Opposites Attract: Why Frugal People Need Spenders

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Here’s another great post from our friends at The Billfold:

I’d like to say that there’s some wonderful and mysterious origin story that that explains who I am today, but it came about due to the most common and banal reason around: I was born and bred by two thrifty parents.

Having two cheap parents is the worst. New clothes shopping involved a trip to the fabric store to get materials for the three identical jumpers my mother would make me before school started; vacation every year was a drive to New Jersey to hang out at the pool in my grandmother’s retirement community; and the big splurge of the week happened on Friday when my mother would give me 35 cents to get an ice cream sandwich in the cafeteria at lunch.

Now, my mother would claim that all this was because we were poor, not cheap, but this is the woman who to this day thinks it’s normal to drive an hour and a half to buy a comforter from the JCPenny Outlet instead of going to the regular JCPenny five minutes from her house. And my father pretty much doesn’t give a gift unless its something he’s gotten free in the mail.

I came to this conclusion early on: Two cheap people should never be in a relationship together. It goes against the laws of nature. Yin and yang, fire and ice, sweet and salty, and all that stuff. People need balance. When two cheap people get together, they’re never able to embrace the joys of capitalism, and their lives are the more boring for it. But the situation is even worse in relationships where neither person has any spending control. Take, for example, this annoyingly popular girl that I went to high school with. She was super rich and pretty. Her parents drove BMWs; she looked like she got regular manicures and some kind of skin treatment; and I’m fairly certain that every article of clothing she owned and wore only once was from a designer I’d never heard of. Our senior year we had this conversation:

Me: God, I’m so tired of trying to figure out how in the world I’m going to afford going to college. I should probably just stay in state.

Rich girl: Ugh, I know!

Me: Don’t even! Isn’t your dad, like, a doctor or something?

Rich girl: Well, yeah, but they don’t have any money saved up for college.

Me: Um, what?

Rich girl: Yeah. My parents were having me work on the FAFSA last night, and it turns out that they, like, don’t even have any savings accounts. They just spend everything.

All the happiest people I know are in relationships with someone who is their spending opposite. The thrifty person helps keep the finances grounded and ensures that there’s always a comfortable cushion when the stuff of life happens; the non-thrifty person remembers that life is about more than just working and hoarding all your money.

Take, for example, a conversation I had at brunch a few weeks ago with a couple of friends that have been happily paired off for more than a decade:

Me: So, I can’t believe you’re finally going to be out of law school in a few months and making six figures. How crazy is that?

Thrifty guy: I know! I can’t wait to finally save some money again.

Non-thrifty girl: You mean, you can’t wait until we can afford to pay someone to come clean our apartment twice a month.

Thrifty guy: What? No. We need to start putting money away. I might not want to work at a big law firm forever.

Non-thrifty girl: Oh, and you’re going to have time to cook and clean when you’re a first-year associate? What you will have time for is meeting me out for dinner and drinks three nights a week when we’re both getting off work at 8 p.m.

Thrifty guy: Okay. Fine. Once a month. We can get someone to clean once a month.

Non-thrifty girl: God, I can’t wait until we’re rich.

I play the role of the thrifty one in my relationship (shocking, I know), and my partner (he of name-brand buying Ritz cracker fame), is the saner one. This balance has helped us immensely over the years.

Four and a half years ago we rather spontaneously bought an apartment. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but about a month after moving in, I started staring at our finances and convincing myself that we were going to default on our mortgage and have to eat peanut butter sandwiches without jelly for the next ten years of our lives.

To read more about Annie’s spending dilemma, visit The Billfold:

  • Frank

    disagree – I’m frugal – I live with a frugal – and we’re very happy – although I will say she has encouraged me to spend more than I otherwise would, on friendships, e.g. paying for them in restaurants etc. – so we have a happy social life as a result.

  • emaree brielle

    I do not agree or disagree but, in my personal situation I’m the penny pincher and my hubby is the man who thinks he’s made of money. There is a happy and satisfied balance in our relationship and I find that sometimes “giving in” and making a purchase my husband has talked me into actually puts a smile and my face and I enjoy i.e. a night at the local baseball game. The part of our balancing act that I love the most is that we are completely honest and truthful to each other about our money/spending; no hidding money or having seperate accts.