One is a saver; the other’s a spender. One would rather be at the bank; the other would rather be at the mall. Not seeing eye-to-eye with your partner when it comes to money is quite common. It just might mean you're money opposites.
In fact, 75 percent of married or cohabiting couples admit that financial decisions have caused tension in their relationships, according to a survey from the American Institute of CPAs.
Financial compatibility is one of the most important things to consider when entering a relationship. And even if you think you’ve found a great financial match, you may not be compatible in every area.
For instance, you may seem to be on the same wavelength in terms of general financial strategies or long-term goals, but might be used to handling day-to-day financial problems in different ways.
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Money Differences in Couples
Consider the issue of challenging bills.
One partner might spend 15 minutes showing the restaurant manager how they were charged a price different from the one on the menu, or they might block the queue at the supermarket because their item wasn’t scanned properly. The other might get annoyed at the waste of time and the embarrassment over a small amount of money.
Another issue can stem from differing levels of financial proficiency among the partners. The more astute partner might feel the need to point out money mistakes in a genuine effort to help, but those efforts could be taken as a constant nag.
Small pieces of advice — like pooling errands to save time and gas, not buying food that would be thrown away week after week, and budgeting for big purchases to avoid debt — can be interpreted as bossy or even frustrating.
These differences could be damaging to the relationship, especially when it’s just beginning, which is what Ashley Keimach of Physicians Health Plan learned.
“My husband and I married young, and though we spent a great deal of time preparing ourselves for this new stage in our lives, we spent no time preparing for the financial differences we would face,” Keimach says. “Growing up in two completely different socioeconomic backgrounds, my husband and I received different messages around money.”
“My husband was an extreme saver and I was the complete opposite,” Keimach adds. “His saving made me feel restricted and stifled. My spending made him feel financially insecure and frustrated. These differences remained at the forefront of our arguments as a married couple and threatened the very foundation of our marriage.”
“It wasn’t until my husband and I realized that the way we related to money was learned behavior that we began to salvage the pieces of our marriage,” Keimach contnu.
“We realized that if our beliefs around money were learned that we had an opportunity to learn new behaviors together,” Keimach says. “This realization gave us the freedom to construct a new way of viewing money that would benefit us both while also allowing us to work together as a team.”
As Keimach learned, couples can work to improve their financial compatibility, even if they’re money opposites, as long as they communicate openly on the important questions.
Financial Questions for Couples to Answer
As a couple, it’s essential that you develop the ability to decide together which goals will be your priority and which can be delayed until further down the line. Consider each, and then decide how to allocate your money appropriately to help achieve them.
“Simply opening it up to conversation can help create guidelines for couples to avoid being surprised later,” says Sarah Carlson, a certified financial planner and founder of Fulcrum Financial Group.
“The difference between a dream and a goal is a plan,” Carlson adds. “So how do you create a sound financial foundation — before the trust issues, money squabbles, and resentment start creeping in? It’s simple but still bears to be said: It is all about communication, compromise, and honesty with each other.”
Carlson recommends that money opposites begin with these four questions:
- What does my money look like?
- What’s a specific amount that we should discuss before spending?
- What are some of your money goals?
- Are we going to combine our finances?
One partner may want to graduate debt-free and travel the world. The other, meanwhile, could be all about enjoying the moment. If your financial compatibility is off, try to find a middle ground.
Resolving Your Financial Relationship Issues
The best way to work out relationship issues is by addressing them with your significant other. Try these three stages of action.
Stage 1: Awareness
Sometimes we don’t realize the underlying money beliefs that drive our decisions. What money messages did each partner grow up with? Who in their lives influenced them when it came to handling money? What is the most important value that money helps each one achieve?
Stage 2: Communication
Now that the difference is on the table, how do conversations about it go? How well does each partner feel heard and understood, when you're money opposites? “Active listening” is a great tool to use at this point: Each partner takes turns listening, mirroring, checking for understanding, and empathizing.
Be sure to ask about financial equality. Would one partner have more economic sway in the decisions, because they brought more money to the table? Would the other still be able to spend their salary as they wanted to?
Will one of you need to financially support the other through school? If you choose to have children, would one be able to take a few years off of work to focus on the kids? What if you want to go on a vacation or to give to a charity that you are passionate about?
If you’re struggling to communicate with your partner, it may be helpful to speak with a financial advisor, who can help set reasonable and attainable goals and plans. It’s a path that has genuinely helped heal emotional rifts between couples.
“My wife is very much about saving whenever possible, especially for retirement,” says Steve Morrow, co-founder of Paddle About. “She doesn’t want to work forever and I get that. I am more likely to let loose and spend some money. We hired a financial advisor to help us navigate our finances to find common ground.”
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Stage 3: Negotiation
With enhanced understanding, a couple is better equipped to come to a mutually agreeable solution.
Several years ago, I worked with a couple who debated whether they should be saving 10 or 20 percent of their income. They were both busy, young, successful professionals, and the lower savings threshold would enable them to hire help for the house and lawn. But it was extremely important to one of the partners to be debt-free by age 40.
After discussions that used the stages of awareness, communication, and negotiation, the couple settled on saving 15 percent of their income, hiring some household help, and keeping their debt-free status as a goal, but not a rigid expectation.
All couples, especially if they begin to consider marriage, need to have these discussions and begin to make a plan for their finances.
“I advise all couples, regardless of age or financial status, to consider a prenuptial agreement,” says Andrew Winters, a divorce attorney and co-founder of the law firm Cohen & Winters.
“It is even more important if the individuals have opposing financial strategies,” Winters adds. “A prenuptial agreement simply ensures that all property, debts, and assets will be taken care of and split in an agreed-upon manner, should a divorce happen.”
Learn to Compromise
As your relationship grows and you get to know each other better, you’ll be able to further define your money priorities. Keep your goals in mind, but know that compromising is key to a balanced relationship, especially when you are money opposites.
“In order to compromise, you need to be open about your financial goals,” says Alina Clark, co-founder of CocoDoc. “Relationships are rarely broken by money issues on their own. Rather it’s a culmination of mistrust and lack of communication that rears its face in money issues.”
If you’re constantly pointing fingers, your partner is more likely to reject your suggestions. Eventually, they may want to be with someone who values them more.
“My partner and I have different financial goals and spending routines,” says Clark. “While he’s reason- and savings-oriented, I’m an impulse-buying addict who can hardly go a month without doing some shopping therapy. At best, we’re polar opposites when it comes to handling cash. But we’ve learned to live through it.”
And remember that you got together in the first place. Surely your partner has a lot of other good qualities.
Working on the money part is worth the effort. Nobody’s perfect, and you probably have your own flaws, too. So make time for introspection, and admit your faults.
Understand That Money Opposites May Not Always Last
Perhaps you value your financial freedom and refuse to depend on your partner for money. In this instance, you may want to keep your earnings and savings high — in case work dries out. In that case, if your partner wants to maintain a relationship with a stay-at-home significant other, you may just not be compatible in the long run.
Still, it is important for both sides of a relationship to present their side of the issue without anger.
However, while agreeing on a money strategy will reduce tension, it doesn’t guarantee a happy ending. Life is more complicated than that!
The Bottom Line
Remember that, in a relationship, “we” decisions trump “I” decisions. This applies to your finances as much as anything else.
Money is a leading cause of divorce, according to a survey by Ramsey Solutions. But when money opposites discuss their behaviors and decisions, it can go a long way toward reaching financial goals with peace and harmony — whether those goals be at the mall, or the bank.
Additional reporting by Lukas Shayo.