Coping Mechanisms for a Spender-Saver Relationship
Recently, my sister announced her engagement. She's the last of my siblings to marry and the youngest in our family. Her announcement, and her particular circumstances, made me think more and more about how important it is to discuss finances early on in a relationship. It also sparked my interest in how a spender and a saver can create an everlasting and healthy relationship.
I don't necessarily think a relationship where each person views money differently is ultimately destined to fail. However, if the people in a relationship have drastically different outlooks on budgeting and finances, then they might need to work a little harder at communicating about personal finance. I've set out on a mission, listing a few helpful tips, to help young couples openly discuss finances no matter what their spending habits may be.
Today, there are more resources available than ever before to help couples budget and track their expenses. Whether a couple is web savvy, or likes sticking to pencil and paper, tracking everyday expenses is the first priority to figuring out a budget. Keeping track of where your money goes for one month is a good rule of thumb for nailing down expenses. One great online expense tracker is Mint. Everyday expenses can be entered and tracked and Mint also offers colorful charts to help those visual learners.
Quicken and Quickbooks are two software programs that I use. I enter my expenses on the checkbook register digitally, categorize each expense (I set up the categories when I first loaded the program), then at the end of the month I can pull a report that shows where my money is going. Seeing where most of my money goes (rent and utilities) allows me to decide if I'm paying too much for electricity, water, or phone service. I usually delegate the task of calling companies for better rates to my husband. He gladly takes on the challenge and often can reduce our rates.
Tracking my expenses also helps me see where I can trim down my budget and save money. For instance, my Starbucks portion of the pie chart has gotten a little out of control. Using this as a guide, I can reevaluate my budget and decide if I need to cut back on certain expenses and opt out of that second daily drink. Tracking expenses and forming a budget can help guide a spender into reducing their spending habits, allowing the saver to feel a bit more in control.
Sharing Purchasing Power
Once a couple has a handle on their expenses and has a rough budget outlined, it's time to discuss purchasing habits. Discussing purchasing habits is extremely important when a couple is on opposite ends of the spender/saver spectrum. If the spender is secretly spending more than what the couple can afford, the saver will be beside themselves and may not be able to amicably resolve the issue. Open discussion is a must and can be done through various ways including:
- Deciding how much of the combined income will be set aside for frivolous or splurge purchases. Once that monthly limit has been met, the spender is asked to give up their credit or debit cards.
- On a white board or other visual aid, keep track of last minute purchases. This way, instead of having to verbalize what was spent, it is written down allowing the saver to vent a bit before an argument takes place.
- Put the spender on a cash-only diet. This tactic may help if the spender is out of control and cannot be trusted with credit.
Early on in our relationship my husband and I sat down and went through all our credit card expenses and monthly expenses, and came up with a system so there were no surprise purchases. Since I deem myself more of a saver than spender, I took control of all purchases through online banking. Our monthly budget is flexible enough to handle a little extra spending, but overall it keeps our purchases within the boundaries we initially set.
A No-Argument Approach
Most relationships find a happy medium between spending and saving their pennies. However, personal finance is one topic that can cause distress if either party is unwilling to compromise. Recently, I began creating a personal finance engagement gift that I though might help my newly-engaged sister, including how to start a budget and a list of topics that should be discussed. One reader, FinEngr from Engineer Your Finances, had a terrific addition: Financial Love Notes. An example of a Financial Love Note would be "I'm taking my lunch to work all this week. I'm saving $40 so that I can take you out to dinner!" The idea behind the notes is to encourage each other to save money towards a common goal and to open up conversations about money without being confrontational. Some ways the Love Notes can be useful:
- Curbing a spender's habit on particular purchases: "Today I walked right past Starbucks without entering. I saved $4.50 towards our emergency fund."
- Discussing a touchy subject: "I noticed Macy's was having a sale today. I'm so proud you didn't enter the mall. You saved us $60!"
- Working towards a common goal: "I saved $15 today by purchasing only soda instead of drinks with the guys. That's $15 that is going towards our house fund."
FinEngr's idea is a wonderful way to let your loved one know you're thinking about them all the time. He compared it to a mom putting a little love note in your lunchbox — a nostalgic feeling of love.
As my sister progresses with her wedding arrangements, I hope she and her fiancee take some time to talk about personal finances openly. A healthy relationship begins with open communication, including the topic of personal finance.