Although we cover the topic once or twice a year, I constantly get questions from people who are frustrated by the financial habits of their spouses and partners. Some people are Spenders, and some people are Savers. What can you do to get both partners on the same page?
Linda is the most recent GRS reader with a relationship issue. She wrote to ask how to get her boyfriend motivated to save money. Here’s her story:
How do I get someone motivated about saving money and being more frugal? Is it even possible?
My fiance and I are pretty different when it comes to money. I’m the Saver, and he’s the Spender. I’m all about the future, and he’s more about the present. He changed a lot after we got together, and now that we’re saving for a wedding, he has definitely cut back on most of the big expenses.
But I get frustrated that although he speaks of saving money and of eventually buying a house, he’s always wanting to eat out, to get the latest gadgets (he’s switched cell phones three times in two years, and bought a MacBook and an iPad), and to go on vacation. He’s a poster child for the latte factor: He has a gold card from Starbucks, which shows how much he frequents it.
His last job had really good pay, but not his current one, so that may also contribute to the spending habit. (He’s used to what he used to spend and hasn’t made the adjustment.) I’m not sure if I’m just giving him a hard time, or if there’s just some thing I’m not doing right. Do you have any advice?
First, Linda needs to know that it is possible for a Spender to become a Saver. I was a Spender for decades, but my wife is a Saver. In fact, Kris could have written this e-mail twenty years ago. Now, though, I’ve changed. I still have Spender tendencies (do they ever go away?), but they’re over-ruled by my new Saver habits.
But I didn’t get here overnight. It took time. And there were a lot of missteps along the way.
I made plenty of false starts toward frugality during the late nineties and early aughts, but I didn’t really change until I hit rock bottom. When we bought our house in 2004, I was overwhelmed by my debt and expenses. It was then that I was finally ready to “find religion”.
From the folks I’ve talked to, that’s a common theme: It’s tough to get somebody else to change until they’re ready to change. The motivation has to come from within. The question, then, is how do you inspire somebody to change their financial habits? I don’t know if there’s any one right answer. (But maybe readers can share what worked for them, or what worked for the people they know.)
Now, goals keep me going. I’ve learned that there are trade-offs. Sure, I want to buy books and comics and gadgets and expensive restaurant meals. And I do buy some of these things. But once I sat down and decided what was most important to me, it became easier for me to save.
Lately, I’ve been using travel as an example. I love to travel. Like George Bailey, I want to see the world. Because this goal is always with me (and I literally think of it every hour of every day now), it’s easy for me to make smarter choices. In fact, it motivates me to find new ways to save.
So, how can Linda help her boyfriend save money and become more frugal? I think she has to find a way to show him how his present choices affect his future options. Talk with him about what his big goals are — does he want to travel? own a business? go back to school? — and then discuss what it takes to get there. Until he understands that what he does today affects what he can do tomorrow, he’s not likely to change. (One sneaky way to try to get the point across is for Linda to talk about one of her goals, asking her boyfriend to help her figure out how to achieve it — even if she knows the answer already.)
What do you think? How do you motivate a spouse or partner to become better with money? For years, Kris tried to help me see the light, but I wasn’t ready. What could she have done differently? What can Linda do to help her boyfriend?