- My husband’s a spender and I’m a saver, and that dynamic has caused fights in our 14 years together.
- We’ve developed three rules that help us discuss money and build wealth, starting with honesty.
- We’ve also learned to respect each other’s positions, and remain humble.
- Read more stories from Personal Finance Insider.
A long time ago, somebody somewhere came up with the idea of taking all of our earthly possessions and sharing them with a life partner. Things have been tricky ever since. Especially money and relationships — they’re a particularly difficult combination. So difficult, in fact, that 36.1% of couples cite money issues as the cause of their divorce. This staggering statistic is likely why 24% of couples choose not to share bank accounts. But for the majority of us, the straightforward route to sharing life’s burdens with our partners means sharing everything.
This is the approach my husband and I chose before we even got married. We adopted the “what’s yours is mine” attitude 14 years ago, as soon as our relationship shifted from casual to serious. As you can imagine, our fights about money began around the same time.
Being a spender/saver couple isn’t always easy
One might think that choosing a person who shares the same goals and values should eliminate all financial conflict, and my husband and I do share values and goals, but that doesn’t translate to us sharing a financial strategy. For instance, we both value comfort, but to my husband, comfort means feeling secure, which he achieves by saving enough money to handle anything life throws at him. For me, a comfortable lifestyle means being literally physically comfortable. In other words, my husband is a saver and I’m a spender.
This spender/saver dynamic is likely familiar to anyone who has shared finances with another person. If you’re the saver, you probably know that there are few things as demoralizing as checking your bank account and seeing a smaller number than you anticipated, except perhaps being the spender who, despite being a full-grown adult, knows they’re going to be in trouble for treating themselves to an $8 sandwich. And that’s the thing about sharing finances: Everyone feels bad all the time. Unless, of course, you find a way to make it work.
After years of learning lessons the hard way, I can say confidently that with the help of three simple principles, my husband and I have learned how to keep the peace and build our wealth as a team.
The 3 rules we follow to keep the peace
Yes, honesty is the foundation of good relationships in general, but when it comes to money, it becomes more nuanced than choosing not to message an ex behind your partner’s back. When two people are trying to share money, the struggle usually stems from good, but opposing, best intentions.
I know from experience that I’ve often justified hiding purchases by telling myself I just couldn’t bear another argument, while savers may be tempted to hide cash for the sake of protecting their partner from themselves. But when we strip away all the good intentions and justifications from our actions, we are left with lies, plain and simple.
In our marriage, this lying and sneaking around not only eroded the trust we shared, but when it came to our finances, it also kept us from fully understanding our financial position. While I kept my husband in the dark about the majority of my purchases, he, in turn, began over-dramatizing our bleak financial outlook to scare me out of spending. In this flurry of subterfuge, saving and investing were not options.
Being honest with one another, even when it means arguing and relinquishing control, gives us a better understanding of how much money we have, how much money we spend, and what choices will allow us to reach our shared financial goals.
2. Mutual respect
Once, in the heat of a nasty battle over whether we should buy a mattress secondhand, I called my husband “Scrooge McDuck.” While it was a spiteful and silly dig, it also summarizes how I felt about his frugal tendencies. He, on the other hand, felt I had the financial acumen of a 7-year-old in a candy shop with $100 to burn. Maybe we were both a little right, but these cartoonish narratives we held about one another were directly responsible for our mutual dishonesty over money.
This is why the most important change we made in our approach to sharing finances was recognizing that our spender/saver dynamic didn’t need to be a battle of opposites, but could instead be a balance of strengths.
Being a saver means my husband is always wary of potential financial hardships. This vigilance has allowed us to live off $10 an hour in our own apartment rather than finding ourselves stuck living in his parent’s basement. Someday, this vigilance will be the difference between working until we die and retiring comfortably. I’m lucky to have him.
But being a spender means I am open to taking financial risks that on his own, my husband would have been too scared to take. By pushing him to sell our house at the top of the market, I made us $120,000, and I’ve made our lives exponentially more pleasant by insisting on luxuries like travel and mattresses that aren’t infested with bedbugs. He’s lucky to have me.
But mutual respect requires more than recognizing what the other person has to offer. It also means recognizing that one financial style isn’t necessarily superior to another.
As you may have suspected based on my “Scrooge McDuck” dig, my instinct isn’t to extend a lot of respect to spendthrifts. My inner commentary is closer to, “Look, another tightwad who thinks they’re going to become a billionaire by sleeping on 80 thread-count sheets and swapping avocado toast for a bowl of gruel.” But I have to humble myself, quell the snark, and recognize that people who are saving their money for a rainy day are wise because they’re right, rain is inevitable. And savers, as my husband could tell you, struggle to accept that their financial caution does not necessarily make them wiser than their “now is now” counterparts.
Our sense of superiority is what leads us to dismiss what our partners bring to the table, and by dismissing them, we are creating an environment where it feels like the only safe play is to hide, lie, and omit.
For my husband and me to agree on finances enough to build wealth, we had to first acknowledge that our individual ways of doing things weren’t the only right ones. My husband had to humble himself before he agreed to sell our house, even though honoring his hesitance felt like the wiser choice to him. I, in turn, had to swallow many immediate purchases I felt should take precedence, to do things my husband’s way and put 10% of his earnings towards his 401(k). But, we were able to save $60,000 for retirement in five years, and I no longer remember what any of those purchases were.
Yes, our rules are simple ones that anyone would do well to weave into the fabric of their relationship as a whole, but what we found through trying, failing, and trying some more is that when it comes to money, everything becomes a little more fraught. The right move is never to push our agenda until the other person breaks, but to do our best to be our best for each other. When we do this, everything gets easier, if only because we have a little more money.