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You're frugal but your spouse is not

It is possible to mend financial differences.

By Karen Datko Sep 30, 2009 9:32PM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.

Readers often leave comments at The Simple Dollar complaining that they make frugal choices, but their spouses see their savings not as a long-term financial benefit but as more money to spend right now.

Thus, their frugal ways go without a long-term reward. They're careful about spending their money, but their bank account balances don't grow.

I'm lucky. My wife is very frugal, and we share the same philosophy. In fact, she's probably more frugal than I am. Her only weakness is books, but she participates in PaperBackSwap to keep the cost low. She's in line with my goals: freedom from debt, saving for major purchases so we don't have more debt. Our goal as a family is to eliminate all of our debt by my 40th birthday.

Unfortunately, many people aren't in such a lucky situation. They may be in sync with their spouses in a number of ways, but in terms of personal spending, they're in different worlds. Naturally, the frugal spouse is going to be frustrated, watching his or her efforts dissipate in a spending binge. On the other hand, the spending spouse probably feels frustration too, because his or her partner won't "live a little."

How can these two sides meet? Here are five suggestions, culled from a number of sources, particularly my own experiences interacting with my spouse and observing other couples, as well as the excellent "It Pays to Talk."

Accept that your spouse is operating with a different set of beliefs. You believe in the power of frugal living and have chosen to live frugally. That's great. Realize, though, that it is a choice and that your spouse has made a different choice. You can't force people to agree with you, but you may be able to convince them over time to make a different choice for themselves.

Accentuate the positives of frugality. Point out some of the more obvious frugal choices and indicate how much of a difference they will make. "If we hold off a year in replacing the car but save up the money now, we'll save $6,000." "If we skip one shopping spree a month and turn that saved money into one extra house payment a year, we can pay off our mortgage five years earlier. Think about how much extra money we would have each month then."

When making spur-of-the-moment entertainment or social choices, suggest frugality but don't point it out. If your spouse wants to do something today, take the initiative and suggest something that doesn't break your budget. Instead of a trip to the mall, suggest going to a free museum. Instead of going out to eat somewhere expensive, propose that you make a romantic dinner at home. The best tactic is to suggest the idea spontaneously, but don't focus on the fact that it's cheap.

Make your saving automatic. One reader has a spouse who, at the end of the month, sees what remains in the checking account as extra money to spend. Set up a separate savings account and have a certain amount transferred to that fund on a regular basis. That way, there isn't "leftover" cash in the checking account, and you can use that savings account stash for major purchases, like a car down payment.

Propose "equal spending." If none of the above work well, propose that the "extra" money be spent equally, then sock yours away. If there's $200 left at the end of the month, you each take $100. Your spouse spends it, and you save it. This works well if it's pretty clear that your spouse won't come around to making frugal choices.

Most of these ideas have one thing in common: They demonstrate the benefits of frugality without the preaching. Don't tell your spouse how great frugality is and how "bad" she or he is for not believing in it. Instead, walk the walk and let your spouse see the benefits.

Eventually -- hopefully -- the power of frugal living will become clear.

Never, ever push it to confrontation. That will just result in two unhappy people in a marriage. If you're constantly telling your spouse to spend less, resentment is probably building up, and that's a tactic that always ends in failure. Instead, focus on being a good example of frugality, and when the benefits are clear, point them out.

Also, be willing to compromise a little. If your spouse wants to go out for a nice dinner on occasion, go along with it. Marriage is about compromise, in the end.

Other articles of interest at The Simple Dollar:

Published Feb. 8, 2008


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