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Opposites attract, right? So, we shouldn’t be surprised when our very-different-than-us partners have an opposing approach to money. Can the relationship still work? Is it possible to find a healthy middle ground? How can a shopaholic and an obsessive saver co-exist without clashing over money?
We talked to Alex and Sarah, a couple from San Francisco who are on opposite ends of the money spectrum. Alex works for a large tech firm and loves to count every penny that comes in. Sarah is a psychologist who enjoys the finer things in life and doesn’t mind spending the money to get them. The couple recently had twins, so money has become a doubly important topic of conversation.
Alex and Sarah have figured out a system that works for them. Here’s what they had to say about reducing financial stress and arguments and how it might help others who are in a similar situation:
Alex: “Definitely Sarah.”
Sarah: “Yeah, I can’t argue with that, I like to buy what I like.”
Sarah: “Maybe too much sometimes. If there is such a thing, he is it.”
Sarah: “Wow, good question. I need a moment on that one.”
Alex: “Mine definitely came from not growing up with much. I saw how my parents struggled with money and I swore that I would never be in that situation. I want to make sure we are always financially stable.”
Sarah: “Good answer. I think mine came from the same place, not having much growing up, but I went the opposite direction. I have the money now that I didn’t have growing up, so I have the opportunity to buy the things I couldn’t as a kid. It’s that freedom of being an adult and no one telling you that you can’t have something. Well, except for maybe Alex.”
Alex: “I think we both can agree it was and still can be difficult to talk about money. We are both bring a lot of student debt, and at one time, a good amount of credit card debt, which can feel like a real downer. I think in different ways, and at different times, we both want to avoid it all..”
Sarah: “Yeah, and it’s what we don’t say that can really create problems—because when assumptions, guilt, and shame go unaddressed? That is why people fight about money. But the budget was a real game-changer for us. It was all right there, we had to make decisions about what our priorities were as a couple, and gave us an opportunity to articulate and understand what is important to each of us individually.
Alex: “We’ve learned that the key for us is 1) A budget meeting. We set aside a day and a time when we can both be present. It keeps us communicating, accountable to the budget, and on the same page, working toward the same goals. 2) Wine!”
Sarah: “And I feel like the budget has helped us come to terms with our student debt. We know it is a reality. We know we want to be done with it. It is part of the budget, and we can think about other things.”
Alex: “Honestly, I think the biggest struggle is really making the decision to face your finances. Until we both committed to the budget it was awkward, and tense, and contentious. But once we both agreed to deal with, eyes wide open, it’s felt very different. We aren’t victims, or opponents, we are in control—together.”
Sarah: “I believe we have the same big picture financial goals. For example we both can agree on what to save for: a home, retirement, and college. On top of that, we both value travel, so spending money on that is never considered a waste.”
Alex: “And having an emergency fund, must always have a good amount in savings. But yes, travel is important, we both value experience over tangible items—maybe that’s why we still rent!”
Sarah: “Well, to be honest, once we started really budgeting, it didn’t feel like we had to compromise all that much. We agreed on our big priorities, and then we both have some things that are important to us individually. We each get some of our own money in the budget every month that we can spend on whatever we want. I always spend mine and Alex always saves his—that’s how we are hard-wired—but that is OK! Sometimes I have to get creative, which I kind of love doing. Nothing is more fun than a good deal!”
Alex: “Our budget gives us a framework to talk about our finances. We’re both in-the-know and invested in the big picture and I think that makes compromise happen more naturally.”
Alex: “I have stopped saying no to every big purchase item that Sarah suggests.”
Sarah: “It’s true. That was bad.”
Alex: “Not automatically saying no, allows us to talk it through and come to a mutual decision. Or at the very least, I get to lay out my case, and that makes me feel better.”
Sarah: “I still struggle with impulse purchases, but I’m much better than I was.”
Alex: “I feel like with the kids just came so many new expenses.”
Sarah: “Yes. We’re having to prioritize differently.”
Sarah: “I would take half and spend it on myself, I’m in desperate need of new clothes—hello new mom bod! And I’d probably stash the other half away for a future splurge, like a trip, or something fun but entirely unnecessary for the boys. Man, I guess I am really the spender!”
Alex: “Honestly, I would invest. We have high-interest savings accounts now and they just don’t cut it. I want our money to work a little harder for us.”
Every couple is different, of course, but there are some proven strategies that help partners navigate their finances together:
Sit down together and decide what every dollar needs to do before you spend a dime. This will force you to think through what is most important to you—both together and as individuals—stay on the same page, and make better decisions.
By treating larger, less frequent expenses as monthly commitments, when a bigger expense hits, the money is just sitting there, ready to do its job. No stress. No scrambling. No fighting. No credit cards required.
It won’t happen overnight, but if you can save up a buffer, you can pay this month’s bills with money you earned last month. That is the goal. Living on last month’s income gives you margin, and margin means freedom. When a bill comes in and you can just pay it. Sure, makes talking about your finances more fun!
Identifying and talking about your shared priorities and dreams for the future is important. But don’t pretend that both of you don’t have your own priorities. Winning financially happens over the long-term, if you are going to stick with a budget, it needs to be sustainable. So, assign dollars for your shared priorities and your individual passions.
Establish a regular time to review and adjust your budget. Your priorities will change, your feelings will change, your circumstances will change—and you want to be sure that your budget, and both partners, are moving in the same direction. More awareness and accountability means more progress.
Alex and Sarah’s story is a good reminder that compromise is an important part of every healthy relationship. Find common ground and establish clear communication. Develop goals that you are both invested in achieving together. Be aware of each of your habits and tendencies so can spend with more intention. And above all, keep talking. Be honest and open about all of it—regrets, fears, hopes, and dreams—and tackle it all, as a winning team.
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Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)
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