Marriage is hard work. It can be even harder when you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye on the family finances. My husband and I are opposites when it comes to spending: I’m a saver and he’s a spender. We’ve learned how to deal with our different approaches to money, but it’s definitely not easy.
I was reminded of this when a reader recently asked me for some advice. Her husband is a spender and they’re keeping their money separate while he learns new money habits. They’re trying to work as a team, but it has been a challenge. I gave her a few ideas for how to handle a spending spouse when you’re a saver, but it occurred to me that some of you may be facing the same issue.
When you are a saver and your spouse is a spender, the biggest challenge is to avoid acting like a parent. It doesn’t work to try to control every penny coming in and going out. It doesn’t work to nag your spouse on every purchase from a stick of gum to a new phone. Your spouse needs a partner – not a parent. Otherwise, they would just move back in with mom and dad!
Show, don’t tell.
It’s way to easy to nag your partner about saving money. But constant criticism isn’t good for a marriage and can encourage even more unpleasant behavior (like a spouse hiding expenditures from you, opening up credit cards without your knowledge, etc.).
It’s far better to show your spending spouse how to save money than to tell them how to do it. Show how you can save money with coupons. Discuss how you found a great bargain at the store. Repurpose a cool thrift store find or demonstrate your skills in the kitchen. Show your spouse how to negotiate lower bills. Then show your spouse what you can do with the money saved. Show them the progress made on paying back loans. Show them how your savings is growing.
If you want your marriage to work, you have to acknowledge that you can’t completely change someone. You can’t control what they are going to do. But you can be a positive example of what you should do with money, and when a spouse sees that day in and day out, it can have a profound effect on how he or she spends their money.
Set a goal together.
There’s no better way to get on the same financial page as your spouse than by setting a common goal. Perhaps your goal is to get out of debt, or maybe you are saving for a new home or a family vacation. Communicate with your spouse about your dreams for the life you share together. When you can demonstrate how much money you can save (show, don’t tell!) and apply that savings to something meaningful to both of you, it can be very influential in getting a spouse to curb his or her spending.
Pick your battles.
I’ve always been a firm believe in the idea that the little things you spend money on can add up. My husband doesn’t always agree. He likes to enjoy a treat from the store on his drive home from a late meeting, and I think it’s wasted money. He got tired of fighting with me about it. I got tired of nagging him. Instead, we’ve come to an agreement that works for us. We have a small budget for splurges. If he’s allowed to spend a little bit of money on whatever he wants, he is happy. And because those little expenses are within the constraints of our budget, I’m happy.
You can poison a marriage by squabbling over the little tiny details, or you can pick your battles and come to a compromise you both can live with.
Make saving money automatic.
You can protect the family finances from being ravaged by a spending spouse by automating your finances. Set up direct deposits for savings and retirements. Put aside money for recurring expenses like car insurance. Set up automatic bill payments. Take care of the bills and your savings goals first, and then you can spend the rest however you want. Get into the habit of saving money before you do anything else, and it will be easier to curb excessive spending. Studies have show that switching to cash can help you better manage your money, so consider living on a cash diet to see if that helps you get on track.
Challenge each other.
There’s nothing like a little friendly competition to get those creative juices flowing. Hold a savings challenge with your spouse and reward the person who saves the most money. The best part – even if you lose the competition, you still win!
Seek out additional help.
Relationships are complex. Our relationship with money is complex. It’s hard to know where to begin sometimes. Visit your library and check out books on personal finance and frugal living that you and your spouse can share together. (Carrie Rocha’s book, Pocket Your Dollars is a great book to start with). Consider taking a Financial Peace University class or a Crown Financial Ministries seminar together. The more you learn about yourselves and your money, the stronger your marriage will be.
Sometimes a problem with money is merely a symptom of much larger problems within your marriage. If that’s the case, find professional help in the form of a marriage counselor or church pastor. Sometimes talking through your issues with an unbiased third party can make a huge difference in getting at the root of your issues and coming up with workable solutions.
Developing a unified front when it comes to your finances will help you and your spouse strengthen your marriage. Whether you’re the spender or the saver won’t matter when you’ve found a way to work together.
Now it’s your turn? Are you the saver or the spender in your marriage? How do you and your spouse handle disagreements about money? What tips do you have for dealing with your spending opposite?