Sunday, June 14

Mixed marriages: When savers and spenders unite

Picture by Francis Carnauba

Forget religious and cultural differences, the fastest way to relationship problems is a gap in financial outlooks. The most obvious example is when a frugal person marries a spender, but problems can exist when the partners are simply different levels of frugal. Whoever is more frugal will probably consider the other to be something of a spender.

Sometimes, though, it's simply a case of different priorities. Some people believe in pure self-denial until debt is erased; others want to enjoy the present while pummeling debt. Of course, sometimes it really is a case of saver vs spender.

At least, that's how I felt with Tim for a long time. He was a spender being converted to frugality; I grew up being careful with money. It seemed only natural that I become CFO of the relationship. I was happy to take care of paying bills and scheduling debt payments, but there was one major aspect of the job that gave me pause: reconciling our different approaches toward money.

Even today, Tim's attitude is more inclined to spend -- which is not always a bad thing. He finds ways to save or, at least, not to spend. But if it comes down to missing out on a good experience, he is more likely to consider both sides. I, on the other hand, am more inclined toward self-abnegation.

We have, over the last three years, started to balance each other out. Even two years ago, Tim wouldn't have even stopped to consider forgoing fun. Now, he's more likely to really think it through. This, in turn, helps me to know that when he lobbies for us to spend money, it's probably pretty important to him.

Wherever you all on the frugality spectrum, one thing is pretty obvious: Money is an explosive issue. According to my therapist, it's the second most common argument in marriages. (Kids are the first.) That statistic certainly makes sense to me.

Money is how we get through this world and our lives. It determines things as basic as if we can feed and clothe ourselves. (And how well we do it.) To many, it measures success and failure; happiness and misery. Money is also one of the main was we define ourselves: either by what we can buy with it -- all the latest toys, fashion and baubles -- or by how much we consciously choose not to spend.

Of course, the major problem is that we rarely fall in love with people with the exact same financial outlook. (If you found one, congratulations and hang on for dear life!) So, when faced with disparate outlooks on finances, how do you come up with a plan you can both stick to?

Paid Twice discusses this in a recent post. She makes a lot of good points, particularly about compromise. She also touched on a very important one: transparency. Even if you take care of all financial matters, it's best, she advises, to sit down with your partner. Go over basic plans, actions and goals. What's more, comb through the nitty, gritty details, so your partner can see where the money goes. That's what helped her marriage.

I think this advice is spot on. Your partner needs to know that your rules are't arbitrary. Then both parties will understand why rules are in place, what purpose they serve. I would add that it's a good opportunity to make sure that both parties are happy with current goals and priorities. Sometimes it's good to have short-term goals, as well as long-term ones. (Though, of course, that's spoken as someone who believes in small indulgences to avoid overall frugal burnout.)

In addition, I would strongly recommend Liz Pulliam Weston's piece Get Real: Marriage is a Business. It's not exactly romantic. To some, it may even seem a little too hard-hearted. But I think the divorce rate would be lower if more people took these steps before they said "I do." To quote, briefly, from the article:

Love does not conquer all. If you and your soul mate can't figure out how
to paddle in the same direction, you'll wind up going in financial circles or --
to extend the metaphor painfully -- down the drain.

This advice could save a lot of relationships. As Tim and I learned -- Well, scratch that. Let's be honest: As I learned, the key to any good relationship is compromise. I always knew it in theory, but when it comes to frugality, I'm rigid as a... er... very rigid item. (Give me a break, folks, it's Sunday. My brain still has a whole 24 hours off!)

At any rate, that's a story for another day. Probably a day later this week...

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Anonymous Carrie said...

Interesting. Money issues used to worry me in my relationships, but with my current BF, I feel happy with our finances - and I know that this is rare and I feel very lucky to have found it. We talk about our friend's financial problems very often and say how blessed we are to be on the same page financially. I think it's hilarious that you call yourself the CFO of the relationship!! LOL!

June 14, 2009 at 2:54 PM


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