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Savers vs. Spenders: Opposites Attract?

Written by Nickel - 27 Comments

Are you and your significant other a “money match”? My wife and I have very similar money habits, but many other couples apparently don’t. In fact, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania:

“Surveys of married adults suggest that opposites attract when it comes to emotional reactions toward spending. That is, ‘tightwads,’ who generally spend less than they would ideally like to spend, and ’spendthrifts,’ who generally spend more than they would ideally like to spend, tend to marry each other…”

The reason for this, they say, is an innate tendency to prefer mates who possess characteristics that are dissimilar from those that we deplore in ourselves. Hmmm, interesting.

Since money is a frequent cause of marital discord, we all know where this is headed, right? According to the authors:

“In spite of this complementary attraction, spendthrift/tightwad differences within a marriage predict conflict over finances, which in turn predict diminished marital well-being.”

So… Back to the original question. Are you and your significant other on the same page when it comes to spending and saving? If not, has it created any friction in your relationship? And how have you dealt with it?

Source: UPenn.edu via MSN/Money

Published on October 12th, 2009 - 27 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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27 Responses to “Savers vs. Spenders: Opposites Attract?”

  1. 1
    Laura Says:

    We’re opposites, with myself being the spender. I think it depends on how much of a tightwad or spender you are. We tend to see each other’s position, so we’ve been fortunate that our talks don’t get out of hand.

    We did talk about this a bit before we got married, so it wasn’t a complete shock. I would also note that many of our friends are opposites too, some more obvious than others. I think it can be a nice balance in a relationship if handled right.

  2. 2
    Gene at www.kitchentablenomics.com Says:

    Great minds (okay, not so much on my end); same circles.
    I found some similar research I wrote about before the weekend, at http://kitchentablenomics.blog.....money.html

    I wrote about financial plans we helped create for about 300 families, back in my previous life. Don’t know if it’s statistically significant, but exactly one of the couples in that group was precisely on the same money handling page. Lots of others were close but not quite there.

    Always enjoy reading you.

  3. 3
    John DeFlumeri Jr Says:

    They will always attract, because the spender is attracted to the saver’s savings!

  4. 4
    TH Says:

    Well, I’d have to say that it does cause friction, maybe expecially for the “saver” (the squirell in me hates to see money go goodbye!) but it beats the heck out of, say two spenders getting together. Shudder.

    One couple that I’m friends with were like that – credit card debt and bills in collection up to their eyeballs because both spent like there was no tomorrow. They finally started to get it together when she got pregnant, but by then they were already getting evicted and their credit score was trashed. Ended up having to move in with her parents and it’s going to haunt them for years to come.

  5. 5
    Dan Says:

    I save, she spends, and I’m cool with that. She gets a say in the big picture — ie, we agree on long term and short term goals together, and I put together the day-to-day spending plan to accommodate that. It works as well as can be expected.

    I used to date a tighter tightwad than me. It was frustrating, because when I wanted to splurge, she didn’t. At least dating a spender, I can splurge when I want. But then I become really proud when she says we can’t afford something :)

  6. 6
    lostAnnfound Says:

    Hubby & I are pretty much the same, a combination of both (more spenders) that got us into CC debt, which now that we are “older & wiser” we are working on paying off. We never really sat down and discussed finances & financial goals in detail before we got married, only lightly touched upon it. If we had done that years ago we would not be in this debt situation. 20/20 hindsight I guess & better late than never, as we work together to decrease our debt & increase our savings.

  7. 7
    H Lee D Says:

    We’re pretty well-matched financially, which is good. Sometimes he’ll want to buy something we can’t afford, sometimes I will. Usually, we’re not looking to buy expensive things, and neither of us is a shopper. We both have expensive hobbies, though – he golfs and I do triathlons, so we need to keep those in check. Neither of us makes a ton of money, so it’s a good thing we’re not big spenders!!

  8. 8
    Rosa Says:

    My partner is the only person I know who is more of a tightwad than I am. We’re each the notorious saver in our group of friends & coworkers…but he thinks I’m a spendthrift. I wonder if that affected that survey – lots of people think their partner is the opposite of them when really they’re about an inch apart on the scale.

  9. 9
    Dave Says:

    Opposites attract? Well duh! LOL! When it comes to marriage, if both of you were just the same, one of you wouldn’t be needed!

  10. 10
    Norm Says:

    We were opposites when we got married. She was the saver, I was the spender. Caused some strife that we could have done without :) However, over the years, we’ve met in the middle (She admits she was too “frugal” and I admit I spent too much).

    Not only have we met, but at times we find ourselves in the opposite role where I’m the saver and she’s the spender.

    Marriage is too important to end over money…just gotta work through it like everything else.

  11. 11
    KC Says:

    We’re opposites. He’s the earner and saver…and I’m the spender, but also the finances person. I’m far, far better at investing and managing money then he is – I enjoy it, he doesn’t. But the reason he’s the saver and I’m the spender is that its my responsibility to buy EVERYTHING. When he totaled his car a few years ago I’m not sure he would have ever bought another car had I not done the ground work and gave him a choice of 3 cars. He has holes in some of his clothes, underclothes, and shoes until I buy him something to replace it – he wont’ mention it, I have to notice it. I buy all the food and household needs. My name is on all the utilities cause I’m the only one with initiative enough to set them up. I bought both our house and my car without him having seen either. There were extenuating circumstances on the house since it was a long distance buy, but still…

    So yes we are opposites. I’m not sure I’m a spender per se, but compared to my husband I’m a spender. If I ever want to have anything in my life like food or clothes…I’ll have to be the spender. On the bright side…I always get what I want!

  12. 12
    Neal@Wealth Pilgrim Says:

    We were miles apart when we got married.

    I was the earner and the saver. She wasn’t a spender per se but she did spend more than I did.

    Now, she’s earning more and spending less. I’ve loosened up too. I think we’re moving towards each other and it’s nice.

  13. 13
    Bargain Babe Says:

    Sometimes I think my husband is more frugal than I am. When he buys electronics (I like to buy clothes and food), he spends a lot of time comparing prices and getting the best deal. Then when he brings the item home he tells me the process he went through to find the deal. My purchases are generally smaller and more frequent, so I do a little less comparison shopping. But we’re both aware of what a “good price” is for the item we have our eyes on.

    Short term, we have our own monthly allowance that we can spend however we want. So while we are both relatively frugal, we avoid tiffs about how we spend day to day.

    Long term, we both agree on our savings goals.

  14. 14
    Connie Petertonjes Says:

    I am the spender, my husband is the saver.

    I try to hold back on the spending and make smarter choices. He tries not to review our everyday spending in too much detail or else he gets super nit-picky.

    It caused a problem a few years ago when he wanted to do a budget down to the penny…recording every dime I spent. It caused some problems. I got defensive and felt like a child. So, we loosened up a bit. He tried handling everything for a couple of months and realized it takes more money to run a household than he imagined. Now, we budget, but have loosers standards. We each get fun money every payday that neither one of us has to explain or justify. It’s still in the budget, but I feel in control of my purchases and he isn’t criticizing every latte or earring purchase.

    I think communication is the key. It’s hard to find what you both feel comfortable with.

    Oh, and we have tried to automate as much of our savings as possible. That also protects our financial position, even when I spend more than I should. (We don’t have credit card debt, so thankfully, I haven’t fallen into those traps.)

  15. 15
    Miss M Says:

    We’re financial opposites making it work, without fighting I might add. I tend to write a lot of stories about how to make the best of this type of partnership and how to understand that your partner is simply different, not better or worse. But I didn’t realize that we are the norm rather than the exception!

  16. 16
    H Lee D Says:

    @KC: that’s not frugal/saver, that’s self-neglect. My husband was like that. When we sold his house just after we got married, every water fixture had to be replaced. Yes, all of them. He had been sleeping on a mattress that was decades old and sagged in the middle. He had plenty of money in the bank (and was OK with spending it as needed) but just didn’t take care of himself/his surroundings. He’s better about it now.

  17. 17
    Lee Says:

    mmm, too true. I have worked my ass off this year to get out of debt. Another 2 months to go to complete debt freedom.

    My estranged wife on the other hand went bankrupt in April. The easy way out.

  18. 18
    Single Guy Money Says:

    Though I am currently single (thank goodness), in the past, it seems I have attracted spenders.

  19. 19
    Jesse Says:

    I am the saver and my wife is the spender. She is extremely thrifty compared to many in our age group but of the two of us, she is not as strict a saver as I. Has this hurt our relationship? In the long run, I would say no. In the past, we had fought about money off and on, but nothing too serious.
    To fix this we found our balance. There are certain things that my wife likes to spend on, and I’m ok with those as long as we are both happy. I would rather pick my battles, lose in the small stuff to win overall than nitpick every little thing because I know that would hurt us eventually.

    (the particular area we don’t see eye to eye on is my wife likes to eat out and I like to cook at home, not just because of the cost but because I genuinely like to cook. The cost is a bonus.)

  20. 20
    Evan Says:

    I was the complete opposite of my wife when we met and it was as we grew up together I thinkwe came closer to the middle (she is beyond annoyingly cheap vs I like to spend).

  21. 21
    Manshu Says:

    Not exactly opposite, but yeah there are plenty of differences. Making compromises and meeting the other half way is what makes it work though.

  22. 22
    Financial Samurai Says:

    My wife is EXTREMELY frugal and loves enjoy all of the world’s free stuff. She spends very little money.

    I used to spend a lot more money, partly b/c I make a lot more, but now that I’ve been with her, I spend very little.

    Best,

    FS

  23. 23
    Chris Says:

    My wife and I become in agreement about our spending because we have a written budget at the beginning of the month. She is responsible for all the groceries + extra cash for all the other stuff she needs. The agreement is that I will not criticize anything she spends it on as long as she doesn’t go over her limit. I am responsible for all other expenses and naturally I rarely buy anything else that isn’t in our long term (written-down) goals.

  24. 24
    KC Says:

    @H Lee D – Good point on self-neglect. If it weren’t for my mother-in-law and me I’m not sure my husband would have much more than the basics. I’m not sure he’d sleep on a mattress on the floor, but he wouldn’t have much more than a basic bed. It was that way with his car – had the free insurance rental not been set to expire I don’t think he would have purchased another car. Interestingly enough his brothers are the same way. I don’t blame the parents, although their mother is very nurturing – if anything its cause all 3 of them (all in their 30s now) are very intelligent and have good self-esteem – they don’t feel the need to have nice, material things to feel good about themselves.

  25. 25
    Paul in NJ Says:

    My wife and I are both quite frugal — we’ve never argued about money. Fortunately, we’ve been pretty successful in passing this attitude on to our two girls.

  26. 26
    J. Money Says:

    Yup, same here – we’re both on the same page, although only ONE of us likes to talk about money and manage it ;) *ahem*

  27. 27
    Dish with Vivien Says:

    i like to save, and he likes to spend, but i guess it kinds of balance things out a bit where we try to meet in the middle, having savings and spending once in a while.

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