Marriage brings its own set of challenges to the already difficult task of managing your money. You are combining your financial life with someone from a different background, and often with vastly different expectations, goals, systems, ideals, and habits.
Given a wide-enough divide and a lack of clear communication, this joint system often falls apart, to the detriment of a very large percentage of marriages that end in divorce. What a shame, since a lot of this anguish could be prevented with a little work.
One of the most challenging situations (and one that ironically seems to happen with nearly every couple I meet) is when a “spender” marries a “saver.”
But if you think about it, balancing a spender with a saver might actually be a good thing. Marry two savers and they might die filthy rich and completely unsatisfied. Marry two spenders and you could be facing recurring financial disasters. The apparent balance, however, doesn’t make the situation any easier to deal with.
That’s when some of these ideas might prove to be helpful. They have worked for us or other couples that I’ve listened to over the years, and hopefully they will work for you to keep your marriage happy and healthy for years to come:
- Have the saver manage the money. I think it’s far easier for the saver to keep the spender in check than the other way around. If at all possible, it would be ideal for the saver to manage the accounts, take primary responsibility for reviewing spending, and to let the spender know the limits of their joint finances.
- Find out how far out the two of you are. How much of a spender are you (mild, moderate, or extreme?). This is important because, for example, a mild saver will have to work hard to curb an extreme spender’s dangerous habits. Understanding the balance of your relationship will help you get a feel for how persistent you need to be.
- Let go of your existing financial philosophy. You won’t be able to go on saving every penny, or spending it, once you’ve joined forces with someone on the other end of the spectrum. While it’s a kind of compromise, use it as a way to explore dimensions of yourself you haven’t seen before.
- Start with a clean emotional slate. One of you might have $50K in the bank, while the other is strapped with thousands in student loans, car loans, credit card debt and owes their brother an undetermined amount of money. Don’t carry regret about those preexisting conditions into the marriage; simply decide on a course of action for how to deal with them and move forward.
- Meet often. It’s important to meet at least once a month, or even as often as once a week. During these meetings, be sure review expenses, celebrate savings, look at short-term and long-term goals and practice regaining balance between your two extremes.
- Learn about the importance of delayed gratification. Spenders often have a tough time latching onto the concept of planning for the future, though the reasons why vary. Sometimes, there are deep emotional connections to the rush of spending money. Education about the importance of having a healthy savings account and avoiding debt is critical, in whatever form can be best absorbed by the spender.
- Find goals that transcend spender/saver bias. Understand that the spender also wants things out of life, even if the path they’re on won’t get them there very fast. Instead of writing out goals in the same, boring language like “Save $10K by October” or “Pay off the car before Christmas,” tie goals to real-life language that is appealing to both ends of the spectrum. “Save money for an awesome Caribbean vacation” or “Put a down payment on a 2-story house” might work better and get both the saver and spender excited.
- Share the stress with the spender. Don’t bottle up the stress of dealing with a hard financial life—it only enables the spending half of the marriage to continue as if nothing’s wrong. Make the spender aware of the damage they’re causing by periodically involving them in the daily management of things, and tell them how poor finances make you feel.
- Don’t keep secrets. It might sound absurd to some of you, but in most cases, it will start as innocent purchases here and there and could escalate to something much more damaging without anyone noticing. Hopefully, you’re in this for the long haul, and you’ll realize the danger in keeping information from one another. (Not telling your spouse something important is nearly as bad!).
Are you married? There’s no doubt one of you is more prone to spending and saving than the other, but by how much? How have you dealt with it?