How do I motivate my boyfriend to save money?

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?

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Derek
Derek
9 years ago

You’re right on J.D. In order to get a spender to save, you’ve got to spark their interest in the potential of the future. My wife HATED budgeting and saving, until she discovered a condo that she loves. I told her that in order to buy the condo (I love it too by the way), we’d need to have to be out of debt, and save enough to put 20% down. She started projecting how fast we could come up with the cash and made a 3 months plan for us to clear out $7,800 worth of debt! We are… Read more »

A
A
9 years ago

How do you know that he is not a saver? Have you seen his bank accounts? Has he files for bankruptcy or has gone to a CCC? Be careful about accusing someone of having a certain behaviour just because they don’t share a few common interests. If he puts away 10% and you want to see him do something more like 15%, I would suggest to change your outlook on this person. I only say this, because my partner and I are very similar to these people. She needs to decide now if it is a deal breaker before she… Read more »

Crystal@BFS
9 years ago

I’d suggest creating goals together. My husband jumped right on board our “30% or more into savings plan” as soon as we decided we’d be using our savings and investments to retire at age 52. Early retirement motivates both of us to stay on track. Linda just needs to take a moment to think – what thing in the future does her boy really want? Goals and dreams motivate everyone, right?

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago

J.D. is absolutely right that you cannot make someone else change. And you’ll destroy your relationship if you can’t think about anything else. I knew my (now) husband was a spendthrift when we were dating. Because he paid off his one credit card before we married, I saw that he was willing to compromise his tendencies for me. But I didn’t fool myself into thinking he was a changed man. And he wasn’t. For 20 years I’ve paid the bills and made all the major purchases. We never saved as much as we could have if we were both committed… Read more »

brokeprofessionals
brokeprofessionals
9 years ago

Same here, my Wife became really committed to saving (not that she was a total spendthrift before anyway) once we got serious about saving for a house. I do believe motivation has to come internally. I also believe it is easier to be motivated (until one hits rock bottom) by the idea of a “large investment” such as for a house, travel, etc., rather than saving for a far off retirement, an emergency fund, or paying off debt. The question then becomes though, if you are simply delaying a lot of smaller (generally less intelligent purchases) for a few larger… Read more »

s
s
9 years ago

It seems saving for a wedding isn’t a priority for him. Why marry someone whom you already want to change? You are setting yourself up for years of frustration. What if he never gets it?

Crystal @ BFS
Crystal @ BFS
9 years ago

Pamela (#3) makes a very good point. Will you be happy with your boyfriend even if he doesn’t change?

My husband was never a big spender – he just spent way more than me (which is pretty easy so that says more about me than him). I would have been fine with our situation even if he hadn’t changed a bit for the early retirement goal.

Are you happy either way?

MissPinkKate
MissPinkKate
9 years ago

JD, I don’t understand why you use “boyfriend” when she uses “fiance”?

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

If you could figure out a way to fix other people’s spending habits you could make more money than Dave Ramsey. (In fact, dragging him to a Financial Peace University might work, depending on his personality and beliefs.) Still, it’s more possible to influence a significant other. Keep the lines of communication open and don’t ever let things fester. Use “I” and “We” words (I’m worried about our financial future) when you talk about it instead of “You” (eg you always, you never). Work towards common goals, and not against each other. You may even do best with separate finances… Read more »

Kestra
Kestra
9 years ago

Do you track your money? Would he let you track his, if only based on bank statements? If you could show him some charts about his savings vs. spending and let him know how much he saved in a month, that might help. I approached this delicately with my husband, but it helped that I already tracked and he’s not a big spender. He slowly got used to the idea and now he keeps all receipts for me and I open all his bank statements. I also let him know how much he saved every month, but make no comment… Read more »

MostlyAPragmatist
MostlyAPragmatist
9 years ago

She should read Aristophanes.

Chipmunk
Chipmunk
9 years ago

Oh boy, I don’t want to be negative, but I really don’t see much of a future for Linda and her guy. First of all, the tone of her letter (if those are her original words, and haven’t been too heavily edited for space reasons) is altogether quite heavy and downhearted, reflecting her inner doubts about this relationship. She uses words like “different,” “frustrated,” and “hard” and has nary a good word to say about her guy except to make excuses for his current behaviour patterns (red flag, anyone?). It’s not so much a matter of being a Saver and… Read more »

indio
indio
9 years ago

My ex was a spender when we met, a spender when we broke up, and still a spender. He is constantly borrowing from wherever he can. He declared bankruptcy in 2005 and that wasn’t a wake up call.

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
9 years ago

Well, it may also depend on if the fiancee truly has a real problem with spending. By real, I mean needs counseling or something type problem. I agree that setting goals is a great idea, seeing what you could attain for your future if you save is great. However, some people have a true compulsion to spend, and people like that will hide their purchases and still spend until the underlying issue is dealt with. A member of our family was like that when I was a kid, and it resulted in numerous bankruptcies. It wasn’t until all access to… Read more »

Anne
Anne
9 years ago

There is not enough information in Linda’s letter to decide whether her fiance has a spending problem. She says that they ARE saving for a wedding, and it’s possible they are saving for other goals as well. It might not be that her fiance is too much of a spendthrift but that Linda is too much of a tightwad!

Everyone needs balance. If they are meeting reasonable savings goals, there is nothing wrong with her fiance spending his disposable income on coffee, eating out, gadgets, and travel.

Meg
Meg
9 years ago

Before you get married you should think hard about what will happen if your fiance never changes. It’s certainly possible that he will (it sounds like he wants to), but change is hard and he might go back to the way he was. Can you live with that? I think it is fine to marry him if you want, but do it with your eyes open.

Good luck.

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

I think neither of them is right or wrong, they just have different priorities and styles. She needs to decide if they are compatible or not. My husband and I have different priorities, too, and we handle it by having “his, hers, and ours” money. We agree on a certain amount that goes in to “ours” to cover expenses and a rate of savings we can agree on, and whatever’s left over is ours to spend or save as we please. My husband is super frugal in every way except electronics, but he spends “his” money on ipads, so it’s… Read more »

Karla
Karla
9 years ago

I agree with the comments regarding shared goals. I’m a saver by nature but still struggle when I don’t have a clear cut view of the purpose behind the saving. I imagine that’s only exacerbated when you have a spender mentality.

Incidentally, Trent over at The Simple Dollar covered this same question in a reader mailbag a couple of weeks ago, which generated some interesting discussion.

Kevin
Kevin
9 years ago

There’s an old saying: Women marry men expecting to change them. Men marry women expecting them not to change. In the end, they’re both wrong.

Marry someone you’re happy with NOW – not some vision of who you can mold them into, if you just try hard enough. You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.

mmoran
mmoran
9 years ago

Isn’t this entire question based on a manipulative premise?

Jan in MN
Jan in MN
9 years ago

#16 and #19 are right on.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

People are making good points. There really isn’t enough information to know who is “right” or “wrong” (they may both be right), but it does seem like they’re not on the same page. That definitely needs to be worked out before the wedding. Talk about the shared goals, what system you’re planning to handle money, and map that out. It’s not really his spending that should be the problem to you (unless you’re a minimalist), but the amount he isn’t saving.

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

Karla (#18) yes, Trent answered this exact same question in a reader mailbag – I looked it up and it’s the same word for word. My comment I left there still applies, I cut and pasted my comment below: I think you need to cut him some slack. You already said that he’s “cut back on most of the big spendings” and now you’re going after him for the small ones. Give him some time to adjust. My DH was the same way — and while he still spends more on Dunkin Donuts and computer games than I’d like, he… Read more »

Holly
Holly
9 years ago

Find some stories about those who are experiencing regret for getting financially ‘off-track’ and who are now living with their decisions. Of course a streak of bad luck is sometimes a contributor, but I feel fairly certain that it is the lack of fiscal discipline/knowledge that gets most people in those dire straits.

Fear is by far my best motivator. Good luck!

Mimms
Mimms
9 years ago

Our family hack for this situation has two parts. First, we use an allowance. Neither of us gets to have an opinion on the other’s use of these funds.

Second I decide where the household money gets spent, but my spouse actually spends it. For example, I do the budget, spouse writes the checks. He does most of the grocery shopping, finds contractors,etc.

Barb
Barb
9 years ago

I’m having problems with the “he’s the spendthrift” and “she’s the sensible one” assumption of this article unless there were many editig changes. All I see is that they are on different spages as to spending priorities. Do we know for a fact that he is overspending? are we just assuming that he is a spendthrift and/or having debt issues. Really, having a Starbucks gold card is not the end of the world. while I dont have one, I do have preferred cards at other places. It sounds to me like they simply have different priorities and that needs to… Read more »

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

That’s a tough one. My advice is to find someone you’re compatible with to begin with. JD shows it’s possible to reform, but it took him 20 years. Do you really want to go through that?

Lisa
Lisa
9 years ago

I think this couple should discuss their dreams for their future and then ask,”How will we get there?” If they’re both on the same page, that will be evident. If not, then they have to figure out what each needs to do to get that house or whatever. I think the conversation would be an eye-opener.

Brenton
Brenton
9 years ago

I wouldnt normally suggest something like this, but if she really wants to change her fiances habits, the best way to ignite the spark is to play the victim. Use tears, and tell the dude he is causing too much fear and anxiety for you. Appeal to the hero complex of all men, and then once he is agreeing to whatever you want(which is what men do when they see women crying), then break out the budget and spending plan. Once its in writing, stick it on the fridge as a constant reminder. Nagging him to death wont solve anything.… Read more »

Chickybeth
Chickybeth
9 years ago

I have the exact same situation as Pamela #4. It is difficult and frustrating at times to be with someone who thinks, “if there is a dime in the bank, then spend it!”. So what I have done for the past 5 years is to just accept that we will never agree about saving v. spending. I took over our joint finances and set up a separate checking account for him that a set amount gets deposited into every month. He gets to spend it how he pleases (but I still have to monitor it to make sure he doesn’t… Read more »

JRR
JRR
9 years ago

One thing I did in the last year was that over the course of a couple of weeks I pulled the statements from all of our credit cards, entered every purchase that I made into a spreadsheet, went out to Amazon or wherever if possible and itemized exactly what each purchase was, especially if it was a gadget. After looking at what I’d spend thousands of dollars on over the last few years and realizing that almost all of it was now useless junk, I turned my spending habits around VERY quickly. When I think about buying a gadget now,… Read more »

Emma
Emma
9 years ago

I think this basically comes down to the fact that she sees her fiancee as being less motivated to reach their goals than she is – and that’s where the frustration comes from. If he’s already contributing to a savings account, and cutting his spending to accomplish that, then I really see the problem being more about HER than him. You said he’s changed a LOT since you’ve been together already….so how MUCH does he still have to change to suit you? People make a lot of allowances and a lot of compromises when they step into a relationship, but… Read more »

Jeannine
Jeannine
9 years ago

We do something similar to #24. We each get an allowance of cash that is free to blow on whatever we want. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Maybe if she draws up a budget of sorts and shows him exactly what is coming in and what it is being spent on (if you can even track it), that will spur him on to change. That totally worked for my husband. Once I showed him what we were clearing every month and what we had to show for it, i.e. a bunch of stuff and extra weight around the midsection, he… Read more »

Laura
Laura
9 years ago

Agree with #3 Pamela, #9 Nicole, #17 Jen & #19 Kevin. Do not go into a marriage expecting to reform him; that sets you up as right and him as wrong, and it’s really different styles that can be compatible. With luck, he’ll learn frugality from you and you’ll learn to loosen up and have fun with your money from him. In my marriage (25 years this summer), I’m the saver & he’s the spender. We have NEVER held a joint bank account and never will; all our expenses are done roommate-style. By mutual agreement, he hands over to me… Read more »

Quest
Quest
9 years ago

‘For years, Kris tried to help me see the light, but I wasn’t ready.’ That’s your answer right there. Unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can do to change negative habits in someone who’s not ready to change. There is nothing that can be done IMO because the reasons behind spending (or any other addiction) are so psychologically complex. I don’t think it’s fair to expect other people to take responsibility for another’s out of control behavior. The person with the issue is the one that has to want to change for any real change to occur. They have to WANT… Read more »

HollyP
HollyP
9 years ago

JD, just because you were able to change (and Kris could live with you while you got ready to change) doesn’t mean this works for every couple. The First MrP was a spender when we met. He attempted at reform so I’d marry him, but literally within a month of our marriage he was back to his spending ways. I’m a control freak. I couldn’t live with that. After a year of us being miserable together we divorced. I was fortunate to find another man who shared my financial philosophy. The difference between my two marriages is akin to the… Read more »

Laura in Cancun
Laura in Cancun
9 years ago

I’m definitely the spender in my relationship. I never spend more then I have, but I always manage to spend every last penny. My main indulgence is restaurants. This would always drive my boyfriend (now husband) up the wall! He would nag me and nag me about it (about once a day for 3 years), and it didn’t make a difference. What finally got me to get excited about saving was to talk about our future. I’ve always been obsessed with houses, and he’s obsessed with investing, so we talk about real estate investments all the time. We’re dying to… Read more »

Nate
Nate
9 years ago

@#28 – manipulation is the worst trait to use in a relationship based on trust. You’re not building a foundation for a happy life, you’re building a house of cards on a foundation of quicksand.

I’m not going to give advice to the OP, because I haven’t walked this road. If you do nothing, he won’t change. If you use manipulation, he won’t change, and he will resent you.

Bruce
Bruce
9 years ago

Hmm, most folks posting on here is about the husband spending. My situation is the opposite. My solution is that there is none. She makes her own money, and has her own personal debt, therefore it is her responsibility. After all she is an adult. We also have no joint debt. Me being the responsible one has the mortgage. The way I figure it is that one day my wife will learn a hard lesson if she gets into to much debt she can’t pay. Open marriage is a wonderful thing. We are still two individuals that share a life… Read more »

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

My husband & I are pretty much same, we both save & we both love to spend on something we’ve saved for. Still, I become discontented more easily than he does. One thing that’s helped us stay in budget is to give each other a weekly allowance. We can freely spend our own allowance on whatever we want but anything beyond that we both must agree on it. It helped us become mortgage-free in 1999 & debt-free in 2006.

Epell
Epell
9 years ago

There was a study done that people who were reminded regularly with positive reinforcement to save money ended up being more frugal (link below).

Having him subscribed to newsfeed will help.
I have SaveEveryWay, GRS, mint.com newsfeed, etc may be helpful.

http://lifehacker.com/5401216/make-yourself-save-money-with-automated-text-messages

Chris P.
Chris P.
9 years ago

@ #8 (MissPinkKate) This has always been a pet pieve of mine. I was dating my fiance for a long time before we got engaged, and 6 months into the relationship, my father introduced her to a coworker of his as “my friend.” I was offended. My fiance (gf only at the time) was really offended. How could he say that when she’s been a significant part of our life for 6 years at that point? At least JD just read about this guy in an e-mail… Oh, and we TOTALLY called him out on it and he gave some… Read more »

Rewrite
Rewrite
9 years ago

I agree with Chipmunk that this may be more of a relationship issue than a financial one. I would suggest writing to someone like Carolyn Hax. That being said, I agree with Mimms and Jeanine: Set up a budget, figure out an allowance for each of you, and go grom there. In general, allowances should be equal and not based on how much money one person or the other is earning. If necessary, set up separate accounts. Separate credit cards are a definite just for tracking. If you are going on a ‘date’, whoever suggests it pays. If there is… Read more »

Kaylee
Kaylee
9 years ago

Remember that money is the number one cause of divorces.

I wonder why you’d even want to marry this guy since your values are so different. The lovey dovey stuff will go away but the bad money habbits will stay.

To answer your question, the only real way to get someone to change is to let them hit rock bottom and help them pick themselves up. You can give them a goal but they’ll just go back to their old ways.

K
K
9 years ago

Wow! I am surprised by some of these comments! I understand that money is an important aspect of a committed relationship. And that differences in approach to money can cause tension. But I really don’t think telling Linda to dump her fiance because of their money differences is constructive. I am sure she has already put a lot of thought into whether this man is the person she wants to spend the rest of her life with. Telling her that this situation is worth dismissing her fiance over will probably serve to make her more nervous about tying the knot,… Read more »

Suzanne
Suzanne
9 years ago

JD – I wonder what Kris would say to this. How did she handle it? As you’ve told us repeatedly, you do keep your finances separate – is that due to her frustration with your past money habits?

I’ve never tried to make someone change their spending habits, but I have made that mistake with other things – smoking, drinking, childish behavior. It has never worked for me, and I’m not up for ever trying it again. I have to agree with the previous posters who said you should think hard about being with someone you think needs “fixing”.

Johanna
Johanna
9 years ago

I commented on this question on Trent’s site a few weeks ago. To me, the vibe I get from Linda’s letter is “*My* money priorities (like saving for the wedding) are good and frugal, whereas *his* money priorities (like gadgets and coffee) are stupid and wasteful. How do I get him to give up what he wants so that I can have more of what I want?” To which I say: You don’t. You have to respect his interests if you want him to respect yours. My suggestion was that they should draw up a budget that they can both… Read more »

Jacob
Jacob
9 years ago

The thing you have to be careful of is his goals might be to have fun right now! I know mine are similar, so buying a cool gadget or enjoying takeout might actually be his goal, not all of us have a desire to buy big items.

Pat S.
Pat S.
9 years ago

You can absolutely change. But it truly must come from within. The best thing to do is to talk about the long term effects of short term spending. Deferred gratification is the key. Its fine to spend, as long as you are investing first and paying cash for things. The best way to mitigate spending is to have investments come out of your pay before you even see it, and when you decide to make a purchase, set up an individual savings fund for that purpose, and pay cash for the item. No consumer item is so critical to have… Read more »

tosajen
tosajen
9 years ago

One of the most important parts of our pre-marriage counseling (17 years ago — eek!) was to talk about money and our goals and visions for the future. Sure, we enjoyed being together, but if we didn’t agree about what we wanted our lives to be like and what we wanted to accomplish together, there wouldn’t be much point in getting married. We ended up evolving our spending and savings practices together, based on where we wanted our lives to go and the choices we wanted available to us. For example, we were DINKS living paycheck-to-paycheck with almost no savings,… Read more »

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