Opposites Attract–What to do when you’re both of different financial mindsets

This reader story comes from Tina Sullivan. Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.

Growing up with “financially conservative” parents, I was taught to follow a budget, to save for emergencies, and to live within my means. As a teenager, I was required to get a job which mostly went to my savings account for future expenses like paying for a car and tuition.  Although I was frustrated many times because I couldn't even afford needs, the tradeoff was worth it since I was able to pay for college without taking out any student loans and paid cash for a used car (thanks to rent-free living with my parents).

My husband grew up with “financially liberal” parents that didn't encourage him to save, to budget, or to live within his means. They didn't require him to get a job while attending high school. He didn't have to pay for his first car and didn't attend college because he was set to run the family business. Their love spoke through gifts, and they willingly helped friends and family with no questions asked.  He shared a home with his brothers that his parents owned so he had no living expenses but spent his money on new cars, designer clothes, lavish gifts, etc. Don't we all want that scenario!

Have you ever heard the saying “The apple doesn't fall far from the tree”? As you would expect, my mindset mimics my parents' and his mimics his parents', which makes us opposites when it comes to how we think about spending and saving money.

So what do you do if your significant other has a different financial mindset than you?  Our opposite mindsets have caused many issues through the years. From the car payment we paid for his brother every month for two years to his impulse motorcycle purchase, we have had our share of problems.  But it doesn't mean you can't find middle ground like we did, if you consider the following:

  • It's OK if your spender/saver doesn't think like you. Nothing is black and white in finance.  Both spenders and savers must learn to compromise because, realistically, the spender is never going to stop spending and the saver is always going to worry about money. To ease minds, set an allowance that you both agree on and set the rule “once it is gone, there's no using the debit card.”
  • Don't overwhelm your spender/saver. It is important to know your partner and learn how to approach conversations about money. For spenders, start with a simple instruction. For example, I told my husband, “This is how much money you have to make every month to pay our bills” and he would stick to it. It isn't important to tell the spender every bill because it only causes anxiety. However, spenders need to consider how the splurge purchase will affect the saver before the item is purchased. If you know your spouse will stress over your purchase, think twice.
  • Do not blame your spender/saver for financial issues — especially if arguing about money. The spender already feels guilty for spending more than they should while the saver gets blamed for being the “drill sergeant.” Both sides need to be rational and focus on a resolution to which they can both agree.
  • Ask your spender about their goal for the future. When I asked my husband what he sees us doing in our retirement years, I had no idea he wants to move somewhere tropical and have a small airbrushing business. This opened up the opportunity to discuss with him that, to reach the goal, we need to save and contribute as much as we can to our 401k plans. I even hung a picture of a tropical island in the house to remind us of our goal.
  • Encourage your spender to have a hobby. My husband fell in love with airbrushing. He got his first gun and spent hours practicing which kept his mind off spending money. He finally got good enough to create beautiful designs and now sells them on eBay. The money he makes for eBay sales is his extra money to either put back into his hobby or spend on the family. His hobby doesn't affect our budget in a bad way at all. In fact, he surprised me with Bruno Mars tickets from some of the profits.
  • Remember to share the good news, not just the bad. Sharing the good news like “we just paid off the car” or “we have enough money for a long awaited trip” is something the spender needs to hear. Sharing only bad news makes the spender feel more helpless and deters from their goals while savers need to show their excitement that a goal has been met.  When discussing bad news issues, both sides need to stay calm. Both of you only want what is best for your family but you may have different ways of showing it.
  • Encourage your spender to be involved. Both sides need to feel like a team.  Give your spender some control by letting them choose some ways to allocate unexpected or extra money. Recently, we had a flood in our house and lost almost everything in our storage room. Instead of buying a bunch of items we weren't using, we decided to remodel the basement to increase the value of our home. In addition, it was my husband's idea to allocate some of the funds to our ER, Vacation and “Future Car” fund! When given some control, spenders will make the same decision as savers do!
  • If you aren't married, talk about money goals while dating! I wish I had asked the hard questions and started our marriage on the same financial path. If your values are opposites, it doesn't mean the relationship is doomed. Communicate!  If it still isn't the road you want, then part ways. If you choose to continue the relationship, set rules and boundaries.  Remember that money problems are the biggest reason for divorce.

Are you married to a spender? Are you married to a saver? Please share your tips because I would love to know how you have overcome your differences.

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Chzplz
Chzplz
6 years ago

This is an example of a conservative saver and a big spender. But don’t forget there are obsessive savers too. I am on the edge of that – I have a reasonably well paying job with a great pension. I have a healthy best egg locked up for extra money in retirement. My house is small and modest with an extremely affordable mortgage (<20% of my monthly income). But I am very uncomfortable spending money on things like vacations. My boyfriend is more of a spender. A bit too much for sure, but not bad. His mortgage and bills always… Read more »

Anne
Anne
6 years ago

I heartily endorse getting to know someone financially before you marry, even though some of the conversations may be awkward.

The writer was able to come to a middle ground with a spender, but one only has to look around and see many couples simply can not reach that compromise point.

Some adults want to perpetually be the child in the relationship.

Sharon
Sharon
6 years ago
Reply to  Anne

I like your comment, Anne, that some adults want to be the perpetual child in the relationship! That certainly applies to my sitation. I am the saver who wants to pay down all debt before I retire in 7 years. I don’t believe in wasteful spending. My husband thinks we should “do” all sorts of things that cost money, even though he has no financial resources at all. He plays golf once a week and laments it’s not every day. He wants a motorcyle, a motor home and a boat. Doesn’t care there is no money for those things, or… Read more »

Tom
Tom
6 years ago

Thirty some years ago my wife and I learned that we were money opposites. I had savings and very little debt. She had debt and no savings. Nevertheless, we’ve managed to find common ground and thrive as a couple. We both now recognize that you really cannot enjoy all that life offers by being too extreme – we compromise and spend some and save some – enough to have put three kids through college and still managed to save enough for a safe and secure retirement. Our three grown kids have jobs and savings in the bank. Our basic concept… Read more »

The Wallet Doctor
The Wallet Doctor
6 years ago

You’ve got some great ideas here. I think one of the key points is to have open communication with your partner. You need to be able to discuss your issues without threatening anyone’s sense of security.

Jimmy
Jimmy
6 years ago

You have given some excellent tips on how to speak with your spouse when husband and wife think differently about money. I had the same scenario few years back because I used to spend more and my wife is a saver and this caused little conflict. I communicated with her and now I budget my money and I spend it wisely.

Joyce
Joyce
6 years ago

I am married to a spender, my wonderful husband. We have been married for thirty years, so over time, we have come to middle ground. We didn’t have the “financial” talk before we were married, but I realized shortly after that I would have to take over the bills, since he believed that sending everyone $20.00 a month was enough, regardless of the balance or the amount due! Also, I have always kept a savings account, whereas he has never been able to keep cash on hand for very long. Over the years, we have made some bad decisions; but… Read more »

getagrip
getagrip
6 years ago

No two people are exact. Your frugal may be either my cheapskate or my extravagance and vice versa. To expect someone to be completely on board up front is not realitic, but it’s a good idea they’re in the same ballpark. On the flip side, there are good things about a “spender” in the relationship as well. Not all are shop-a-holics, and it could be a difference in wants and goals. Without a spender for a spouse we wouldn’t have taken the trip to Europe that allowed my ailing mother to show off her grandkids to her sisters and their… Read more »

El Guapo
El Guapo
6 years ago

Great article. I have a lot to work on with my wife, but have made it 9 years. I had to work for what I wanted growing up, and my wife is from a “spender” family and she got like 90k from an accident settlement when she was 13. We started budgeting together several months before getting married. Lately, I have found it hard to keep a budget because I don’t need one, but she does. Instead, I auto-transfer money to her account every payday for her portion of expenses. When it is gone, she asks for more and I… Read more »

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