Changing Your Partner’s Money Habits

by TTMK on November 19, 2012 · 8 comments

Is it possible for people to change?  Can money habits be transformed, one way or the other? In other words, looking at the spender vs. saver framework,

My thought process has generally been that most people truly don’t change at the core.  We are shaped by how we grew up, and our life experiences when younger, and this manifests itself in our behavior when grown up.  This includes our money habits, and whether or not we are inclined to spend or save.

So, what to do if the person you have fallen for is on the opposite side of things? If you’re a saver and he or she is a spender? Well, I think it is important to try to do one of 3 things:

  1. Compromise
  2. Get the other person to change
  3. Change to match the other person

Being on the same page, one way or the other, is better than having money conflicts.

There are two examples that I have, from couples I have known, that can illustrate this topic in some way.  I’ll keep out certain specific details, but will share the high-level information that is salient to the topic:

Couple A

This was a couple where the woman was seemingly financially responsible, and the guy was a big-time spender.

She came from a humble blue-collar background, but worked very hard to earn great grades in college, then went on to get an advanced degree (doctorate).  A nice mix of being down to earth, yet very smart and ambitious.  Accomplished but able to relate to people of different financial means.  How this translated into her finances was that she didn’t seem to be a big spender, and was more modest in her wants.

He came from more money, and had visions of grandeur.  He was a fast talker, highly energetic and ambitious, and quite entertaining.  He wanted to be the life of the party, and had no problems with spending on entertaining.  He drove expensive cars that belied his age, but did not have the advanced education she did – and one would perceive didn’t have the perceived career status that she did.

From the outside looking in, it appeared that the she was financially conservative and more of a saver (or at least middle of the road), while he absolutely seemed like a hall-of-fame level spender – to the point of seeming out of control to the casual observer.

How did this go? The didn’t seem to have complementary habits.  The couple ended up divorcing.

Couple B

This situation was kind of the opposite, where he was the saver and she was the spender.

Both had similar levels of education, as well as similar years of work experience.  They were both talented and somewhat ambitious, and they both truly enjoyed the finer things.  However, he changed his ways after a few years in his 20’s, and did a 180 degree turn from being a spender to becoming a budding, serious saver.  She, on the other hand, loved to shop and carried a fair amount of consumer debt.  This is where they were at upon being married, he with a small but growing stash of savings, and her with debt.

What happened? He worked on her big time for the first year or two, and basically got her to adopt his saver mentality.  My guess is that it was mostly her changing to meet his way of doing things, as she suppressed her shopaholic ways and they jointly saved quite a bit of money regularly.

The result? Well, much better than the first couple.  They are doing very well for themselves, and according to him, are on their way to financial freedom at a much younger age than most could think of.  It’s a true success story.

Why Did Couple B do Much Better Than Couple A?

Now, first off, clearly money isn’t the only dynamic in relationships. There are many that are part of the interaction between two people.

However, it’s one of the hot buttons people have, and clearly there were differences in how these couples handled things.

My view is that Couple B succeeded because they were able to get on the same page on how to do things, even though he was a saver and she was initially a big shopper.  While purely joint compromise might be great, at least they got on the same page one way or the other.

The other couple simply wasn’t on the same page.  The guy spent money like it was going out of style, and was the antithesis of frugal.  Clearly she was more responsible, at least to most observers.  They didn’t get on the same page, and even if they did – my guess is that the force of his personality would have meant that she would have had to cave in to his spender mentality.

Bottom Line:  People can change in some cases, and if that’s what it takes to get on the same page, so be it!

My Questions for You

Do you think that it’s important for two people to truly be on the same page in terms of spending habits?

Have you known people with different approaches, where one is a saver and the other is a spender?

Do you think that it’s truly possible for people to change in terms of being a saver vs. being a spender?

 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily @ evolvingPF November 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Very important discussion!

While I do think that people can change their money mindsets, I think it’s very unusual to get someone else to change to be more like you. Maybe you can influence them to want to be more like you, but active efforts on your part are likely going to be futile.

One of the major principles drilled into us during premarital counseling – which I have also seen play out plenty of times in my marriage – is that you cannot force your partner to change. You (really really) shouldn’t go into marriage with expectations that your fiance(e) will change – you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. If you have different money personalities as a dating/engaged couple you better figure out how to communicate and compromise assuming that you both will keep your money personalities. Hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Personally I don’t think I would have married or even fallen in love with someone with a very different money personality because my money personality (saver) is an outgrowth of much deeper, more important personality traits like responsibility, self-control, ability to delay gratification, rationality, future-focus, etc. I wouldn’t be compatible with someone who was different from me on those traits and an immediate way to get an idea about those is by observing spending/saving habits.

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TTMK November 21, 2012 at 9:13 am

Emily – I think you make some great points here about trying to be realistic about the other person’s habit. At worst, the other person won’t change. However, both people will then need to be able to compromise and communicate effectively. If that can at least be a baseline minimum, then things can be good. Even better if the other person can change to fit more a responsible approach :) But, meeting halfway and being respectful of each other is a key skill in itself, for the two people that love each other.

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eemusings November 25, 2012 at 5:04 am

My partner and I have very different money personalities – he’s a hands-off spender and I’m a micromanaging saver. He’s come to learn the value of saving, and with me managing our finances, it works out pretty well.

I’m not sure those core traits can change deep down but certainly we can learn better habits. And yes, being on the same financial page is vital!

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TTMK November 26, 2012 at 10:09 pm

eemusings – glad that you’re able to manage the differences and have things work out well!

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Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves December 13, 2012 at 7:31 am

In 20 years of giving practical financial advice to clients, most people won’t change until the pain of where they are is greater than the pain where they need to go. Get people started with small steps that create positive habits and then aggressively move them to the habits that will make them financially independent.

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TTMK December 14, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Ted – it sounds like building small wins first, then moving on to bigger steps. Good advice.

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Sancho January 6, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Financial aspect is very important in married couples lives. Couples should take time to sit down and iron out their financial management differences and start with a plan on how to reach financial stability.

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TTMK January 7, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Agreed, it’s very important to have these discussions. I believe most people simply don’t do it though.

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