LAST WEEK, a friend of mine, Iola Harper, mentioned an old Swedish proverb on Facebook.
"He who buys what he does not need robs himself," she wrote. Then she inserted a hashtag that most of us can relate to: #Beenrobbingmyselfforyears.
I immediately thought of all the things I buy that I really don't need:
* Cheesesteaks: I bought at least one per week until I went to the doctor and learned that my cholesterol was preparing for space flight.
* Hamburgers: Like cheesesteaks, I buy them frequently, although I can feel my arteries clogging as I chew.
* Starbucks coffee: I don't need it - well, I kinda do, but if I admit my caffeine dependence, my wife will check me into coffee rehab. None of us wants that, so I sip my grandé Pike Place Roast while sitting quietly in the corner, and hope she doesn't notice my trembling hands.
As bad as my frivolous spending has been, however, it's pretty much food-related, which means that it can only cost so much. The way I look at it, I work hard to take care of my family, and like most people who work for a living I receive a paycheck that performs a little magic act. Now you see it, now you don't. Given that painful reality, a cheesesteak or two is the least I can do for myself. At least it was. Now that I've morphed into Cholesterol Man, I'll probably waste my money on action movies and carrot sticks.
But I'm not the only spender in my house. There are, um, others who have spending habits, too. Those people came to mind as I pondered that Swedish proverb about wanton spending. And when someone on Facebook responded to Iola's post by writing, "There's a thin line between needs and wants," I fought an inner battle to resist commenting.
"Actually there's a pretty thick line between needs and wants," I wrote. "There's a chasm between needs and wants. Veritable continents lie between needs and wants. We're just really spoiled in America. We convince ourselves that our wants are needs. Thanks for sharing this, Iola. I've got someone I need to show it to."
Iola understood immediately where I was going, and her heart went out to my wife. "Awww boy, Solomon! Please apologize to LaVeta for me . . . Tell her I said, 'My bad.' "
"Iola, I will pass on your apologies to her," I wrote. "I'm emailing that wise proverb right now! Of course there's another American proverb that says, 'Happy wife, happy life,' so we'll see which proverb wins out."
Facebook posters started placing bets on the winning proverb, and almost none of them went with the Swedes.
As online commenters cast lots on the future of my marriage, I emailed the proverb to my wife:
"He who buys what he does not need robs himself."
LaVeta responded in seconds, and just as I suspected, she tried to make it about me. "Stop buying coffee," she wrote.
"And um, what should you stop buying?" I pressed.
"You're funny," I wrote, but then I let it go for a little while.
Looking back now, I realize that was a mistake, because it gave LaVeta time to think of all the ways in which online shopping is beneficial. Later that afternoon, when I called her and repeated the proverb, she had three ready answers.
"Online shopping is therapeutic," she said. "You want me to feel good, don't you?"
"Of course I do," I said with a grin in my voice.
"You want me to look good, right?"
"Of course, I do, baby, but you look good even without all that stuff."
"You don't want people talking about you, do you?" she asked.
At that point, I knew it was over. If I wanted peace in our household, I'd have to keep buying coffee, and my wife would have to keep shopping online.
So what if UPS delivers to us so frequently that the company considers us a hub? So what if LaVeta gets so many FedEx packages that the delivery guy's kids wrote her thank-you letters? So what if the people at Nordstrom have her listed as a senior buyer?
As long as LaVeta's happy, I can rest easy, knowing that there's no glass in my food. And at the end of the day, isn't that what it's all about?
Happy wife, happy life. That's what I always say. At least until the shopping bill arrives.