The Art Of Compromise: Reconciling Wildly Different Spending Habits

The Art Of Compromise: Reconciling Wildly Different Spending Habits

Two pigeons silhouetted on a roofline with their backs to one another, symbolizing a marital disagreement over spending habits.
Argue” by jiunn kang too, CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Finding and maintaining your balance on the save vs. spend tightrope can be difficult if you share your finances with a spouse or significant other. Particularly if the two of you possess differing views or attitudes about money.

One of the great mysteries of life is that all of us are born as either natural savers or spenders. And while some birds of a feather may fly together, the old “opposites attract” idiom is proof enough that this isn’t always the case.

If the spending habits of your significant other ruffle your feathers, read on to learn how Mrs. FFP (a spender) and I (a saver) managed to reconcile our wildly different spending habits as newlyweds.

Dating: Roses Are Red & Violets Are Blue

This story begins when the future Mrs. FFP and I began dating during college. As I’ve written previously, we share several lifestyle goals that have financial implications.

A desire to have children, operate as a single-income household, and own our own home top the list. We discovered these shared goals relatively early on in our dating relationship, thanks to an earnest discussion at a local coffee shop.

As our relationship progressed and grew more serious over time, we began coordinating our plans for a future together. Mrs. FFP even switched college majors to better align with our joint vision of graduating, getting married, and starting a family after just a few years in the workforce. So far, so good, right?

Engaged! Premarital Counseling

Our engagement story is a highly stressful exciting one which includes my breaking into my own truck, ducking mall security, and telling several surreptitious white lies in the course of orchestrating a surprise proposal, to which she said yes.

We set a wedding date for 7 months out and began the tortuous task of wedding planning. Suffice it to say that we quickly learned to appreciate the appeal of eloping.

This brings us to our premarital counseling sessions, which we attended via a 45-minute interstate drive at 70 MPH in a Chevy Metro sans power steering, cruise control, AC, and one windshield wiper. The thing sounded like an angry hummingbird on the highway.

We discussed finances at length during premarital counseling, during which we reaffirmed our joint commitment to our shared financial and lifestyle goals. We also committed to sharing our finances once we were married, rather than maintaining “his” and “hers” accounts.

Call us old-school, but it didn’t seem as if we could truly be “one flesh” without sharing our finances with each other openly and honestly. It just felt natural that we would combine our accounts once married, so we didn’t dwell overly long on this decision.

Life As Newlyweds

Both Mrs. FFP and I came into the marriage without debt, a matter of pride for both of us after paying our own way through college. That said, our new joint savings was nearly dry after paying for rings, the wedding, our honeymoon, and the aforementioned luxury vehicle.

Fortunately, we didn’t have many expenses related to setting up shop as a married couple, since I had been renting a pad in the country for several years. I already owned all of the necessary furnishings, although Mrs. FFP found my existing pots and pans collection to be somewhat lacking in terms of quality.

At least, that was the explanation offered for some of her early cooking mishaps (just checking to see if you’re still reading, hun!).

Our First Money Management System

I had developed a fairly detailed budget while living close to the vest as a college student, so we had a pretty good handle on what expenses to expect after Mrs. FFP moved in.

We reworked my existing budget to reflect Mrs. FFP’s income, updated a few spending categories, and made a pact to discuss any purchases of $20 or greater before making them.

We planned to save the balance of our dual entry-level salaries remaining after living expenses towards a down payment on a home. We thought we had a solid plan. But as we quickly discovered, we had much to learn about one another.

A Rude Awakening: Squawking Over Spending Habits

At first, our decision to jointly discuss any purchases of $20 or more seemed like a practical means of ensuring agreement on our respective spending habits.

However, we quickly found that we were usually at odds regarding the validity of the purchases discussed, and could seldom find common ground. To understand why, we’ll have to take a look at our unique backgrounds and attitudes about money.

Mr. FFP – Pry This Money From My Cold, Dead Hands

I (Mr. FFP) was born a natural saver. Spending money is usually quite painful. I research my purchases to an often ridiculous level of detail to ensure I’m receiving both quality and value. Large purchases are often evaluated for lengthy periods of time, counted in weeks, months, or years as opposed to seconds or minutes.

While I have a natural inclination to save, this behavior could have been influenced by circumstances in my life as well. Money was usually hard-won as a child and young adult, procured by working construction for my grandfather as an adolescent or by sweating in the corn fields as a young teen. This helped put frivolous purchases into perspective, and likely instilled the opposite of an easy-come, easy-go mentality.

Mrs. FFP – Give Me Shopping Or Give Me Death

Mrs. FFP, on the other hand, was born a natural spender. When we were first married, shopping splurges brought her great joy. Or, as she once confided to me in a wild-eyed moment of weakness, provided her with a type of “high”. Spontaneity was the norm, and anything but the momentary evaluation of purchases was viewed as a buzzkill.

While Mrs. FFP had always been responsible with her money as evidenced by her lack of any debt upon finishing college, she had very little savings despite having lived at home while attending school.

As I would later discover, this was because she viewed any and all income above and beyond that required to pay the bills as money available for discretionary spending. She wasn’t in the habit of saving for long-term goals, and had not yet developed the requisite set of Gimme Hands required for long-term financial success.

Trouble In Paradise

As you can imagine, our differing attitudes about money and spending habits made for some interesting discussion regarding planned purchases in excess of our $20 threshold.

Used to the low-maintenance lifestyle of a young bachelor, I was shocked at my wife’s discretionary spending habits. I weighed every requested purchase against our long-term goal of home-ownership and its implications on our dream of starting a family, and often felt the expenditure was unjustified.

On the other hand, Mrs. FFP felt suffocated by my dedication to saving, like a canary in a coal mine. She valued discretionary spending above savings, and viewed my disapproval of (to her) mundane purchases as curmudgeonly.

While we agreed in principle on our shared financial goals, we found that we disagreed strongly on the everyday decisions that were required to support those goals. Tense discussions, resentment, and bitterness began to creep into our young marriage.

A New Plan – Personal Money

After three months of disagreement and discord, we knew our original approach wasn’t working. So we went back to the drawing board and revisited our money management system. After much discussion, we agreed to try allotting an equal, monthly allowance for one another out of our joint banking accounts. We referred to these amounts both then and now as our “personal money”.

The idea was that at the start of every month, a set amount of money in our budget would be allotted to each of us to spend as we pleased, no questions asked. No need for prior discussion, no need to track or justify it in any way.

All spending on hobbies, interests, clothing, or events / activities that didn’t involve both of us were to come from this “personal money.” These types of purchases were typically the ones we disagreed on most often.

This approach required a great amount of compromise. As the saver in our relationship, I had to come to terms with the fact that a fairly significant amount of money in our monthly budget was being sacrificed on the altar of discretionary spending, even before that spending had been identified. Initially, this was a very tough pill to swallow.

But this solution also required compromise on the part of Mrs. FFP. She had to agree for her discretionary spending habits to be artificially limited by a given amount each month. An equally tough pill for her to swallow.

The Decision That Changed Everything

This concept of personal money or individual allowances isn’t necessarily a unique or radical new concept. But it’s effects on our relationship were in fact radical. No longer were we disagreeing every night over each other’s spending habits. We each had a given level of independence and autonomy within which to operate, within clear limits.

Mrs. FFP didn’t have to run a new clothing purchase or her plan to treat her girlfriends to a night out at the coffee shop by me. And I no longer had to get Mrs. FFP’s buy-in for that new hunting accessory.

This new approach eliminated any feelings of bitterness I had about Mrs. FFP’s higher rate of discretionary spending. And Mrs. FFP no longer resented me for not signing on to her spending habits.

The freedom this provided both of us was tangible. It’s hard to explain how liberating this was for Mrs. FFP, in particular. The effect this simple change had on our relationship was worth far more to me as the saver in our relationship than the money “lost” to budgeted spending each month.

Our Personal Money Spending Habits

While the monthly amount we’ve allowed ourselves to spend each month has grown since we were first married, we still rely on this concept of personal money today. So what types of expenses have we spent this personal money on over the years? A summary of categories containing major or frequent purchases is below for your viewing pleasure:

Mr. FFP

  • Hobbies
    • Whitetail Deer Bow Hunting (clothing, equipment, scent-control supplies, licenses)
    • Wildlife Food Plots (seed, herbicide, gasoline for equipment)
    • Fishing (licenses, lures)
    • Spearfishing (equipment, lights, batteries, gasoline for motor)
    • Volleyball (clothes, shoes, league entry fees)
    • Cycling (bike, cyclometer, gloves, bike shorts, accessories)
  • Clothing / Shoes
  • Cologne
  • Chewing Gum

Mrs. FFP

  • Snacks / Coffee / Eating Out
  • Clothing / Shoes
  • Hobbies
    • Running (race entry fees, shoes, clothing)
    • Fitness (gym membership, classes, equipment)
    • Violin (equipment, lessons)
    • Sewing (fabric, classes)
  • Perfume
  • Hair Treatment

Reconcile Your Wildly Different Spending Habits

A 2015 Love & Money study by TD Bank found that 63% of Americans overall and 83% of Millennials believe their significant other overspends in some way. If you share your finances with someone who possesses spending habits which differ wildly from your own, give this concept of personal money a try.

This approach works wonders if you’re a spender that married a saver, or vice versa. We found that it provides independence and autonomy for both parties while maintaining the simplicity and transparency of shared finances.

Implementing The Art Of Compromise

For those of you who have been following the Master Your Money series from the beginning, below are the next steps on your journey to financial freedom:

  1. If you share your finances with someone else, discuss this concept with them. Would your relationship benefit from the autonomy and independence of this approach?

  2. If so, review the discretionary spending categories in your budget. Identify the categories you tend to disagree on the most, and consider splitting these amounts out of your budget. Replace them with personal spending money categories instead.

    1. You can create new categories in Mint to reflect and track your allotted personal spending if desired.

    2. For the ultimate autonomy, you can budget for and categorize personal spending as “Cash & ATM” transactions in Mint. This involves the use of the cash envelope system, which we’ll discuss in the next article.

Extra Bonus – If you are married or in a serious relationship, see if you can relate to the below Dick Van Dyke show classic, which hilariously portrays a marital spat from two opposing perspectives:

 

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Chris
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Very interesting. My wife and do something similar. Though what you call “personal” money, we call play or blow money. Though we usually just stick with “play” money. The other term has elicited some strange looks.
But it has worked out well for us. As I’m more the saver, and my wife is the spender, whenever she asks about a purchase, I simply ask her how much she has in her play money account – unless it’s something we mutually agree on. This has solved many of our money disagreements.
Thanks for sharing.