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


how to live with your financial oppositeJanice and Jason Christensen, Chicago, IL

During 17 years of marriage, Janice and Jason discovered the importance of collaborative financial decision-making, especially while living on a single salary.

For a decade, Janice stayed home to raise their three children, and she struggled with feelings of guilt and powerlessness because she didn’t have her own income. She was used to spending freely on gifts and clothes, so she needed to rein in her budget, while her thriftier husband focused on ways to save, such as refinancing their mortgage.

To help her feel that she was part of a team when it came to money matters, Jason would ask her to weigh in on financial questions during regular Sunday night planning sessions. “He included me as a complete equal,” recalls Janice, who handled their day-to-day budget, as well as selected their monthly charitable donations. These steps ultimately did wonders to boost her confidence.

Now that they’re in their mid-40s, Janice and Jason’s main priorities include saving for college and retirement. Janice, who’s now back in the workforce, has become more easygoing about personal spending. Jason, on the other hand, still saves carefully: “I always feel a burden to support my family, and I feel it’s my responsibility to ensure that everyone has what they need.” They continue their weekly status reports, hashing out budgets along with their schedules and other responsibilities.

For their personal entertainment budgets, they both keep any five-dollar bill that passes through their hands. “If we ask our friends to come out with us, they’ll ask, ‘Do you have a bunch of fives burning a hole in your pocket?’ ” Janice says. “It’s an easy way to have fun with saving—and it makes going out less painful financially.”

how to live with your financial oppositeDaphne and Fred Cohn, Davis, CA

“For many years, we never talked about finances,” Daphne admits. “That started to change as we saw how unhealthy it was for our relationship.”

Fred, now 57, was a disciplined saver, while Daphne, 41, felt that budgeting “sucked the fun out of life.” She hid some of her spending, but soon realized that it eroded their mutual trust.

Since Fred is closer to retirement age, he is more focused on ensuring their financial freedom in the years ahead. “I have a much deeper appreciation of just how much savings will be required to maintain our current lifestyle,” he says.

After 13 years together, they now agree on key financial goals, such as school tuition for their children and their retirement savings. They talk through their financial plans every month, as well as when they’re considering any big purchase. The more they do this, Fred has found, the better it gets. “Our easiest talks are when we schedule regular reviews of our ‘books,’ ” Fred says.

“Now we sit down together, each with our laptop, and look over our bills and incomes,” Daphne adds. And while she still finds budgeting a chore, she admits that it helps to set a relaxing mood: “We put on soft music, light candles and have a glass of wine. This makes the whole thing more enjoyable.”

  • 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.