Spender vs. Saver: 3 Tips to Get Better with Money as a Couple

by Marcus Garrett
Spender vs. Saver: 3 Tips to Get Better with Money as A Couple

Love doesn’t cost a thing. The best things in life are free. Opposites attract. 

These are all great quotes. You’ll need to remind yourself of every one of them when you’re paying his and her bills. Because when you’re a saver and they’re a spender, you need a lot of catchy-quotes–and a little bit of prayer–to survive each 30/31-day bill cycle. To make both partners happy while still keeping your bills paid and enough money left over to afford the dessert, here are a few personal finance tips that work for our household.

Are You a Natural Spender or a Natural Saver?

Ignorance is bliss. I wish I thought of answering this question many years, relationships, and money-fights earlier: are you a spender or a saver?

I’m a saver. Given the choice, I’d rather put money in a saving or investment account, than buy, well, anything. I like to watch money coming in, staying put, and not going out. I can also talk about money all day long. In fact, I do. I’ve made an entire career out of it! You can imagine my surprise when I realized people in the real world would rather fling themselves out of a perfectly good airplane than spend more than 5-minutes talking about money. Actually, in hindsight, a few pre-pandemic seat-mates of mine might have had this exact thought as I confessed I’m an auditor and personal finance writer.

Actionable Tips:

Honestly ask yourself and/or your partner: are you a natural spender or natural saver? There is no wrong answer. It’s like your personality type: introvert or extrovert (INTJ!).

Knowing the answer gives us clarity on where to focus and what motivates you and your partner. For example, I knowing that I’m a saver and long-term, conservative investor. This makes it easy to conclude that high-yield savings accounts for the emergency funds and self-managed retirement accounts in a basic index fund make perfect sense for me. On the other hand, my better-half prefers to use automations through her bank and retirement investing through her employer. We have the same goals. We have simply chosen different paths to reach our individual and joint financial successes.

What is Your Household Spending Limit?

Most couples have never had a conversation about money. When he comes home with a $600 TV, or she takes a $600 online drive down the high speed internet super-highway to cope with the never-ending-ness of the pandemic (these are not made up scenarios). It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that your significant other needs to go from bae to blocked. When unexpected expenses show up, everyone is suddenly shocked, surprised, appalled. Yet, most couples never talk about money. Under the duress of a due date is never a good place to have your first talk about the finances.

Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork!

Instead, let’s cite another cliche quote, “Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork!” Remember it’s us versus the problem. It is not you/they screwed up. You don’t need a Supreme Court-style negotiation every time you’re going to spend money. A “household spending limit” can help keep you and your partner informed of upcoming large-dollar purchases. The goal is to clearly establish the limit before you spend it. For example, do you both know how much money either partner can spend–usually from any joint accounts or credit cards–that requires a discussion? If you’ve never asked or answered this question, yesterday was a good today to ask. Today is the next best!

Household expenses under the agreed to limit don’t require a conversation. For instance, typically our conversations are as simple as, “I’m about to spend $XXX on Amazon.” Me: “That’s what’s up.” Might I still think online purchases are a waste of money. Yes. Does she think we need a 70-inch TV to watch the NBA and NFL playoffs in 4k? Probably not. Instead of focusing on where we disagree, we shifted the conversation to where we do agree: who’s allowed to spend what, from where, when, and how much? It’s not about understanding or even judging our individual purchases. If we can afford it. Buy it. Hard-earned money is meant to be enjoyed. That message is often lost among all the advice from the “personal finance experts.”

Actionable Tips:

Agree on a household spending limit. What does that mean? What is the exact dollar amount where you want to have a discussion with your partner versus “Who cares and why are you even telling me this? Yes, you can buy the snickers bar.” Our household doesn’t want to talk about every dollar spent. That’s annoying. However, if $1,000 disappears from the account that we didn’t talk? Well, a sister or a brother might feel some type of way. Your household limit may be as low as $10 or as high as $10,000. Whatever it is, both partners should agree. This does not mean you “ask permission” like a child. We’re both adults. But, adults know respect is important too. 

The Benefits of a Household Spending Limit? 

Partners are informed. Since we already agreed on the budget, there’s no awkwardness when the bill is due. A Household Spending Limit is an easy way to show respect, increase financial fidelity, and initiate open conversation around our spending and financial well-being.

What Are Your Household’s Basic Financial Goals?

Apparently, most people would rather divorce than talk about finances. Trading places with infidelity, fiances are the #1 or #2 leading cause of divorce. Money Talks don’t have to be as complicated as you imagine. Think of an easy way to start the talks. Here is one that works for us.

We started our “financial plan” in a simple Google Doc share.We began with a simple question, “what are our goals?” No finances were attached. Once we agreed on the neutral subjects, we started building out how much it would cost to achieve our goals, like buying a home. For other areas, like increasing our credit scores and saving for retirement, we used free online resources like Investor.gov to see exactly how much we needed to save each month.

This document started as a basic outline of bullet points. Now it’s roughly 10-14 pages. We didn’t tackle it all at once. Today, it covers everything from the basics to the complicated. We also chose to clarify topics where we need to follow-up with an expert, like a Certified Financial Planner (estate planning, insurance for ourselves and future children, etc.).

Actionable Tips:

Start a simple outline of bullet points in a Google Doc / Word Doc this week. Do not include any financials/money.

Round 1, simply list your household goals. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, however, we targeted 5-10 joint and/or individual goals just to get us started. Stop. Take a break. Don’t discuss the list. The first cut is just to collect your thoughts. If you or your partner is the nosey-type (hey, if you like it, I love it! lol), then keep two separate documents for Round 1. Each week, update or expand the plan until you build up to the more complicated discussions around money and personal finances. If the conversation ever becomes heated, consider consulting with an objective third-party like a fee-only CFP or online coach. For a fee-only CFP, you can locate one in your area using any of these three resources:

About The Marcus Garrett

Marcus Garrett is the author of the Amazon Kindle bestselling book, D.E.B.T. Free or Die Trying: How I Buried Myself $30,000 in Debt and Dug My Way Out, creator of “Your Roadmap to Wealth: Life After Debt,” and a recovering auditor. FAQ: How much debt can you afford on a 30, 50, or $100,000 salary? Find out for yourself at TheMarcusGarrett.com/salary, or follow him on Instagram at TheMarcusGarrett and Youtube: TheMarcusGarrett.

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