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If you and your spouse (or partner) define “frugality” differently, it could lead to major problems in your relationship.
For example, you might think that going to Quicky Mart for a frozen yogurt is a nice little treat. But if your “other half” thinks it’s a lavish and extravagant waste of money, then you’ve got problems. Or maybe your idea of a vacation is sipping an umbrella drink on the beach at Maui, but your spouse’s idea is to visit Fresno and look for “hotel alternatives” by asking friends if they have a spare couch.
This issue is especially tough if your spouse is making most of the money.
It can be equally dangerous to the relationship if your spouse’s spending is making it harder for you to get out of debt.
This isn’t just a minor annoyance or something that dings your credit score. It can turn ugly.
You could end up with mountains of debt, ruined credit, and even IRS tax debt.
Most people who end up in divorce court cite money as the main reason.
Personal finance blogs spend lots of time talking about the virtues of frugality, and I think it’s great. I even support people who are into “extreme frugality” if that’s what they want to do. There is nothing at all wrong with that lifestyle.
The problem arises when a couple doesn’t agree on how frugal they are going to be.
A reader recently sent me an e-mail complaining about her husband’s ultra-frugal ways. I asked my readers what they thought she should do.
The answers varied.
Many people suggested separate finances. The thinking here is that each party should make their own money so they can each spend as they wish. Other folks suggested marriage counseling. One or two suggested a good divorce attorney.
My wife and I had to deal with this issue several years ago. I was making all the money at the time but I was desperately afraid to spend any. This caused huge problems and a great deal of unhappiness for both of us. Fortunately, we were able to find a solution. Here’s what we did:
1. We committed to finding a solution
We committed to find a solution we could both embrace – not just agree to. We didn’t want to simply appease each other. That would have led to built up resentments and bigger problems down the road. We made this commitment without knowing how to get it done. We just promised each other we’d find a way.
2. We got in each other’s heads
I acknowledged that my behavior was, at times, unreasonable. She acknowledged the same. I verbalized how my behavior must have made her feel. Once I did that, it was easy to be empathetic and even more committed to finding a solution. I believe the same thing happened for her.
3. We agreed on a budget
Ultimately, we are two different people with different needs and wants. Previously, I tried to convince her that what I wanted was good for the family and, therefore, she should want the same thing. This totally ignored her needs. It was also disrespectful.
Big surprise… It made her angry.
I acknowledged that she had important goals which were good for the family too.
Saving money is important for security.
But spending money wisely helps build a family.
I missed that completely.
We hammered out a budget that satisfied each of our needs. It was a compromise, but one we were both happy with.
In order to feel like we were building security, I needed us to save a certain amount each month. We put a dollar figure on it and made that priority number one.
In order to enjoy our lives and build our family, my wife wanted us to have certain experiences. After we satisfied our savings goals, we budgeted a certain amount for those items too.
Without a budget, we probably would not have been able to resolve this problem. Thinking back, the most important element of our solution was that we jointly agreed on a budget from a respectful, loving place rather than from a place of resentment.
Have you ever had to confront a spouse or partner with very different financial goals and values? How did you resolve the problem?
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