How To Develop A Successful Saver and Spender Relationship

financial empathy money fights relationships Jan 13, 2022

One of the number one issues I see in couples is the spender-saver dynamic. 

The spender-saver dynamic is when one member of the couple wants to save most of their money whereas the other member of the couple is a spender and wants to spend without thinking too much about savings goals. 

When these two styles are in a relationship it can create a lot of discomfort, misunderstanding, and conflict. 

However, there are many successful couples who have the spender-saver dynamic. 

And you can be one of them. 

In this blog, we’ll explore what to do if you find that your partner is a spender and you’re a saver, and you don’t know what to do about it. 

Realize You Can't Change Them

You might be reading this blog hoping that I'll give you advice on how to change your partner's behavior and make them into a saver. 

Unfortunately, that's not possible. 

One of the major tenets of psychology is that you can't change other people. You can only change yourself. 

But before you get discouraged by that idea, this doesn't mean that you need to give up saving or accept that your partner is spending the money you saved up for retirement on frivolous things. There are ways that you can adapt to one another that will allow you both to feel more happy, satisfied, and connected. 

Finding common ground with your partner, understanding things from their perspective, and developing more financial intimacy with one another is the core of changing this dynamic so that it's successful. 

No one likes to feel judged or shamed for their behavior. 

Even if you feel that your partner's spending behavior isn't logical or is crazy in your eyes, they may have good reasons that they do what they do. 

  • They may not fully understand your financial situation.
  • They may have felt deprived or controlled financially in childhood and are trying to make up for it.
  • They may use spending as a psychological coping mechanism when they're feeling sad or overwhelmed.
  • They may spend more when they feel controlled, shamed, or judged by other people. 
  • They may have money beliefs that make them feel that they need to spend money now or it will disappear. 

When you develop an understanding of what's going on for each of you internally when it comes to money, the spender and saver dynamic becomes not only easier to understand. It also becomes easier to overcome. 

Acknowledge What They're Good At

You're with your partner for a reason. Chances are there are many reasons you adore your partner and see them as a highly valuable person in your life. Yet when conflict over money comes into play oftentimes you lose sight of why you fell in love to begin with. 

Recently you may have been focused on the areas in which your partner needs to improve, namely reigning in their spending. 

Yet the strengths and benefits of who your partner is deep down are a benefit to your relationship as well. When you have praise and gratitude for your partner and their strengths it helps your partner utilize those strengths more readily in the relationship. 

Perhaps your partner spends more than you do. Yet they also always make sure to take care of everyone, that loved ones get thoughtful birthday and Christmas gifts, and they make your day more joyful with little touches like always having your favorite wine in the house. 

Recognizing that there are strengths to your partner, what those strengths are, and realizing that perhaps some of these are linked with them being a spender can help you develop more empathy and understanding for who your partner is and why being a spender isn't all bad. 

Avoid Righteousness Or Lecturing

One of the key parts of the spender-saver dynamic is that both partners think they're right, but their partner is wrong.

While it's easy to fall into this pattern it's important to recognize that there are pros and cons to each spending style as we discussed above. 

No one likes to feel that they're wrong or bad all the time. Yet when your partner comes to you with criticism and complaints more often than praise and positive connection it can feel like that. 

Research points to the idea that we need to have 7 positive interactions with our partner to balance out every negative interaction. 

Take a moment and think, how many positive and negative interactions do you generally have? Can you increase the positive interaction to help balance out the more challenging conversations you need to have? 

In the future, when confronted by your partner's spending habits focus on helping to balance out the discussion rather than launching into lecturing or a righteous stance that says that you're right, and they're wrong. This will help your partner feel more understood and be more open to your perspective. Because nothing creates defensiveness like feeling like you're being criticized.  

In the future, when having conversations about money, be sure to balance out discussion of problems with what's going right, strengths with weaknesses, and complaints with gratitude. 

Find Common Goals and Dreams

One of the reasons that the spender-saver dynamic can get so out of control is that money conversations become really challenging. Any discussion about money can feel inherently stressful and overwhelming. 

This is why it can be essential to reorient your money discussions to focus on talk about positive financial topics such as goals and dreams and not just financial challenges. When you are able to reconnect with one another about money and about the positive impact saving for a future goal or desire will have on your lives, often this helps couples get on the same page. 

Take some time and sit down together and share your hopes and dreams. Come up with and agree upon a common set of goals that you can both commit and contribute to together. 

When a spender doesn't know why saving is important, that can often cause them to not value the saver's perspective. Yet, when a spender understands not only the intellectual but the emotional value of what they're saving toward this can create huge shifts in the dynamic. 

An example would be saving for retirement. 

Often a saver will say simply "we need to save more for retirement" while the spender feels that this is so far off, remote, and intellectual that they can't connect with why saving for retirement is that big of a deal. 

If instead the spender and saver spend time together dreaming of what retirement could be like and make an exact plan of how much money would be needed to live that lifestyle, things can feel really different. 

For example, perhaps the couple would like to move to Spain when they retire and living in a country village, on a farm, drinking local wines, and loving their days eating tapas and listening to flamenco music. This dream is emotional and tangible and something that, if both partners agree on it, can help motivate both of them to contribute toward that future. 

Something that can help you achieve this is to create a vision board or put pictures of that future you envision somewhere you'll both see it to keep you motivated and on the same page in regard to your goals. 

Create A Budget Together

Budgeting is something that the saver probably has done a lot of, but the spender hasn't been on board with. 

Yet there are ways to create a budgeting system that will work for you both.

One thing to keep in mind is to build into the budget "fun money" or money for the spender to utilize freely so that they don't feel controlled or unmotivated to keep to the budget. If the spender has a "fun fund" they can spend on whatever they please this will sometimes help them stay focused on maintaining the rest of the budget. 

Another strategy that can be helpful plays on the idea of "out of sight, out of mind" that make savings and retirement contributions automatic. 

Dave Ramsey also suggests an envelope system when it comes to budgeting where the money to pay each bill is put into a corresponding envelope. This helps both the spender and saver have a tangible and obvious way to keep track of what's being spent where. 

Another way to go about this is to have regular meetings to review spending and account information so that everyone knows what's going on.

Regardless of what strategies you use, it’s most important to get on the same page and get the spender on board.  

Above All Be Honest

One of the biggest killers of relationships is dishonesty. When couples aren't honest about their saving or spending it can lead to mistrust. Financial infidelity, or hiding spending, investments, and savings from your partner is one of the most damaging things that can happen in a relationship. 

Even if it's uncomfortable, honesty about finances will help you and your partner create more intimacy and a better financial life. 

However, it requires communication skills, a deep understanding of one another, and working as a team. 

In my upcoming course, The Couples Guide to Financial Intimacy, I'll be covering all of this including much more on how to overcome the spender and saver dynamic.  

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