He’s a Spender. She’s a Saver. What Should We Do?

He Spends She Saves

Today I’m going to do something a bit different that I’ve wanted to do for a while – start a series where I answer questions on money, work, frugal family fun, or financial freedom and ask readers to chip in with their advice.

I’m going to pick the best responses from the comments and feature them next week with the next question. Also if you’d like to submit a question for consideration, stay tuned to the end of the post!

Today I’m going to tackle a question I see a lot online that I think a lot of people could benefit from – and one that I have some personal experience with. What do you do when you and your spouse are on different financial pages?

The Question: How Do I Convert A Spendthrift Spouse?

“My husband is a spendthrift, and I’ve always been a saver. Back when we didn’t earn much, this was a small issue-but as our careers have grown, so has the problem. He’s even talking about buying a boat! I, on the other hand, have been reading all about the FIRE movement and am hooked on the idea of being able to have options, and live out my dreams, without waiting until I’m 70+. How do I get a spendthrift spouse on board with an ultra frugal dream? Help! ~ Saver in Seattle”

CMO Thoughts

Dear Saver: Ah, the age old question. He spends, she saves-or vice versa. Each drives the other crazy and it seems there can’t be any meeting in the middle. I’ve been through this-I’ll tell you a bit about this later.

First thought – money is never actually about money. There’s always something deeper at play. Whether you fear running out of money because of scarcity in your past, or your husband making up for all the toys he never got as a kid, or one person thinking the external trappings of conventional success are important than the other, a number of closely held personal values are tied up with our approach to money.

So when you both have different money stories, and spend at different levels, how do you find compromise?

Here Are My Top Tips

  1. Don’t talk about money-talk about your future. What are your top five dreams? What’s your spouses? We often focus on everyday life and spending decisions, and don’t take the time to talk about our long term dreams. Talk about whether your spending today is going to get you there.
  2. Get to know each other’s priorities. What are the things most important to you, and them? Near term and long term priorities? Talk about them. You don’t need to change each other’s mind, but understand them. Talk about how you can support each other’s priorities.
  3. Focus on yourself-and share! Lecturing other people doesn’t lead to change. BUT-People need to hear a message at least seven times before they’re receptive. So if you feel like you’re repeating yourself all the time-you have to! When talking about how you spend money, and what you prioritize, and what’s important to you – you’ll get a lot farther if you focus on yourself and how you feel rather than what the other person is doing “wrong”. Stick to the facts of the situation, and your own feelings, during discussions.
  4. Compromise. You’re different people. You’re going to have different priorities, and different wants. Maybe you always like to get the latest in technology, while your husband enjoys collecting rare comics. Set a limit on your wants that work for both of you.
  5. Revisit often. Your individual and collective priorities will change as life goes on. Revisit at least once a year to talk about your current priorities, any changes in your dreams, and what you should adjust to get you there
  6. Be patient. Change takes time. Deep seated money beliefs don’t change overnight. Don’t give up if the first few conversations don’t make a difference.
  7. Recognize when it’s a problem. Lying, sneaking around, going back on agreements you’ve made as a team-not acceptable. Same if one spouse is so controlling of the money that everyone is miserable. Controlling money can also be a sign of domestic abuse. If your money discussions are falling into these patterns- seek help. But even when there’s no abuse or bad behavior involved, you may not be able to agree. If that’s the case, and you just can’t compromise, getting an objective third party to help you work things out could be helpful.

Our Story – My Husband The Spender

When my husband and I first got together, I was a teenage cashier and he worked in the meat department of the grocery store. I was saving much of my grocery store cashier paycheck-and he was bouncing checks. Yes, I was the saver and he was the spender.

That’s still true today. But over the course of our seventeen years together, our perspectives and attitudes have shifted. He’s become appreciative of things like emergency funds, our investment strategy, and the fact that investing let us do things like take cool trips to Japan. And I’ve come to appreciate that yes, you do need to loosen up with money sometimes to live a fun life today.

How did we get from there to here? Time, patience, compromise, lots of different financial approaches to see what works for both of us, and plenty of discussions.

Chime In!

Readers, what other tips do you have (or have you seen around) for getting a reluctant spouse on board? Let us know in the comments and yours might be selected to appear in the next “ask the readers” article.

Also if you would like to ask me (and the readers) a question, go ahead and submit one anonymously here.

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5 thoughts on “He’s a Spender. She’s a Saver. What Should We Do?”

  1. financialfitnessfanatic

    Your tips are spot on! For me and my fiance, it’s all about compromise. I am definitely the saver in the relationship as well. It used to be so bad that my fiance was sometimes spending hundreds of dollars per day ordering food out or going out to dinner. While our problems have drastically reduced since he discovered the FI movement, I used to have to get creative when it came to changing our spending habits. Instead of lecturing him about what to do with his money, I would try to take the lead and show him how fun it could be to save. For instance, if he was craving a fancy dinner out, I would offer to cook him something special instead. Presently, I am definitely guilty of being way more hardcore FI, so much so that I often am willing to sacrifice some fun evenings out or small indulgences. Just as he’s gotten better at saving, I’m doing my best to lighten up and acknowledge that sometimes it’s okay to spend a little if it’s going to bring you partner real, true happiness.

    The other thing I wonder for this reader is whether her and her husband’s finances are shared equally? Every couple approaches finances so differently, but it could be important to know whether they’re pooling resources or not. For instance, if she really wants to reach FIRE but her husband isn’t as motivated, I don’t personally see anything wrong with her pursuing this while her husband continues to work. Not every couple is going to be on the same page about retiring early, and perhaps it is okay to agree to disagree. If her husband really values buying a boat, and is willing to work longer to do so, I don’t see a problem with it, as long as that doesn’t also mean he is forcing his wife to work longer for his purchases. Just a thought =)

  2. I love the tip re focusing on dreams, especially those we both share (hoping to take off and cruise on our sailboat in a year or so) Early on, I convinced my husband that we were “poor”, as he is extremely generous, by sweeping excess funds out of the joint checking account and into savings, setting up college funds for our children (pre 529 accts, no student debt required) or applying them to our mortgage. Had lunch w a girlfriend recently, who confided that DH had bragged to her that I had paid off the mortgage early, he was unsure how, but really proud. BTW, cars and boat are also paid for, no CC debt (nor any other) other than current transactions for rewards/travel points.

  3. Much happier now!

    When you are married making it work is important! Finding that alignment of future goals, and where you are willing to compromise is key.

    I dated someone for 7 years who was not good with money. I am happier and so is my bank account for it not working out.
    He let a 401k be disbursed, and then promptly spent the money. I was putting money away for -my- retirement under the assumption a spouse/partner would have their own funds to draw from. He got annoyed when I told him I’d kept enough money in savings in case we needed to put money down on an apartment (1st month, last month sort of thing), because he said he could have used that money to pay bills. Only #1 it was MY money, and then #2 the money wouldn’t have been there should we have needed to get an apartment.
    Clearly we were not aligned on future or priorities. Interestingly a while after the break up he sent an email with something about ‘good job proving I could stand on my own 2 feet.’ Because he’d expected me to go back to my parents, when instead I got an apartment that was close to work, and paid all my bills like I always had. I wasn’t doing it to prove anything to anyone, I was being a responsible adult.

  4. I really love the point you made re: money is never actually about money. I think you nailed it — there’s always something more to it. One thing I have had to confront over the years is the way growing up below the poverty line has impacted how I think about money. It still affects me, but I am getting much better at living in our present financial situation instead of dwelling in the past, if that makes sense.

    Loved your tips. I would add that, along with discussing financial matters openly with your spouse, it is also important to listen in the process. I know I have been guilty in the past of not really listening to what my husband is saying during a “discussion” but rather focusing on how I can force my will on a situation. I have found that actually being willing to listen is the key to reaching a place where compromise is possible. And when it comes to finances and relationships, I have found compromise to be essential.

  5. great article! I am most definitely the saver and he is the spender. We make about equal wages, and we’ve always made sure that anything we purchase (houses, cars, vacations, etc.) can be covered by one and only one of our incomes. That means that 800k mortgage we were “approved” for got a good laugh and we spent 200k. We use his paycheck for spending and we save all of my income. As long as the credit cards are paid in full each month and no accounts are EVER withdrawn, he can spend away. And I get to save 100% of my income (OMG that fills my ever/over-saving heart!) We’ve now even got him saving some of his income as well (maxing out his 401k) woohoo! But this works really well for us: the spender gets to spend (mostly) guilt free, while the saver gets to save! (PS topless budget meetings with alcohol work pretty well to get the spouse talking about finances 🙂

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