Dear Penny: I’m a Saver. My Wife Is a Spender. How Do We Manage Our Money?

Couple sitting in their living room and checking their finances
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Dear Penny,

I don't know the best way to get my wife and me on the same page about our finances. I come from a conservative background where we mostly saved and would only spend on needs. She comes from a background where if you want something, you buy it.

We both have good jobs, and I feel like we could be putting ourselves in a better position for the future. I have tried to talk to her about it, but she wants the freedom to buy what she wants within reason.

I think if someone else explained how our spending affects our financial situation and our future finances, we would feel a lot more comfortable. This has always been a big issue for me, and I am not sure how to resolve it.


Dear A.,

I’m sure some people reading this column will say, “Why didn’t you talk about this before you got married?” But you probably did — to some extent.

Once you settle into life as a married couple, though, you can more clearly see how intertwined finances become, and where the missing puzzle pieces are supposed to go.

When we talk about money with a partner, we have a tendency to get caught up in the nuts and bolts of budgeting without really understanding the values underneath. Naturally, your upbringing comes into play, but it’s only part of what influences your financial priorities.

Your childhood experiences can help you identify how you tend to manage your money, but they don’t always explain your motivation for sticking with those ideas instead of breaking away from them as an adult.

When you carry ideas from childhood into your adult life, you need to think about your motivation, and resist the urge to operate on autopilot. Saying, “This is the way I was raised, so it’s obviously the best way to go about it” rings a bit hollow, doesn’t it?

Going one layer deeper can take you from simply trying to get all the bills paid on time to understanding what principles and priorities truly drive your financial choices.

Neither of your approaches to money are necessarily wrong. The problem is that you don’t agree on which approach to take when it comes to balancing saving and spending. You’re on opposite sides of the spectrum right now, but can you identify any financial goals you agree on?

Try to find one or two goals to focus on together, rather than struggling to be a unified front across the board. And that may mean letting go of the rest — or deciding to uncouple some of your financial accounts. Not every couple combines every one of their accounts or splits all expenses down the middle.

It may be easier to achieve her desire for autonomy and your desire for control — if that’s actually what’s driving each of you — if you rethink how you’ve intertwined those ideals.

Have a tricky money question? Write to Dear Penny and you might see your question answered in an upcoming column.

Lisa Rowan is a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, and the voice behind Dear Penny.