Love, Family

How To Surprise Your Spouse When You Share An Account

christmas gifts couple

If there's a universal allotment of white lies you can tell before your pants catch on fire, I think I use mine up at Christmas time. Between keeping the magic of Santa going for my children ("Well, sweetheart, do YOU believe in Santa?") to trying to keep their gifts secret until Christmas morning, I start to feel like a cross between a fast-talking politician and a ninja-certified operative.

The kids' ears are particularly attuned to the crinkle of shopping bags. They sense when one crosses the threshold, and I'm pretty certain that the presence of a gift in our house is the only foolproof way to distract them from the television. I'm left to ease bags into the house after bedtime, hoping I don't immediately hear the pitter patter of little feet. UPS truck's driving down my street? They're glued to the front window. I try to sneak out the door to run to the store? They want to know where I'm going. When I'll be back. Where I'm hiding presents.

But you know who really makes me feel like Ginger Rogers, fancy foot-working my way around the holidays without blowing the surprise of a gift? Not the toddler. Not my Tween. No, it's my grown adult husband. (If you're following my metaphors, I'm now a Dancing Ninja Senator. I should write a comic book. Or a rock opera.) Yep, the person who's the hardest for me to surprise is the studly 34-year-old who shares my bedroom. It isn't because he snoops, though. He's pretty cooperative like that. We're just such a team and make a habit of being so transparent with each other, that any deviation creates a disturbance in the force. (Now I'm a Jedi, too.)

If I white-lie to him telling him I'm running to the grocery store when I really need to hit the Best Buy, he's sure to ask me to grab milk and a Tide Pen. I'm a work-from-home mom who is insane enough not to use childcare, so sneaking out during the day requires dragging my little secret spillers with me. Order online? Sure, that would be great, and avoiding taking my kids out into the holiday crowds would probably lengthen my life expectancy, except for this one little problem. The biggest challenge of surprising my husband is that we share a checking account. I know a lot of couples keep their finances separate, and we've tried that. We've tried lots of things, but ultimately, one checking account is what works best for us. Except at Christmas. When he can see every stinking time I swipe the card. 

Normally this isn't a huge problem. We tend to focus on our kids for Christmas, and do smaller but thoughtful gifts for each other that may or may not be a surprise. This year, though, I wanted to do something special and exciting not just for the kids, but for my husband. He is our primary breadwinner. I used to be a writer for a major corporation, but we decided what was best for our family was for me to leave my secure job and freelance part-time in order to be more available for my kids. I signed up for it and I'm grateful for it, but we had to make a ton of sacrifices to make it happen. My husband has been my biggest cheerleader, and he works incredibly hard to take care of our family. So I really wanted to get something special for him this year, something he would never buy for himself. I decided months ago that I wanted to buy him an iPad 2. But while I figured out that this was the perfect gift, how the hell was I supposed to get him one without him knowing??

The iPad wasn't exactly in the holiday budget we agreed on, and I felt weird pilfering money out of our family budget—mainly funded by him—to pay for it. So a few months ago I took a few writing jobs and didn't tell him. (I think that one burned through a few of my white lies. I feel slightly guilty about this, but am telling myself it's OK because I'm doing it out of love. Right?) This has been challenging and hilarious. Challenging because I was taking on additional work and I had to remember not to mention them to the one person in my life I tell everything. Hilarious because I'm pretty sure my husband thinks I've been exceptionally lazy lately and have a sudden aversion to getting dressed in the morning. He'll come home for lunch after I've been feverishly working all morning—around meeting the children's basic needs, natch—to a messy house and a messier looking wife. He'll eye my PJs and ask whether I've been writing, and I'll mumble something non-committal about laundry.

I was able to accumulate enough cash to cover the gift, but then I was stuck. There were really good online deals (the iPad isn't ever discounted, but there were bundling deals that included gift cards with the purchase of the tablet and the accessories, for example), but I had a handful of cash. Even if I didn't want to take advantage of the online deals, I wasn't comfortable running to the retail store with a wallet full of Benjamins. I weighed approaches before finally doing the only logical and mature thing.

I called my dad.

He ordered the iPad for me and let me give him the cash. (Thanks, Pops.) It's ordered. It's on its way. And I'm now the one running to the window every time the UPS truck goes down our street. I know my husband is going to love his gift, even though he's going to be really confused at first about how I paid for it without him knowing. I know he's going to be relieved that I'm spending less time in my PJs now that I'm not having to take on jobs on the sly, and to know that I didn't just take the past month off. I just hope he feels all the love that went into the planning and the sneaking.

If there's a moral to my story, it's that in order to surprise your husband, you should take on work behind their backs and ask your dad if you can use his credit card. Or maybe it's that sometimes the best gifts are the ones that you invest time, thought, and sacrifice to give to the people you love the most. And in order to surprise them after all that time and thought, not to do anything like post about it on the Internet.