What do you do if your spouse has a completely different attitude to money than you?
It’s not an uncommon problem.
“How should I deal with my wife who is the complete opposite of frugal and refuses to listen to anything I have to say?” this disgruntled husband asked Reddit. “My wife thinks I’m obsessed with money. However, as an accountant I have a pretty good idea where our finances are going and I think we will be in a great spot within the next 10 years.” This man is starting early: He’s only 25.
“I want us as a family to have the money to go places, do things and enjoy life,” he adds. “I like to have a cushion so if something comes up …we can do it no questions asked. I’d rather spend money on experiences and enjoying life. My wife, on the other hand, wants new cars, big houses and stuff. I feel she doesn’t understand how expensive things are.”
His frugality is, perhaps, reflected in both his profession and his Reddit name: Tightknuckle. One commenter asked if he had actually tried to sit down with his wife and asked her to stick to a mutually agreed-upon budget. Tightknuckle said he did, but it didn’t go down well. His wife got mad, he said, started “yelling” and point blank refused to have the discussion.
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He’s not alone. A slew of studies suggests arguments over money spell trouble for a relationship. Sonya Britt, an assistant professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, conducted one such study in 2013 using data from 4,500 couples who took part in the National Survey of Families and Households. She found a link between financial fights and divorce.
It takes longer to recover from arguments over money than other quarrels, Britt concluded, and these fights tend to be more intense. “In the study, we controlled for income, debt and net worth,” Britt wrote. “Results revealed it didn’t matter how much you made or how much you were worth. Arguments about money are the top predictor for divorce because it happens at all levels.”
Husbands and wives overspend in different ways
The intensity of financial feuds may explain why some of the recent Reddit advice was, well, harsh, even though Reddit users didn’t know how much the couple earned. “You need therapy,” one person wrote. And if that doesn’t work out? “Walk away.” For others, therapy came too late. “My ex-wife did this for the entire eight years we were together,” another man wrote. “We’re not together anymore.”
These stories suggest that it’s better to have money talks before getting married. However, one husband said bad financial management works both ways and, in many cases, it’s the man who likes to spend, spend, spend: “In my immediate group of friends, the husbands are all more prone to wasting money than their wives,” he wrote. “And I say that as one of those husbands.”
Could one man’s dream vacation be one woman’s dream home, contrary to Tightknuckle’s opinion? Another bemused Reddit commenter thought so. “You seem to have made some value judgements about the things your wife wants versus the things that you want. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting stuff. There’s no law that says that money should go to experiences.”
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Psychologists have explored the “experiences versus stuff debate” and view it as two distinct ways to approach money. It’s less a gender or husband/wife issue than a personality one. A large body of research suggests that happiness won’t be found even in a diamond ring, and those who favor travel and nights out argue that possessions break or lose their value, but experiences generally don’t.
Tightknuckle and his wife may be too different. “Happy people are happy from the abundance of their experiences, not their possessions, a finding that even holds true for highly materialistic people,” according to “Money for Happiness: The Hedonic Benefits of Thrift,” a 2011 paper by University of California, Riverside researchers published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
MarketWatch asked some personal-finance experts to weigh in on marital money troubles, and how to avoid them:
It’s too easy to point fingers at each other
Ask: What can we agree on? said Michael Kay, founder of Livingston, N.J.-based financial planning firm Financial Life Focus. It makes sense to look into your upbringing and family life, and examine why you see money the way you do. Money can be a source of conflict, depending on how much you had growing up and how you were taught to manage it, Kay added.
Set up regular discussions, said Marlow Felton, co-author of “Couples Money,” a personal finance book she wrote with her husband. Couples can talk about what works and their goals, she said. These conversations should have rules, including no interrupting and periodically taking a step back to let your partner know that he or she is appreciated for all they bring to the relationship.
Never give up all of your financial control
One spouse should never be in full control of the finances. It’s essential to create a will, discuss insurance and investments together, analyze cash flow and know where all the documents are kept. Remember, 80% of men die married but 80% of women die single, according to the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement. Women need to be in charge of their own finances until the end.
If one partner wants to get a fancy BMW
Kay suggests looking at the next best thing, perhaps a less expensive convertible, so that the couple can still meet their other goals. Don’t look at these decisions as depriving yourself of nice things, but as valuable delayed gratification. Couples need to think long-term. “Often when they’re young, they don’t see past today,” Felton said.
That lack of foresight, of course, could not be attributed to Tightknuckle, the harried 25-year-old husband on Reddit.