He is obviously worried about what lies ahead. Whatever it is, you should support him.

Talk to him and prioritise outgoings, starting with everyday outgoings such as food and utilities, allowing for emergencies such as repairs, and finishing with holidays, meals out etc. Allocate an amount of money for each category. If you overspend on one category transfer money from an another, and never overspend. You'll soon realise areas where savings can be made. Cutting out his mum's chocolate biscuits, however, does seem a bit extreme.

Anita Ashford

Norwich

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Share his burden

Providing your husband has not lost his job, I think he's merely suffering from responsibility overload. He's already showing admirable restraint by only complaining about the price of a packet of biscuits when he's supporting three non-working generations in one house. Regrettably, many men would show their discontent by leaving altogether.

Show him you want to share the load. Leave the boys with their gran and get a part-time job. One day a week will easily cover your boot, biscuit and T-shirt needs, and might also stretch to dinner à deux now and then. He sounds nice, hang onto him.

Felicie Oakes

Edgbaston,

Birmingham

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Get a job

You need to get a part-time job. It doesn't have to be much: a couple of hours delivering leaflets, a few hours in a shop. Just something. First, this will give you a bit of your own money and give you a little independence. But second, your husband's reaction will tell you a lot: if he objects and gets more controlling, then you are dealing with an issue of abuse and you'll want to seek help now. But if he responds with relief, then there may be something about his work security he isn't telling you.

Farah Mendlesohn

London N17

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