Ask Amy: Bargains find him, but joy is fleeting

Dear Amy: My family is upper-middle class. I love to dine out and at my instigation, we do it often.

I am also always seeking value in whatever I purchase, including restaurant meals. Bargains gravitate to me.

Our most recent meal at a fine restaurant came about when the restaurant was offering a weekday promotion of a 10-ounce strip steak with side dish for $19.95, considerably less than the normal price.

My wife ordered a 9-ounce bleu filet, which was $40.75 — one of the most expensive items on the menu.

When the check came, she said she was waiting to see if I would have a heart attack, indicating that she knew her dish was pricey.

My wife worked as an accountant before we were married. I am semi-retired and manage our investments and shop for the family.

We do quite well, financially, but this is a common pattern for us. My wife said that she does not look at prices and that if we are going out to dinner, she is going to order what she wants.

Although her expensive meals are not going to take food off of our table, it seems like poor form to me.

Your take?

— Bargain Hunter

Dear Hunter: You derive some very real joy and satisfaction from getting a good deal on a steak. And then, by having a heart attack at your wife’s choices, you deny her the same.

My basic take is that she is testing and teasing you. As much of an asset as your bargain hunting can be, this sort of hyper awareness of prices can also be annoying, especially when she’s trying to enjoy a night out.

My perspective is that you saved enough on your (discounted) meal for your wife to splurge on hers, making the meal basically a wash, financially.

That was really nice of you!

You mention that you manage all the family finances and also “shop for the family.” Is this because you become too uncomfortable if your wife pays full-price for something?

If you were able to cede some control, including your wife as a partner in your household decision-making, then she would be less likely to yank your chain when she has the chance.

You two obviously need to talk about this. If your wife’s choices make you anxious, then you should be honest about your feelings and reactions. If you two decided ahead of time on a reasonable budget for these dinners out, then you should be able to work together when you’re ordering.

Being generous toward your partner can feel positively expansive, but you interpret your own generosity as your wife taking from you, and you don’t seem to give her the opportunity to be generous in return.

Dear Amy: After I retired, I had time to go through boxes of personal papers that I had saved.

These included letters that current friends and family had written to me over many years.

It was fun rereading many of these, but at this point in my life I don’t feel the need to keep them.

Instead of throwing them away, I decided that the sender might enjoy reading what they had written decades earlier, so I bundled packets of their individual letters off with notes to the effect: “Cleaning house! Here’s a blast from your past! Enjoy!”

Now months later, I have not heard back from one person.

I’m questioning whether I did something wrong.

I know that I would enjoy reading letters I wrote many years ago, but maybe that’s just me.

Should I have just destroyed these old letters, instead?

— Cleaning in Culver City

Dear Cleaning: This was an extremely thoughtful thing to do. I can imagine that this gesture might have brought up a lot of feelings for the recipients, and I wonder, now that letter-writing seems to be on the decline, how future generations will chronicle their lives and long friendships.

I can’t imagine why people didn’t contact you to acknowledge this effort; I hope you will follow up to ask if they had reread their letters and enjoyed them as much as you had. Their responses might reveal some complicated emotions.

Dear Amy: The newlywed “Daughter-in-law in Training” needs to stand her ground with her mother-in-law; politely (as you said), but firmly — even if she does not have her husband’s full support.

Sometimes men cannot say no to their mothers, even when they want to.

— Been There

Dear Been There: I’ve noticed this phenomenon. Thank you for pointing it out.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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