“Did you use the coupon?”
I asked my husband this question when he returned from the store. I had a good idea his answer would be some variation of no. Usually he says “I forgot.” But that hasn’t stopped me from trying for the past 20 years.
My husband doesn’t understand coupons or sales or reward programs. These things are not too difficult to comprehend; rather, he doesn’t care to figure it out. He thinks that couponing is too time consuming and not worth it to save an extra dollar. I, on the other hand love saving money. Ever since I was young my parents taught me how to use coupons, wait for sale items or negotiate a better price. I learned that over time, those dollars add up to significant savings.
I’m not the only person who’s more frugal than my spouse. Many couples struggle with differences in how to spend or save money. Two of the main reasons most people get divorced are communication issues and financial problems.
“Conflicts about money are one of the top three reasons couples seek therapy,” says Joyce Marter, licensed psychotherapist and author of The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life.
What do you do if you’re more frugal than your spouse, but want to come to a consensus about spending and saving? I consulted some experts for advice on how to maintain the peace when you and your spouse have different ideas about money.
Create a plan
If saving money or a frugal lifestyle is important to you, you want to sit down and discuss your viewpoint with your spouse, rather than getting into spats over individual trips to the supermarket. Marter recommends creating a plan of how you want to divide responsibilities regarding saving money.
“Trying to force your partner to use coupons may lead to lasting resentments,” she says. “Consider having a discussion with your partner about you taking responsibility for most purchases, so you can maximize the benefits of coupons. Let your partner take the lead with other household tasks that may be more within their areas of strength.”
In other words, if you care the most about how you spend your money, you should take charge of the shopping and purchasing for the household. Your spouse might care more about home or car maintenance, schooling for the kids or family activities, and can take the lead on those projects.
Make saving easy
Couponing can be confusing since the rules can vary from store to store. If your spouse is not a regular coupon user, they will probably give up if it’s too difficult. Find ways to make saving simpler, so they have no reason to avoid it.
Andrea Woroch, a family finance expert, recommends using alternative ways of saving. “Compare brand prices or opt for generic or store brands for significant savings. Otherwise, download a few apps on their phone to help them save when shopping,” she says. If they can save without putting in any effort, they have little reason not to spend less.
Express your feelings
If you are upset that your spouse made an expensive purchase or refused to use a coupon, it is important to let them know how you feel in a respectful way. Otherwise, you will end up feeling resentful, which will only cause conflicts.
“It can be helpful to talk about childhood experiences we have around money. Sometimes, the memory of a parent losing a job was scary and traumatic for the person. They may have told themselves, ‘I’m never going to be in this situation again,’ ” says Tecia Giusta, a marriage and family therapist in Encinitas, CA.
Sharing the reasons why saving money is important to you will help your spouse understand why you feel upset when they don’t save money. If your spouse views couponing as an annoying inconvenience, they might try harder when they realize that spending money recklessly is triggering to you and that saving money helps you handle childhood traumas around money.
Have separate accounts
If sharing a bank account is causing too many conflicts, it may make more sense to have two separate accounts.
“Some couples keep their money separate, some live like roommates and split the bills, and some pool everything together. There is no right or wrong way. It is important to have a plan you both agree on,” says Marter.
If you decide to have separate accounts, decide in advance who is paying for which bills or whether you’ll split them 50-50. Definitely have personal fun money come out of each of your accounts. That way, if you save more, you get to play more. If your spouse is having too much fun with their money and unable to pay their share of the bills, consider counseling to put you both on the path to a healthier attitude toward money.
Be willing to compromise
Woroch accepts that her husband will never share her same level of frugality. “I realized over the years that it is OK. However, we have talked a lot about what matters to me and vice versa, so that we understand that this whole financial compatibility thing requires compromise.”
She explains that her husband has learned to shop sales at the grocery store and recycle cans to deposit the money into their kids’ college fund. She, in turn, has become more willing to spend money on things that are important to her husband and that they can afford.
Woroch suggests finding creative ways to help change your partner’s mindset. “My husband doesn’t like eating leftovers and would rather throw food away. So I figured out that if I come up with a fun way to remake our leftovers, he doesn’t mind it as much.”
Mikela Hallmark, an Atlanta-based counselor, also stresses the importance of compromising. “Both spouses’ needs should be considered. Some couples set a budget, some have a ‘no pressure’ spending account they get to use however they want every month. Some make large purchase decisions together. Figure out what works for you as a couple,” she says.
Schedule monthly financial meetings
Marter recommends having monthly meetings to discuss finances. She also recommends being in a good mental space, so that you can be calm and collaborative. “Don’t wait to discuss money when there is a problem,” she says.
During these meetings, Woroch recommends creating shared financial goals. “Outline goals for one year, five years, etc. along with how much you want to save and what you’re saving for. When your spouse can visualize a financial goal, it’s easier to stick to the household budget and understand how personal spending decisions can impact your overall future,” she says.
Hallmark recommends a team mentality. “When you approach it from a ‘we’ perspective, start to consider how you might work together to reach your goals,” she says.
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