Make Your Opposite Your Complement

Make Your Opposite Your Complement

Financial investments concept, money insurance icon, pension fund

Introverts and extroverts. Alphas and betas. Early birds and night owls. Spenders and savers. Whether or not you believe in the idea that opposites attract, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in a committed relationship with a partner who holds different beliefs than your own – and that’s okay! The key to making these differing views complement each other is to intentionally address them before they become an issue down the road. In this piece, we share tips for navigating a classic money conflict: spenders vs. savers.

Sharing Money Memories

You’ve talked about your finances, but have you deeply explored how your partner views money? Probably not. Money conversations typically happen through a present lens, and that only provides perspective on part of your partner’s story. Someone’s present relationship with money is the cumulation of years and years of external influence – this is often referred to as their money memories. Your partner’s money memories are really what you want to learn more about. Consider having a conversation with your partner where you ask each other questions such as:

  • What is your earliest money memory?
  • As a child, what was the most important lesson you learned about money?
  • What were the spending/saving patterns of your mother and father?
  • Growing up in your family, was money mainly used to reward, punish, survive, impress, control, help others, have fun, buy love, reach goals, etc.?

Asking questions like these can help you uncover the influences that shaped your partner into either a spender or saver.

Beyond the Conversation 

A money memories conversation helps to provide you with insightful perspective and deeper understanding, but how do you take that information and make it actionable? To start, consider the following exercise:

  • Individually, have you and your partner each draft a list of everything you spend money on that isn’t an explicit need. Organize the list so that items you most enjoy spending money on are at the top.
  • Identify the lowest ranked items on each list and talk about where you may be able to cut costs. The key to this, like many aspects of a relationship, is compromise!

Once you’ve identified expenses that you’d both be comfortable cutting, you can then determine what to do with the surplus. We recommend starting with savings goals and savings policies.

  • Savings Goals: When you set goals, it’s easier to look at money more objectively. And in the example we’ve been exploring, setting savings goals can help both of you – the spender will enjoy the rewards of achieving the goal and getting to spend the money, and having a goal will ease the saver’s preference to spend money only on things that are necessary.
  • Savings Policies: Having savings policies can help you remain disciplined.
    • An example of a savings policy would be something along the lines of “I will set aside 5% of every paycheck for our travel fund.” Mutually defining these policies promotes accountability and provides guidelines for you to abide by.
    • Another idea is to set thresholds for each other – a dollar limit that you’re both able to spend without needing to receive your partner’s approval. This will help the saver’s aversion to spending while still allowing the spender to have the freedom to make purchases (up to a certain amount). Again, the key is to agree on a mutually defined amount so that both voices feel heard. Utilize your newly identified surplus to determine a comfortable and fair amount. The limit should also be the same for both partners, even if the “saver” doesn’t fully utilize the amount.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that people’s relationship with money is dynamic – that is to say that it is constantly changing, evolving, and maturing as we go through life’s journey and have new experiences. You may be the spender and your partner the saver (or vice versa) and then 10 years down the road, that may change. Thus, having regular conversations about money can help mitigate any potential stress or frustration from conflicting money behaviors. And the conversations don’t have to be something you dread; treat yourself to an annual money date; do something fun before or after your financial check-in to treat yourself and help build good behaviors; or feel free to engage with us! We have a number of unique tools and worksheets to help facilitate robust conversations – we’re good people to think with®.