Should a lost glove be added to my ‘deficit’?

22nd August, 2009

Dear Economist,
My husband and I are following a tight budget, whereby he is using an Excel spreadsheet to plan our gas usage, spending of store card loyalty points, and so on. (I name just two of the 12 columns.) He has also plotted our petrol use on a graph. However, I became somewhat concerned when I lost a glove and its value was inputted into the “deficit” column – aptly titled column 13 – of the spreadsheet. I challenged this, as the glove was singular and therefore half the cost. It was also actually a gift – or two gifts. Are we down £15 (the approximate price of the pair of gloves), down £7.50, up £7.50, or quids in? This has become a sensitive issue in our marriage.
Mrs, soon to be Miss

Dear soon-to-be-Miss,

That the gloves were a gift is no longer important: the question is whether you are worse off for having lost them. And you are.

Nor are you worse off by a mere half-pair of gloves. Your gloves are, in the jargon, perfect or near-perfect complements. This means that the odd glove is worth little, unless you are holding down a career as a Michael Jackson impersonator. Just as important, the missing glove will be difficult to replace. Your husband is therefore quite right to claim that you have, in effect, lost the full pair of gloves.

But your husband’s competence ends there. His “deficit” column makes no sense in a spreadsheet designed to track expenditure. If you buy a replacement pair of gloves (or a single glove – good luck with that) then that is the moment to make a note in your spreadsheet, not before. You may not feel the need to replace them; it is August, after all.

Let’s be honest, though. This isn’t about the gloves, is it? It’s about your husband’s infuriating attempt to control you through a spreadsheet. Tell him either to put it away, or to add column 14: divorce expenses.

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