Spender vs. Saver: How to Live (Financially) Happily Ever After

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When you discuss finances with your partner, do you feel as though you’re talking from opposite sides of a stadium? If so, you’re far from alone.

Everyone who’s ever squirmed through a money conversation with a loved one knows that differing opinions can be challenging—at best. In fact, according to a nationwide survey conducted by LearnVest and TD Ameritrade, money is one of the top marital stressors.

As sensitive as financial issues can be, they can also build trust. The survey found that at least 60% of married people trust their partners to manage their finances—a number that rises to 70% among couples in their 60s and up.

Financial awareness grows alongside trust, but more dramatically. The survey also showed that just a quarter of couples aged 18-35 has a clear picture of each other’s income and debt, but 60% of Baby Boomers clearly understand their financial footing.

So how can you and your spouse make opposite money perspectives a source of strength rather than friction? For one, communication is crucial. Even when you trust your spouse’s financial management, be sure to have candid, regular discussions about money matters.

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To show how it can be done, three couples at different points in their lives divulge how they deal with opposite approaches to money—and how these differences can even bring partners closer.

how to live with your financial oppositeColby and Nick Peters, Annapolis, MD

Colby and Nick, both in their early 30s, have been married for three years. Despite Nick’s conservative financial outlook and Colby’s carefree spending, they’ve managed to reach a happy medium. “Our financial personalities have changed to meet in the middle,” Colby says.

Each month, the couple reviews their accounts and upcoming expenses. Nick also checks his bank balances once a week, and he gets anxious if he dips into his savings. “Colby reassures me that everything is fine, and she’s right,” he explains. “Allowing for the occasional splurge isn’t the end of the world.”

Nick cites his first credit card as an indelible lesson: It had a $1,500 limit—a purposefully low amount that helped him avoid overspending. And he has kept that limit ever since. When Colby met Nick, she carried about $10,000 in credit-card debt, but she steadily paid it off. She also adopted a similarly low credit-limit plan, which curbed her impulse spending on clothes and restaurants.

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So far, they’ve kept separate accounts—but with a baby on the way, they may combine them. They’re confident that, with open discussion and emotional support, they can weather the larger financial decisions that lie ahead. “I am very honest about my finances, regardless of any embarrassment I might feel, because I value being truthful with Nick,” Colby says.

  • DCLady

    Good message but disappointed that in all three couples, the woman is the spender and the man is the saver – the stereotypical roles.  It’s the opposite in my relationship, and I know lots of women who are thriftier than their male partners.

    • Kate

      I agree. My boyfriend and I have been dating for over a year and I am already worrying about money as things get more serious. I save and invest a large portion of my income and feel as though I have been really good about budgeting since graduating college a few years ago. He on the other hand will buy everything he wants, eats out all the time, and is not even sure how much money he has spent at any given time. It would be good to hear more stories about guys being the spenders. 

  • Kvinner

    I’ll second DCLady — I also know couples where the woman is more on top of finances than her partner, and it would help to highlight this type of situation.  Not all women are going to be the spender in a relationship.

  • kate123

    My boyfriend and I have been together for 5 years and I love how our discussions about money have grown and we are on the same page. A couple of years ago, he was more of the carefree spender, whereas I was more conservative. Instead of jumping on him to change his ways, we simply talked about it and ultimately I let him do what he wanted. I knew he wasn’t going into debt, but I did know he could be saving more. Now, he is starting to realize that saving is more empowering. And I am starting to realize that it’s OK to spend a little money to have fun. We now agree that instead of buying more “things” we don’t need, any money we do spend is to be spent on “experiences” – it’s been a great way to meet in the middle. Now we look at things and decide, would we rather have that money in savings or is it worth a little splurge to LIVE and have fun. And we are striking a great balance between the two.

  • Amclosson4

    I had to take complete control of our finances or my husband would have spent to the point of bankrupcy. After 5 years together he finally realizes we need to save if we ever want to buy a house or do anything else. i still control the finances though.