My Partner Has Really Different Spending Habits – Help!

Every couple cares about money. It’s one of the top reasons for divorce. But what can you do if your partner spends too much? Or what if they hate spending anything at all? Here are some tips.

My Spouse is a Spendthrift

Having a spouse with a spending problem can be like fixing a leaky boat. As soon as one hole is plugged, water starts pouring out of another.

A spender might have problems understanding why they need to rein it in. It can be hard for a spender to realize they have a problem, especially if they aren’t involved in managing the money or checking the bank account.

“Be concrete and specific,” said financial therapist Amanda Clayman. “’You spend too much’ is abstract and unspecific. But pointing out the consequences of overspending can help ground the discussion in reality. If you spend this much on gifts, how will that impact your ability to pay the rent this month?’”

But be careful. When you feel like your partner is overspending, it’s easy to scrutinize every purchase. That’s not good for anyone. Your partner will feel like you’re trying to control them. And you’ll feel like you have a second job. Instead, try creating a budget that gives each partner a certain amount of discretionary spending (essentially, a personal allowance). That way, you’ll both have some breathing room and you don’t have to discuss (cough, argue about, cough) your partner’s purchases unless they exceed the budget.

If you’ve been solely in charge of the finances, try to make things more equal. Schedule budget dates where you can go over the past month’s expenses and see how they compare to your estimates.

You can also illustrate the importance of spending by picking a mutual goal, calculating how much it will cost, and tracking your progress. For instance, if your spouse wants to go on vacation, figure out the estimated cost and write down how you can get there, using specific amounts and timelines to save. Then, periodically check your progress with your partner. You might be surprised at how motivated your partner becomes when the goal is specific/fun and not something abstract/boring, like “saving more.”

couple on vacation

My Spouse is a Cheapskate

Having a spouse who doesn’t like to spend money can seem like a fake problem. Why complain when someone is frugal and likes to be careful with their finances?

Unfortunately, a spouse who’s a cheapskate can also lead to problems, especially if they want to minimize any and all spending that isn’t absolutely necessary.

A person who’s super uncomfortable spending money might be dealing with some financial fears, like running out of money or not having enough for retirement. Before you can ask them to change their habits, try to understand where their frugality is coming from. How did their parents manage money? What do they fear most about money? What’s their least favorite thing about managing money?

Then, crunch the numbers to see how you guys are doing with money. If you’re doing well, then your partner will probably feel reassured. If not, your partner’s fears were probably more reasonable than you realized. Either way, understanding your financial situation is crucial to working through your partner’s feelings and creating goals that make sense, given your situation. If your partner needs more convincing despite your number crunching, it might be helpful to talk to a financial planner.

A really frugal partner might also have control issues. If that’s the case, a discussion is in order. Your partner may not realize how it makes you feel when they question your financial judgment. No one wants to be treated like a child, especially by their partner.

“Try not to label,” Clayman said. “’My partner is a spendthrift’ or ‘my partner is a cheapskate’ is a form of other-ing, or creating a category around something based on how it is different from you. You are establishing your point of view as the normal or correct one, and labeling your partner as divergent from that norm.” Fair enough — we won’t use “spendthrift” or “cheapskate” again in this post. Our bad.

If you’re still having trouble connecting to your partner, consider going to a therapist together. An objective party might help you both improve your communication and better understand each other’s perspective.

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