You may not realize it, but there is probably a ticking time bomb in your relationship right now. It’s no news flash that the number one thing couples traditionally argue about is money. When times get rough or uncertain (*insert COVID cough*) this becomes a particularly touchy subject. The solution most people start with is: budget carefully. I’m here to tell you, if you do it wrong it’s a bomb that is hard to diffuse.

A Cautionary Tale

A while back my husband and I bought our first house that we thought would hold our family for a long time to come. We now neither own that house nor do we know any of our former neighbors, quite possibly because we failed to avoid the critical budget landmine.

The house itself was a bit of a financial stretch for us. We owned a smaller place that we planned to rent out and had big dreams of moving up the real estate ladder with more properties. But first we had to weather a few rough months to make sure we had an emergency fund and save some for a rainy day. The week we moved in the air-conditioner went kaput. Then the furnace, then the oven… you get the picture. We suddenly found ourselves on a very tight budget to stay above water.

We drew up a very practical plan which involved spending basically no money that wasn’t absolutely critical and living on beans, rice and peanut butter for a while.


I should probably mention at this point that I am a coffee addict (if you don’t believe me just glance at my Twitter or Facebook feed, it’s mostly about coffee). For me, the sweet, sweet java bean is a religious experience. That hot explosion of glorious manna from heaven fills my soul and makes my heart sing. It’s an addiction that I embrace with open arms and mouth. Laura runs on coffee,

The Plan

No, we did not decide to give up coffee (my husband is not suicidal), but as part of our budget, we agreed we weren’t even going to buy coffee outside of the house. Instead, we were going to try and mostly drink the free coffee available at our offices. It was depressing drinking the tasteless swill that passed for coffee at my workplace at that time, but I was willing to do what I had to do. If you love coffee as much as I do, you understand this was a real sacrifice.

Then came a discovery that would test our marriage more than ever before: betrayal.

The Cheating

I was gathering my husband’s suits one morning to take them to be cleaned so I was checking his pockets when I found a pile of receipts that had been collected in several of them. In fact I found dozens of receipts, showing his damning deceit right there in black and white.


This was offensive on many levels. We all know Starbucks ain’t cheap. My preferred coffee indulgence is a large cup of black coffee from Dunkin Donuts. It’s the best stuff out there. My second choice is actually McDonald’s which makes a surprisingly decent cup of joe, especially when it’s served super hot. These cost about a quarter of my husband’s Starbucks order. And based on some of the receipts, he had actually bought coffees for his coworkers as well.

As far as I was concerned, he might as well have been taking the guys at the office out for a night of hookers and cocaine. I was incensed. I lost my mind a little.

The Final Battle

When my husband came home, he found me fuming on the back porch with my fists still full of the receipts. “What’s wrong?” he asked. 

“You know what you did!” I yelled at him, raising the receipts in the air “You’ve been cheating!”

“What?!? I’d never cheat on you!” The poor guy seemed genuinely alarmed.

“Then how do you explain THESE?” I yelled and threw the offending evidence at him.

“Oh, uh, yeah…” You get where this fight went. And all our brand new neighbors steered clear of us for weeks after that, because while I’m sure they heard the whole thing, they wouldn’t have any idea the cheating was coffee, and if I tried to explain that, well, would you believe me?

The Resolution

So, whether you have lost your job, or are trying to set aside more money because of uncertainty in the world right now I have to warn you when forming a budget. It’s critically important that you consider two things. One, what can you honestly live without? And two, make sure everyone in your relationship has some discretionary spending so they can choose to spend on the tiny items that get them through the day, like a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee for instance.

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About Laura Keyes Ellsworth

Laura has been writing and editing for more than 25 years, a fact which more than a source of pride, sends her running to the wrinkle cream aisle of CVS. She has worked for CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, The Economist Intelligence Unit, and CBS radio. She has three children, and you will either find her thoroughly enjoying their company or yelling at them to clean up after themselves and turn off the lights.

View all posts by Laura Keyes Ellsworth

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