I’m Frugal, But My Spouse Is Not

This sentiment comes up quite often in the comments at The Simple Dollar: people leave notes complaining that they make frugal choices, but their spouse interprets that move not as a long term financial benefit but as more money to spend right now. Thus, their frugal ways go without the long term reward – they’re careful about spending their money, but their bank account balance doesn’t seem to grow.

I’m lucky – I have a spouse who is very frugal and has most of the same philosophies that I do. In fact, she’s probably more frugal than I am – her only weakness is books, but she participates in PaperBackSwap to help keep that low. She’s also in line with all of the same goals I have – freedom from debt, saving for major purchases so we don’t have to go into more debt, and so on. Our goal as a family is to eliminate all of our debt by my fortieth birthday – a goal we’re both on board for.

Unfortunately, many people aren’t in such a lucky situation. They may be in sync with their spouses in a number of ways, but in terms of personal spending, they’re in different worlds. Naturally, the frugal spouse is going to be frustrated, watching their efforts dissipate in a spending binge by their spouse. On the other hand, the spending spouse probably feels some frustration too, as their spouse won’t “live a little.”

How can these two sides meet? Here are five suggestions, culled from a number of sources, particularly my own experiences interacting with my spouse and observing couples as well as the excellent It Pays to Talk.

Accept that your spouse is operating from a different set of beliefs than you. You believe in the power of frugal living and have chosen to live frugally – that’s great. Realize, though, that it is a choice and that your spouse has made a different choice. You can’t force someone to make a different choice, but you can convince them over time to make a different choice for themselves.

Accentuate the positives of frugality. Point out some of the most obvious frugal choices and indicate how much of a difference that will make. “If we hold off a year in replacing the car but save up the money now, we’ll save $6,000.” “If we skip out on one shopping spree a month and turn that saved money into one extra house payment a year, we can pay off our mortgage five years earlier – think about how much extra money we would have each month then!”

However, when making spur-of-the-moment entertainment or social choices, suggest frugally but don’t point it out. If your spouse wants to do something today, take the initiative and suggest something that doesn’t break your budget in half. Instead of a trip to the mall, suggest going to a free museum. Instead of going out to eat somewhere expensive, propose that you make a romantic dinner at home. The best tactic is to suggest the idea spontaneously, but don’t focus on the fact that it’s cheap.

Make your saving automatic. One reader had a spouse that, at the end of the month, felt like it was her obligation to spend most of what remained in the checking account under the idea that it was extra money. A much better approach is to treat saving like a bill – set up a separate savings account and have a certain amount transfer to that fund on a regular basis. That way, there isn’t “left over” cash in the checking account and you can use that savings account stash for major purchases, like a car down payment.

Propose “equal spending.” If none of the above work well, propose to your spouse that the “extra” money should be spent equally, then sock yours away. That way, if there’s $200 left to spend at the end of a month, you each take $100 of it, your spouse spends it, and you save it. This works well if it’s pretty clear that your spouse will likely never come around to making frugal choices.

Most of these ideas have one thing in common: they strive to show the benefits of frugality without the preaching. Don’t tell your spouse about how great frugality is and how “bad” they are for not believing in it – that will just drive them away. Instead, walk the walk and let the benefits show themselves – when something goes wrong, just pay for it with the cash you’ve been saving and then suggest that saving money has a lot of benefit. Eventually (hopefully), the power of frugal living will become clear.

Never, ever push it to confrontation, though – that will just result in two unhappy people in a marriage. If you’re constantly telling your spouse to spend less, there is probably already a level of resentment building up, and that’s a tactic that will always end in failure. Instead, focus on being a good example of frugality and when the benefits are clear, point them out. Also, be willing to compromise a little – if your spouse wants to go out to a nice dinner on occasion, go along with it sometimes. Marriage is about compromise, in the end.

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  1. Steve W says:

    Exhibit A is the meticulously researched, longitudinal study “The Millionaire Next Door” (also under Trent’s Recommended Reading). To really make it financially, spouses must be, absolutely, ** on the same financial page**.

    If you are not, then you likely have a much bigger problem than finances, and depending on its severity, fixing this problem likely means marital therapy. Alas, divorce, I can speak from personal experience, is a “destroyer of wealth”. It is not, if managed properly and maturely by both sides, a destroyer of families.

  2. I frequently find myself in this dilemma but with a unique twist: We’re both frugal, but in different areas. I tend to make big purchases, a new computer, a new table saw, a graduate school education, but I’m tight on everything else. Well, except the heating bill, I’m NOT going to be cold in my own home. Period!

    My wife is tight on the big purchases, but will stop and use her debit card to buy a pack of gum, McDonalds for the kids as an after school snack, way too much for groceries. She turns the heat down until I’m chattering.

    I guess we’re kinda mixed up! But we’re working on it. She is helping me watch the biggies, I’m helping her on the littles.

  3. Debbie M says:

    My solution is to keep our money separate. We negotiate who pays what (we share rent and utilities equally, he pays for eating out which he loves and I find is not worth the money, I pay for movies (mostly Netflix), etc.) We also can lend money to each other, which sounds really weird, but works for us. Other than that, we spend how we want, save how we want, and invest how we want. He likes riskier investments than I do, so I feel that together we have nice diversity.

    My guy is actually frugal in that he looks for good deals when he buys stuff, but he has trouble spending less than he earns. So we do discuss buying strategies, ways to find deals, alternatives to spending, investing strategies, etc. all the time. And then we each get to make our own decisions about our own money. It still feels like we are a team, each paying close attention to our own part of the money.

    A similar solution I’ve seen is what you call “equal spending” and what my friends call an “allowance.”

    These ideas sound pretty bad to people who think that families should have all their money together in one pot (like I kind of do), but with this guy, that strategy would be too stressful for me. I admit that we’re not married, so this strategy makes more sense than if we were married, but at this point, if we did get married, I’d want to keep using this method that works.

  4. In our financial counseling appointments we find that most people who are not on the same page have not communicated why they want to be frugal or why they spend everything at the end of the month. The biggest thing is to have mutual goals. So if you are in the heat of an emotional decision you can look at it from a mutually beneficial point. Ex: We could eat out or we could put the money we were going to spend toward our vacation in six months. This way both parties are benefiting and you are teaching the spender to defer gratification.

  5. Esther says:

    How timely! I was just reading this before – http://tinyurl.com/2w3734, about how the writer and her spouse deal with their different approaches to spending money.

  6. green3 says:

    Thanks, Trent. I needed this post this morning. Last night my husband came home with a new Treo phone. My $4.00 sales on half.com aren’t getting much traction when they get beat down with a $300 phone. Last night got ugly at our house, and I need to try harder to make sure my strong desire to get out debt doesn’t cause any more blow ups like that.

  7. Frugal Dad says:

    My wife is also frugal when it comes to major purchase, but she frequently lets the $20 small-stuff slip through here and there, and of course that adds up to very large stuff over the course of a month. I, on the other hand, am more likely to eat Ramen noodles for a month and then spend my savings on a computer program. The end results are the same – we could both be more frugal, and are aiming for that this year.

  8. TheJeffe says:

    I have had success with finding things that my wife and I both enjoy that cost less than going out and spending money. We go on hikes, museums and enjoy drinking a cup of coffee together. We try to make every weekend an adventure no matter where we are going and what we are doing. The key to making forward progress with our finances was for me to learn about what makes my wife spend and what comments get her very upset. The root was that her mother showed love with shopping and money was never discussed in her home. So I am very sensitive when it comes to money discussions to ensure I do not touch a nerve.

  9. sunshine says:

    I would echo the Saving Freak. The method that has worked for me is to work toward a goal. Combined with letting go of some control of the finances (and the idea that “I know what to do better than you”) has helped tremendously. Also, some ‘fun money’ for each to do what they wish – we call this our personal spending money – helps to curb the feeling of restrictions.

  10. Bonnie says:

    Good post. However, does anyone have any suggestions for a dating couple who are on different financial pages? I am new to the frugality game but have been making an effort for at least a year. It’s hard to make a lot of progress, though, with a spendthrift boyfriend who wants to eat out all the time, see movies at the theater, buy countless CDs and DVDs, and take trips we really can’t afford. It gets even stickier when you factor in that we don’t live together and haven’t discussed our future. I don’t feel as though I can (or should) tell him what to do with his money, but I’m starting to resent almost being “forced” to spend money to maintain our current relationship lifestyle when I really want to commit to paying off my credit card debt, build up an emergency fund, etc.

  11. mote says:

    Hey Trent! You were just linked on BoingBoing!

  12. Christopher says:

    Ron: I wouldn’t say that’s that unique. My wife and I had the same problem. For a while I was being frugal simply because my $500 wants were never in the budget, but she was still spending money on her little things, which made me somewhat resentful. We solved the problem by agreeing to small monthly allocations for our discretionary spending. I don’t like the idea of completely separating finances, but with us both getting $75 per month (or whatever amount we decide on) she can go out to lunch with her friends and not feel bad about it and I can save up for months and get my big ticket items. We both know we’re violating the others trust if we overspend what we agreed on so we’re still generally frugal, but we get to meet the desires we really want even when we disagree with each other. (We’ve also found that it actually cuts down on our personal expenses because now instead of coming out of some huge budget, that $7.50 sandwich is a full 10% of our monthly discretionary spending.)

  13. Blogmotron says:

    My husband and I are generally on the same page financially, but we have different areas of weakness – he’s a huge video game player, and I love coffee shops. Three things that have helped us:
    1. We have one checking account, so we are forced to be totally open about who spends money where. Sometimes, just the idea that my husband would be disappointed to see the transaction is enough to prevent me from spending money.
    2. We each have an “allowance” – a small amount of money in our budget is set aside for each of us, every month, to spend on whatever we want without guilt.
    3. We assume goodwill, seek to understand the other’s point of view, and maintain a safe and forgiving atmosphere at all times. This is by far the most important thing – when you have this, you have far less need for tips and tricks and systems.

    ~Q

  14. “suggest frugally but don’t point it out.”

    I don’t know how effective that would be time after time. I understand the strategy behind it—let’s not try to be obsessive about this or otherwise our spouse will hate the whole enterprise—but after a few times she/he will catch on, no doubt.

    I can see the rebuke already: “Why do you want to do that instead? Cause it’s cheaper?”

  15. Amy says:

    This is why I think some degree of separate finances is important. I can’t imagine feeling happy in a relationship where my spouse felt he had any right whatsoever to comment on my gum-purchasing habits. Money is important, but scrutinizing your spouse’s day-to-day spending is invasive and infantalizing.

    The important thing, I think, is to sit down and come to some agreement about long-term goals. You may be saving every penny because you want to retire early, but if your spouse doesn’t have issues with working well into their sixties, they’re not going to be willing to make the sacrifices you are. Figure out how you can adjust and compromise so you’ve set goals you can both buy into, set aside automatically as much money as you both agree you need to, and then separate out the rest of your spending and stop obsessing. If you feel the need to save more, save it out of your share.

    Sometimes, the path to greater trust and intimacy isn’t through opening up and sharing more and more. Sometimes, it’s about being comfortable with not sharing everything, and trusting that what you don’t know truly won’t hurt you.

  16. Kat says:

    Ooh, Writer’s Coin is so right on that one! I get that at times from both my so and from my friends.
    And I honestly don’t suggest cheaper things all the time.

  17. H-Bomb says:

    I feel this pain a lot. I want ot get out of debt and save so that I can buy a house. I want nothing more than to OWN my own home that I can do with as I wish. My significant other does not care if he ever owns a home so being frugal and getting out of dept are of no concern to him. If we both work together this can be accomplished in 10 years, if do it alone it will take 20. My kids will be long past moved out by then and what will be the point?

  18. SJean says:

    Interesting post. I think it would be a huge struggle to be married to someone who was not on the same page as me (either way more frugal or way less frugal). Especially if they didn’t heed your last piece of advice, be willing to compromise.
    My boyfriend and are on similar pages, but he’s way more interested in home ownership than I am. But if it comes to marriage, I’d be willing to compromise.

  19. Andy says:

    I have a friend who is not a frugal person. I tried to help him be more frugal, but he spent more than all his money on an expensive car and expensive vacations. He thought I was a fool for socking my money away — until he got a new job at a financial firm. He was shocked to realize how much money people have socked away, “These school teachers who drive around in old Corollas have like $700,000 in their accounts.” I think for the first time he realized that some people don’t display their wealth! We’ll see if this observation changes his behavior!

  20. DrBdan says:

    I also agree with Writer’s Coin’s comment. I am fairly frugal while my partner has the attitude that money is around to be spent. We occasionally have disagreements about money but that doesn’t really bother me. What bother me the most is that sometimes she just assumes that I want (or don’t want) to do something because I’m frugal when that’s often not the main reason.

    Example: often when we head out on the weekends to run errands my partner will grab a fancy coffee drink (i.e. the $5 kind, not a $1.50 generic coffee) and ask me if I want one. I usually say no because I’m not a big fan of them and we usually eat a good breakfast so I’m not hungry/thirsty. She usually responds with “oh you’re so cheap, I’ll buy it for you”, missing the fact that I just really don’t want one.

  21. Macinac says:

    My wife doesn’t *quite* get it. Any time there is a little windfall, say an insurance dividend check, she has an immediate idea for spending it. She also has a constant flood of ideas for changing the furniture, remodeling the house, getting new cars, and so on. Fortunately, she does not act unilaterally except on small things; so I’m in the position of wielding the veto all the time.

    On the other hand, I have made it possible for her to feel gradually “rich” by using the Malay family financial model. In their system, the husband is responsible for all household debts, and any money earned or saved by the wife (say out of the grocery budget) is hers exclusively. She has income from part-time work and other sources that amounts to about 10K, and so I have steered her into IRA fundings as well as simple CDs (awkward to retrieve the money on the spur of the moment). She is now worth about 80K and quite proud of it!

    This gives me leeway to be aggressively frugal, while covering all expenses, including checks she writes on the joint account.

  22. Peter says:

    To be honest, I gave up trying to get my wife on board years ago. I’ll tell her I’m putting another percent of a raise or cost of living increase towards retirement or the kid’s college or whatever. She’ll typically say that’s a good idea, and leave it at that. She pretty much threw me the bills (and her debt) when we got married and hasn’t looked back. We essentially spend everything we make, every month, plus some, except for the money I squirrel away for retirement, for savings, etc. The farther away I put the money, the less likely I’ll feel the need to touch it to cover our losses. Like others, it’s not that my spouse is going nuts on hundred dollar shoes or two hundred dollar purses. It’s the twenty and thirty dollar purchases or “needs” over the course of a year (who am I kidding, make that week) that kill us.

    So in response I’ve created a kind of artificial scarcity. I work off of 24 paychecks a year, even though I get 26. I have automatic withdrawls of money from our main accounts to side accounts. I pay a set amount on the mortgage, rounding out the actual payment to equal an extra payment a year. She takes notice when we get the little notes in the mail that we’re tapping our overdraft buffer, or she goes to the ATM and the savings account is under $100, and she’ll typically adjust her spending accordingly, for a time. I don’t hide these things, I tell her what I’m planning on doing (e.g. raise the amount I’m putting towards the kids college funds), get an agreement, and then never mention it again. It isn’t perfect, but it’s worked for us because I believe in principle she’s on board, it’s just that in practice she can’t seem to help herself.

    On the flip side, I do have to take a step back and realize that money is a means to an end. That my view of money and worth is somewhat warped towards the spartan ideal. If I’d have waited until *I* thought we could have afforded children, we still wouldn’t have any. If I’d have waited until I thought we could have afforded a mortgage payment, I’d still be renting a one bedroom apartment (what? I could have sectioned off a corner of the living room and put in bunk beds). There are a lot of decisions that if left to my own, I would have made which would not have benefited myself or my family, especially in the long run. For that, I’m grateful for her view and think that between the two of us, we’ve hit a wierd balance that works. But make no mistake, there is and will always be some friction, some issues and some adjustments to deal with.

  23. Simple Tam says:

    @ The Savings Freak

    I do agree that communication is an important and possibly the most important tool in maintaining frugality in a relationship. If the goals are communicated clearly, there shouldn’t be a problem. And the occasional splurge, atleast a small one, should be forgivable.

  24. Mo-Town says:

    Like many posters, my wife and I have different attitudes about money, but we’ve been able to reach a reasonable compromise by including a “weekly allowance” in our budget.

    Basically, we created a budget that funds our saving and retirement accounts and pays our bills. The left over amount of money in the budget is divided into a “weekly allowance” for each of us. I’m more conservative with money, so I give myself a little less ($50 per week to my wife’s $75 per week).

    This has worked wonders for us. We fully fund our retirement accounts and put an additional $2000 into savings each month, so I am happy. My wife is happy, too, because she can go out to lunch whenever she wants without me nagging her about saving money. Our basic rule is that how she spends her allowance is none of my business and vice versa.

    We use the same kind of compromise for other expenses. For example, I do the grocery shopping, because it lets me ensure we make frugal choices (i.e. purchase generic brands over name brands, load up on things when they’re on sale etc…). But for several kinds of food, such as peanut butter and mayonaise, I always buy certain brands because my wife has a strong preference for that brand. The $10 per month extra it costs to get these few items is far outweighed by the amount I save by making frugal purchases on the rest of the groceries.

    I agree with Trent about not nagging your spouse. My wife hates dealing with money issues, and if I nagged her about every non-frugal purchase she made, it would turn our family finances into a pain in the butt for her. By handling the family finances myself and giving her a reasonable amount of “mad money,” we’re both able to get what we want.

  25. Lauren says:

    First, interesting WSJ article on this topic today http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120103876140207711.html?mod=loomia&loomia_si=t0:a16:g2:r1:c0.147425

    Second, there seems to be a major husband bias here against their wives. I don’t want to open up a sexist can of worms here. I’m just trying to think of a logical answer for why this perception or reailty, perhaps, exists.

    For instance, even if women do spend more, perhaps it’s because they are charged of the daily household purchases. If the man is only involved in buying a tv or computer once a year, it’s easy for him to criticize the credit card bill when he doesn’t know that firsthand costs of feedinf and clothing a family.

    Another example, might be a woman who spends more on clothes and cosmetics than a man. I’m a very frugal woman and I don’t buy designer clothes, but I’m judged at work, by my friends, and by dates on my appearance more than a guy. If I want to project a succesful or sexy image, I simply need to spend mroe money the trends, on types of shoes, on hair, make-up, panty-hose etc.

  26. Mike says:

    I have lived with my wife’s overspending for over 25 years. She doesn’t buy the big things, she fritters away all of our money on small things. We don’t have fancy cars or fancy vacations to show for her spending, but she probably has $30,000 of unused art supplies sitting around. I love her and I don’t want to get rid of her but we have very little to show for our years of hard work because of her overspending. She’s been to therapy but it hasn’t helped. And yes, I do have resentment because I can’t do or buy the things that I want. If I did we’d most certainly have gone bankrupt a long time ago. Trying to convince her to spend less is like beating my head against the wall. I’m coming to the end of my rope.

  27. Monica says:

    This is tough, isn’t it? I don’t think separate finances is necessarily the answer (especially when you’re a one-income family) but I do absolutely advocate separate spending allowances. That way if one person is going to fritter away his/her allowance, the other person can save for something larger, and neither will resent the other. It can be larger than you would necessarily be comfortable with (as long as you can afford it), just as long as there is a definite limit.

    Obviously it’s necessary to compromise, but still have some ground rules in place. For example, no buying things until you actually have the money. Don’t let the unfrugal spouse just put a big screen TV on the credit card. Even if you disagree on the need for a big screen TV at all, depending on the circumstances you might agree to purchase it and then set up an automatic savings account and buy it when the full amount is saved. That way you are not depriving your partner but you are still being responsible, not going into debt, not paying interest, etc.

    If there’s something important to your spouse that you haven’t been able to afford, point out that increased frugality could not only meet financial goals for retirement or whatever, but could also pay for that big something. Maybe a once in a lifetime extended trip to Europe. Maybe a vacation home in cottage country. Whatever it is. Your partner may not be motivated by retirement or saving for the kids’ education or paying off the mortgage early, but there may be something else that could be motivating.

    Also, you may be able to get your spouse to compromise on the frugality issue by showing willingness to compromise in other areas. Maybe you are really bothered by your partner’s spending habits, but he/she is really bothered by your not helping with housework. Come up with some sort of agreement. You keep personal spending within $200 per month, and I’ll clean the bathroom once a week and wash dishes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Your spouse must have some sort of gripe about you that you could deal with in return for this gripe you have about him/her.

  28. Monica says:

    Oh, and I agree with the “artificial scarcity” mentioned by Peter. When you’re the frugal spouse with an unfrugal spouse, you just have to accept that you are the one in charge of the finances. Not that you will do things without your partner’s agreement, just that you will be the one making sure things are under control, you will be the one monitoring the financial situation, you will be the one researching, proposing new ideas, coming up with plans. You will discuss with your spouse and make sure it’s okay, but the initiative will have to be yours.

  29. !wanda says:

    The “allowance” idea doesn’t work for certain things. How can one spouse save for a house and the other not? Are you not going to let your partner live in it? Then, unfrugal partner doesn’t have to sacrifice anything and still gets a nice house.

  30. Amy says:

    How can one spouse save for a house and the other not? Are you not going to let your partner live in it? Then, unfrugal partner doesn’t have to sacrifice anything and still gets a nice house.

    Buy the house in your name only, and charge the partner rent to live there. Or, accept that if you want the partner you want, and the house you want, you’re going to have to make some one-sided sacrifices.

    Both these options seem vastly preferable to me than constantly fighting about money, which 1) degrades the quality of the relationship and 2) only changes behavior at the margins.

  31. Kiesa says:

    While my husband is not a spendthrift and would never go into credit card debt, he doesn’t have the obsession with saving that I do. Having separate allowances for personal items helps minimize disagreements. However, my husband’s attitude toward money can help put mine in perspective when I’m going overboard with saving. For instance, food really is a necessary expense :)

  32. Lurker Carl says:

    How successful is a couple when one is consistantly undermining the efforts of the other? It seems such a relationship would have one or the other unhappy most of the time. Unless the couple is living only for the moment, I am missing the point.

  33. Monica says:

    !wanda said: “The “allowance” idea doesn’t work for certain things. How can one spouse save for a house and the other not? Are you not going to let your partner live in it? Then, unfrugal partner doesn’t have to sacrifice anything and still gets a nice house.”

    I think you have to come to an agreement about big things like this. Maybe unfrugal spouse would be okay about saving if it wasn’t too depriving, maybe he wants to live in a nicer apartment while saving, maybe only save for a condo or a more modest house, maybe also agree to save for some desire of his (even if it seems frivolous, like a boat or a motorcycle), maybe do it by taking complete charge of all cooking so that you can trim the fat off the food budget and right into savings. But I could never do this without my husband on board. Save on my own, then buy a house in my name only? No thanks, that’s not what I want out of my marriage.

  34. luvleftovers says:

    My ex-husband spent money like it fell out of the sky, then couldn’t understand why there was no food in the house. (he would then borrow money from a friend and go out to eat, leaving me and the dog to fend for ourselves)

    That’s one of the main reasons why he’s my ex.

  35. skywind says:

    When you’re the frugal spouse with an unfrugal spouse, you just have to accept that you are the one in charge of the finances.

    And how are you going to do that? By becoming the “parent” and treating your spouse like a “child,” because he or she won’t do things your, and your way is so much better than their way? That doesn’t sound like much of a partnership to me. I agree that it’s difficult for a frugal and not-frugal couple to agree, but you can’t “take charge” just because you think you’re right and they’re wrong. There are much bigger marital issues at stake here.

  36. Monica says:

    skywind – In a partnership both partners have different roles and duties. Perhaps one spouse stays home with the children while the other earns a salary. They are both responsible for raising their children and should come to an agreement on their parenting philosophy but during working hours at least, one spouse has responsibility for actually doing the hands on parenting work. That’s what I had in mind for finance. I said “take charge” in the sense that the onus will be you to get the ball rolling, to start discussing, to make proposals, and then probably to do the nitty-gritty of recording spending, researching investments, etc. I did not say anything about insisting on your own way or treating your spouse like a child.

  37. !wanda says:

    @Bonnie: How long have you been dating? If you think it could be a long-term relationship, I think it’s time that you start dropping asides about financial goals here and there. “Oh, I saw this cute dress at Saks, but I decided against getting it because I really, really want to get out of debt.” Also, try suggesting more frugal choices, like renting DVDs instead of buying them, and see his reaction. You’re more likely to get honest answers if you don’t make a big production of it, don’t indicate up front that frugality is a reason you might dump him, and don’t mix the conversation up with “will we be together forever?”

    If he reacts strongly negatively to your attempts to be frugal or indicates that he doesn’t believe in fiscal responsibility, you should strongly consider dumping him. Money drives a lot of couples apart, and it’s better to figure his attitudes out earlier than later.

    Who knows; he might be relieved that you brought it up, because he secretly wants to be frugal but thinks you like to spend. Or, he could actually be rich, so it might surprise him that buying these things is financially difficult for you.

    If this relationship isn’t very serious, just cut back the expensive stuff, suggest cheaper alternatives, and dump the guy if he objects.

  38. AnKa says:

    Yes, what an insightful article today! Money is on the top 5 list for reasons for divorce. It might even be #2 or so. And that is because we all bring so much financial luggage in the form of debt, spending habits and philosophies, etc.

    I am by no means a big spender but compared to my husband, I do spend more money. Luckily, we have learned to see each other’s ways and are now living like a ‘Best Of’ philosophy. We choose whose philosophy works better for a given situation. Example: We need a tool. Here we will go with my tendency to buy the BEST tool (not what is often called the ‘best value’). Every time we use the tool, it will feel smooth in our hands and we will love having it. This also applies to our camera equipment, etc.
    The opposite example: We go out for lunch on a weekend. Here consider my husbands way – either we skip the lunch out altogether or we figure out ways to cut the cost way down, such as sharing an entree that is almost always enough for the 3 of us (the 3rd person being only 20 months old).

  39. Lindsay says:

    My husband and I both work together when it comes to the finances, but he gets sidetracked more easily than I do. I felt like I was preaching to him all the time about saving money and we were both getting resentful of that. To fix the problem, we started a very detailed budget. It was such a relief to have a piece of paper be the “bad guy” instead of me. Instead of asking me if we could afford something, my husband went straight to the budget to see if we could afford it. There were also several times where his family members would ask favors of him that would cost us money (ex. delivering something 1 hour away). He was able to decline and blame it on the budget. It may seem like a cop out, but it worked for us. As part of the budget, we each got some “blow” money, which helped my husband know that once his money was gone…it was gone unless he found some money or decreased a different category. The budget also gave us something to work towards…together. It’s been great for us. We are just finishing the first month, and I hope this trend continues.

  40. Lisa says:

    First of all, one thing we can learn from all of this is key: anyone who is contemplating marriage or a permanent, long term arrangement with a partner MUST take serious time to thoroughly discuss finances, spending, personal money philosophies, etc. before taking the leap into marriage/cohabiting. It’s the single best way to find out what you’ll be facing financially, for better or worse, as the years go by.

    My husband and I have been married almost 13 years, and have never had one single fight about money. We have adopted a “yours, mine, and ours” system that works like this: each year at tax time, we figure out the coming year’s household budget based on the previous year’s. At that point, we determine how much money per month is needed to pay all the monthly expenses, and we add in money for household savings, a vacation, etc. We figure up that annual total and divide it by 26, because we both get paid every two weeks at our jobs. That’s how much money will go into our joint checking account on each payday. Next, we figure out our total income over the past year (this is why we do it at tax time), and determine who made what percentage of that total. It usually ends up somewhere around my husband earning 75% of the total, and me earning about 25%. Finally, we go back to the “amount per payday” that goes into the joint checking, and my husband deposits 75% of that total into the account each pay, and I deposit 25% of the total into the account each pay.

    All money left over for either one of us goes into personal checking and/or savings accounts and is ours to do with as we please, no questions asked EVER. My husband invests a big chunk of his with an online brokerage, buying individual stocks, and I invest a big chunk of mine in an online mutual fund account. However, if I wanted to spend $1,000 on a pair of shoes or a purse (the most ridiculous thing EVER, and I never would, but I’m just saying), I wouldn’t owe him any explanation.

    We are very fortunate that we spent long hours discussing money and finances before we married, and we’re both focused on the same long-term financial goals. So focused, in fact, that we are set to retire early from full-time work this year – he’ll be 50, and I’ll be 46 — with a net worth well over $2 million. It can be done, we’re proof of that, but as other posters have said, if the two of you aren’t on the same page philosophically, it’s going to be very difficult.

  41. Bonnie says:

    @ !wanda: Thank you for your suggestions and good advice. We have been dating for a year and a half, so it’s pretty serious. I would say that 90 percent of our disagreements/misunderstandings have had something to do with financial matters in one way or another.

  42. Molly says:

    Great article! I’ve been reading your site a lot lately and have taken away a lot of good tips. When my husband and I got married (just 8 months ago!), we talked through every aspect of our finances. We basically have the same goals of living modestly and balancing savings with debt reduction (we’re currently paying on both of our student loans and one car payment in addition to our mortgage). *We found that giving ourselves a fixed ‘allowance’ each week helped solve the spending dilema. It also alleviates any sort of guilt associated with making a purchase. We know that we’ve set up all our savings automatically through ING, so we don’t feel bad spending our weekly allowance on a book or saving it for a couple of weeks to buy a video game or a nice dinner out. We’ve found this to be a really healthly balance for us.

  43. nebula says:

    We’ve been married for 24 years now and have never had a single argument about money or even disagreed on a purchase. We’ve always pooled our money into one account (at the beginning we had so little it really seemed to make sense.) The simple method we worked out spontaneously was basically this: decide on an amount that each of you can spend without causing a financial problem. When we first started out, before either of us made any single purchase over $20, we would consult with the other. As the years passed and our salaries grew, this amount became larger. Nowadays the cut-off amount would be more like $400 or $500. If little purchases are adding up, then make it a monthly amount instead of a single purchase. That way each person feels some freedom but each is also responsible to the other.

    My husband can’t care less about finances, so I’m the one who manages the money, but again, if I make a major decision such as to start an IRA or change our allocation, I always let him know. I do our taxes, but I make him read it over and check my math–two heads are better than one!
    I respect his opinion and he trusts my judgement.

    This simple method has worked for us–we’ve never gotten in debt or over our heads though we could have saved more when we were younger. It curbs impulse buys that are later regretted and allows you to develop trust in each other.

  44. kim says:

    Bonnie: As a woman married to a man who is a very poor money manager, may I suggest that you seriously think about calling it off? You are already fighting about money! That won’t get better with an “I do”. I am convinced that one of the most difficult things in a marriage is the struggle over completely different money styles. Much as I love my husband and respect him in so many different areas, this one is a killer! Trust me on this, you don’t want to be mid-40s without a dime to show for all your hard work, and constantly paying for your spouses choices. It takes an incredible amount of energy, love, and constant forgiveness to overlook this matter and treat your spouse with love and gentleness and respect when this is a continual issue.

    If you are like me, you’ve seen ads for those monster bride shows. The one that sticks in my mind is where she whines “We have the money you just don’t want to spend it.” Every time I see that exchange as she tried to get him to pony up for some wildly elaborate wedding over and above their budget I think, “run!” I have to assume that she will spend the rest of their lives whining to him that they could afford bigger houses, better cars, fancier vacations, and more expensive clothes. They will wind up in bankruptcy, divorce court or he will work himself into the ground to satisfy her insatiable urge to spend more and more.

    Please don’t do that to yourself. Find out where you are up front in this area. If I had known then….this would have been a deal-breaker. We were once in mid-vacation when I found out that he had skipped paying the mortgage to afford the vacation. What he had done with the vacation money I still do not know. He lives on the theory that he can always make it up next week (or next month or…..) I could buy a Mercedes in what we have paid in late fees, overdraft charges, and over-limit fees. For what? How hard is it to put off a purchase or an entertainment for just a bit longer? Financial stability provides you with peace and confidence. Priceless.

  45. Johan says:

    I’ve realized that frugality doesn’t necessarily depend on how much money one has, rather it is the lessons one learns.

    I’m 23 yrs old and in medical school. Born in a doctors’ family I’m lucky enough that I’ve never had to worry about student debt and loans, and my medical school will also be paid for by my parents. However, I’m quite frugal and have lived without a car and cable TV out of choice. I also almost never eat out since I love to cook my own food. Those three things alone save me a several thousand dollars a year.

    I started dating this girl a year ago who has very different ideals than I do. She grew up in a middle class Midwest family with a house and four cars that they make payments on. I expected her to be more cautious with her money than I was, but it was the opposite. She loves to shop and going to Starbucks. She has a large credit card balance, but she’s working on eliminating it.

    The problems started this past december when we went on a 10 day vacation together. She didn’t have any money saved up so I lent her my credit card so she could get a little shopping done while we were in Puerto Rico. Well a few weeks later I looked and found that she had spent $2,000 on shoes, clothes and apparel without telling me. I knew that she had bought some items but I didn’t think it polite to see how much they cost.

    So we got into a little argument. She didn’t know what the big deal was since I had rich parents and could pay the balance without a hassle. That didn’t go over too well with me. I really love her but I didn’t appreciate her spending my money without regard. I’m hoping that this was out of characater and that we can talk through it using some of the tips listed on this site.

  46. conny says:

    johan, terminate or start ruining your self. If she uses the rich, have money, card already. And spend money she don’t have and don’t intend to get, then YOU are the one that will pay the bill, over and over and…

  47. Jade says:

    Wow!! Stuff like this is what makes me appreciate the man I’m dating. Hard working, frugal cheapskate, totally in line with my own values. Our vacations are planned a year in advance, not much for gifts as we’re both minimalists, he owns a house he’s got a mortgage on (so technically not his then, he could pay for it outright) $650k but he plans to move in a couple of years so better of just with the mortgage. We both like eating at home, he buy the food and I prepare it. Good trade off. :) we know what we want out of life ad both of us coming from poor working class background of immigrant parents, it’s especially important that we accomplish our goals. I have a daughter from previous relationship and I’m lucky BF is comfortable with taking care of us financially. He insists on being the provider and I take run the household including groceries. It’s a good deal since the money I make is mine to spend (I own my business) so we’re both financially set.
    It helps to be build a life or dream together with someone who’s in tune or aligned with your goals n dreams. I can’t imagine the heartache n headache of dealing with someone constantly wrecking our dreams.

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