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Spenders vs. Savers: Balancing Love and Money


Your marriage needn't flounder on the personal finance rocks if you discuss each other's response to money and learn how to accommodate it.


If saving gives you the warm fuzzies, but spending big bucks revs your spouse's engine, you're the classic saver/spender couple.

Relax. The marriage needn't flounder on the personal finance rocks if you discuss each other's response to money and learn how to accommodate it.

"Money is only a tool," says Diane McCurdy, a financial planner and author of How Much is Enough? Balancing Today's Needs with Tomorrow's Retirement Goals. "We give money its emotions – fear, envy, greed."

Attitudes toward money are so deeply embedded that they seem to be part of our DNA.

McCurdy says there are four basic attitudes toward money:

Saver: It's a snap for savers to build a large savings account on a modest salary. Savers are well-organized and would rather kiss a cow than buy impulsively. They avoid risk. For these folks, a savings account is more than money set aside for a rainy day – it's contentment approaching a Zen state. The downside: Savers often see saving as an end in itself and fail to use their money wisely. They can be too conservative and avoid investments that would make their money grow faster and free them to follow their muse.

Spender: Spenders see no use for money unless it's flying out of their wallet. Why bother with a dusty savings account when you can spend right up to the last nickel to create fun and status with the latest gizmo, a flashy car or stylish clothes? Spenders can be overly generous, dropping big bucks on a mid-week meal with friends and buying lavish gifts for their sweetie. Don't confuse spenders with compulsive shoppers who blow out their credit cards, can't breathe unless they're at the mall and often have closets filled with unopened boxes of stuff. That's a problem for a psychiatrist – not a financial planner.

Builder: Think Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic, Bill Gates of Microsoft (MSFT) or other hard driving entrepreneurs who see money as the means to turn their dreams into reality. Remember: Gates dresses like an undergraduate because he's always thinking about the next step in his company. The downside: Some builders are close to maniacal in pursuit of their dream and overlook the basics of money management. Smart builders therefore hire top managers.

Giver: These folks volunteer for a cause they believe in and donate generously. They may feel money is a sin, or close to it, and that giving it away is the best way to handle that icky green stuff. They also get a kick out of making others happy or doing good deeds. A few may buy extravagant gifts for friends, typically things they'd never get for themselves. While intending no harm, givers may hurt their children by failing to teach them the value of money and the basics of personal finance.

Such views of money lead to different conclusions on how to use it. Savers typically see themselves as the adult in the relationship while spenders tend to view themselves as providing the needed spark to the marriage. Savers, the typical spender believes, are hopeless fuddy-duddies who don't know how to have fun and would probably raise Constitutional objections to the whole idea of kicking up their heels.

Sometimes couples simply can't overcome their differences, financial or otherwise, and choose to divorce. Find out how to do so without ruining your finances in Making Divorce As Painless As Possible.

The key, McCurdy says, is for the couple to understand their different approaches to money and to seek common ground.

"Couples can work together to find out how much is enough for them," she says. "There's plenty going on in marriage without having high drama about money."

McCurdy says couples should take three basic steps to find common ground:

  • First, make a list of assets and liabilities to determine your net worth.

  • Second, draft a budget (or "cash flow statement" if budget is too ponderous and gives you the fantods) to determine if your finances are flowing in the right direction.

  • Third, make separate wish lists of things you want to do and buy in the future.

"Compare your lists," McCurdy says. "Have a heart-to-heart talk. It's possible for the spender to get that dream trip to Alaska and for the saver to set aside enough to feel comfortable about retirement."

If done right, collaboration between the cats and dogs of personal finance will spark what management types like to call synergy: The spender quickly realizes that turning basic day-to-day finances over to the saver increases the likelihood of taking that dream vacation in a year or so. The saver discovers that there's more to stashing money in the bank and fondling the statements showing a growing balance.

Many marriages end because the couple fails to communicate about the basics, including money. McCurdy's discussion outline gets couples talking about money and, with a little work, each can understand the other's financial style and needs.

Remember: money is a tool. Use it wisely to build your future – and to have a little fun along the way.

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