- advertisement -

Opposites attract -- even when it comes to feelings about money

Sex and savingsYour husband drives you nuts.

He hasn't learned the lessons from his youth when he drove that cool BMW, lived in an apartment that was the envy of his friends and had to run to mommy and daddy for help when the bills came due.

You overspent, too, early in adulthood. But now you have grown up and you want to cut expenses ruthlessly and save like mad. So you take a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich to work. Over a dinner of macaroni and cheese at home, you scowl while he recounts his $60 lunch at La Brasserie Tres Cher.

No matter who you are, you and your spouse almost surely have conflicting attitudes about money. Olivia Mellan, a psychotherapist and author of Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Life and Relationships, says it is normal for couples to assume opposite money roles.

You and your sweetie probably fit into one of six categories of husband-wife combinations, Mellan says:

· A hoarder and a spender -- the most common combination;

· A worrier and an avoider -- almost as common a union as the one above;

· A money monk and a money amasser;

· A planner and a dreamer;

· A risk taker and a risk avoider;

· A money merger and a money separatist, who quarrel about whether to have joint or separate accounts.

- advertisement -

"If opposites don't attract right off the bat, they will assume opposite roles eventually," Mellan says. "Basically, if two spenders meet and marry, they'll fight each other for the spending role and the other will assume the hoarder role."

One will change
This process reflects human nature. When two spenders marry, one usually freaks out at the bills and turns into a hoarder. A union of two money avoiders becomes a marriage between an avoider and a worrier. After all, Mellan says, "Someone will have to start worrying about it."

Not everyone subscribes to the belief that couples polarize. "Married couples can be all over the place," says Susan Zimmerman, a chartered financial consultant and psychotherapist in Apple Valley, Minn. "They can be opposites or they can be more alike -- but they will have one difference, and that is where the strife comes from."

Dr. Kathleen Gurney, a psychologist and author of Your Money Personality: What It Is and How You Can Profit From It, takes a different approach. Through her Financial Psychology Corp. she offers the Moneymax Personal Profile to help individuals understand their money management styles. She divides people into nine money styles: safety players, entrepreneurs, optimists, hunters, achievers, producers, high rollers and money masters.

Those who noticed that the previous paragraph listed only eight styles might belong to the ninth: perfectionists.

"It's easier if your styles of handling money are similar, but here, as with other characteristics, opposites attract," she Gurney says. "I recommend having a serious talk about your financial preferences before differences erupt."

Achieving domestic tranquility
When you have an idea of how you and your spouse fit together financially, how do you achieve domestic tranquility? First, get rid of your hangups over talking about money.

"Money is a touchy subject for most people," says Celia Ray Hayhoe, an assistant professor of family studies at the University of Kentucky and a certified financial planner. "It's the last taboo. A lot of people say they discuss money all the time but what they do is fight over money."

Money is the No. 1 subject of marital quarrels, and it's one of the main reasons for divorces, Hayhoe says.

Before you have that heart-to-heart discussion regarding dollar signs, acknowledge your secret envies, Mellan advises. Appreciate your partner's style. A hoarder usually envies a spender's freedom and a spender often envies a hoarder's restraint.

To get a really good idea of where your partner is coming from, step into your partner's shoes -- "to be the other personality" for a while, Hayhoe says. "Let's say you're married to a spender and you're adopting that role for a while," she says. "You don't actually have to spend the money, but if there's a hoarder and a spender, the hoarder should take the spender role. It gives you an appreciation of where the other person is coming from. You can essentially come to a meeting of the minds. The idea is that you'll be better people in the long run."

Looking at spending personalities is one way for couples to approach the subject of spending. "Another way to handle it is to discuss how their families handled money," Hayhoe says. "What you liked about how your parents handled money and what you didn't like about it -- talk about those things." If you prefer not to battle to the death over financial matters, it might help to figure out what kind of spending personalities you and your spouse have. Just about every expert in the field has his or her own list of spending personalities; Olivia Mellan defines them in terms of pairings.

Zimmerman agrees that you and your partner should discuss how you learned about money in during childhood.

"How were allowances handled? What did your parents fight about? If they fought a lot about money, you might have grown up believing that money was a subject to avoid talking about," she says.

In Zimmerman's self-published book The Money Rascals: Changing Troublesome Habits From the Inside Out, she says you should discuss:

· How your family physically handled money: when cash, checks and credit cards were used

· The emotional component: "The feelings and sensations that people get based on what's going on in their financial world. They might be fearful or confident or feel some other emotion about money."

· Beliefs about money, such as how much of an income is enough and what makes a person a financial winner or a financial loser

· How you spend money when people are around. Do you or your partner try to impress people with your spending? Does one of you always wait for someone else to pick up the check?

If you take these talks seriously, your spouse's behavior won't seem so mysterious and irritating. And maybe you'll know how to complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. Don't try to force your partner to undergo a personality transplant because the result will likely be rejection.

"It's very healthy to admit who you are when it comes to money," Gurney says. "Too often I see people coming in who try to give up who they are and it backfires. You need to know what you can't give up, as well as what you wouldn't mind giving up."

Preventing future money squabbles
OK, so you understand each other's financial psychology and you have put yourself into your spouse's spending shoes. You have achieved a measure of peace. How do you prevent quarrels over money from ever happening again?

Try gluing a sheet of rubber onto your back and lying on the front step. If you are willing to become a doormat (and a large, squishy one at that), you can banish all money fights forever.

However, if you and your spouse each insist on standing up for yourselves, the experts give some pointers for increasing peace, love and understanding -- although you'll still clash occasionally.

· When you sit down to discuss financial matters, set family goals -- and include the children in these discussions.

· Pick a non-stressful time to have these "structured money talks." So don't call a financial summit meeting just after balancing the checkbook or while you're deciding how much house you can afford.

· Before you get married, pay off as many loans as possible. If you get rid of credit card and car loan debt before the nuptials, there will be fewer arguments about merging finances.

· On the other hand, newlyweds shouldn't be too quick to merge their finances, Mellan says: "They are often tempted to, but there are all sorts of intimacy issues early in a marriage." Instead, newlyweds might want to have their own accounts as well as a joint account for common purchases and contribute to that account according to their proportion of earnings.

"A lot of women want separate money and I think they should have it," she adds. "They should have their own retirement fund, too."

· Don't buy something as revenge. It hurts in the long run.

· Talk about your shared dreams and draw up a spending plan. Don't call it a budget, Mellan says; that word intimidates spenders and money avoiders.

· In your regular money chats, put your impressions on hold. Don't judge.

· "Understand your differences and plan around them," Gurney says. Take equal responsibility for managing your money so both of you are informed. For example, if one person routinely pays the bills, the other should file the paid invoices (you do keep your paid bills in a file, don't you?).

· Pay attention to patterns. What issues repeatedly crop up? What attitudes and emotions are creating the behavior?

Above all, the experts say that marital bliss on the financial front has little to do with how much money you have.

"More money won't solve most arguments," Hayhoe says. "Because if you don't change the underlying behavior, you'll end up with the same problems with more money."

-- Updated: Feb. 5, 2001

 

See Also
Gender spender: Sex sets your money DNA
10 great financial moves you can make with $50 (8/25/00)
Savings glossary
More savings stories



top of page
 
- advertisement -