Financial beliefs, like religious beliefs, should be discussed and evaluated for like-mindedness before marriage. Unfortunately, too many couples overlook this vital component of overall compatibility.
Money—and how it is earned and managed—represents so much more to people than simple materialism. To some, money represents:
1. Security and protection.
2. Love and care-taking.
3. Power and influence.
4. Freedom and independence.
5. Self and individual worth.
7. Intelligence and skill.
A person develops money beliefs during childhood, gathered from role models and life experiences. Earning and spending, saving and gifting, managing and investing all represent one’s money beliefs.
In a perfect financial marriage, both partners are in sync on all aspects of money management. But usually, financial opposites are attracted to each other. Perhaps the spendthrift is drawn toward the stability of saver; the miser finds excitement in the joyful abandon of the giver. The financial innocent is wowed by the money guru while the latter feels empowered by mentoring the former. Here are potentially problematic financial styles:
The Benefactor: He picks up the tab whenever he goes out with friends. His gifts are overly generous. To many folks, money is evil—unless it is doing good for others—and benefactors often give more than they can afford to. Money is not evil. It is merely a necessary tool. When used wisely, there will be enough to cover all of your needs and desires (and yes, it is okay to want things for yourself) as well as more to give to others.
The Miser: Frugality may be a virtue, but being miserly is a financial sin. There is a big difference between thrift and stinginess. The miser hoards and allows no one, not even himself, to enjoy the fruits of financial abundance. Penny-pinching is not a necessity but a compulsion for the miser. He gains pleasure from discounts and freebies.
The Adolescent: Living like tomorrow will never come is a typical adolescent attitude. Letting someone else shoulder the responsibility for the finances, shrugging off debt, spending every spare dollar, and earning barely enough to cover one’s monthly expenses are some clues. He lives a hand-to-mouth existence.
The Mogul: Acquiring more assets is his game. He funnels every dime into his ventures and is all too willing to play an all-or-nothing game, risking daily security to win.
The Ostrich: Afraid of what he doesn’t know, he avoids finances. He lets the ATM tell him his account balance and never reconciles his checkbook. Every swipe of his debit card is like pulling the arm of a slot machine: Will this purchase go through? In some ways, the Ostrich is like the Adolescent but the Ostrich isn’t necessarily childish. He is fearful. He needs to understand that facing the unknown is far less painful that his current financial method. Knowledge brings emotional relief.
What do you do when your money habits conflict?
1. Endeavor to understand. What emotional reward does your spouse get from his money habits? Every habit provides some, at least temporary, form of pleasure and/or avoids pain.
2. Resolve the root cause of problematic habits. If a particular money habit has negative results, what are other ways to provide the same emotional reward without involving money? If he needs to be the benefactor, talk about ways to be generous that don’t involve money. Can you find another stress reliever other than spending sprees?
3. Instead of trying to change each other’s money styles, find a way to cooperate enough to satisfy each other’s needs. He may never outgrow his adolescent habits, but can your astute financial nature make up for that? Misers can learn to set aside a special amount for “mad money” so they don’t miss out on some of the joys that money can provide; spendthrifts can learn to enjoy watching their bank account balances grow.
4. Accept that your financial style may be different, not better. It might sound ridiculous to accept that money may be wasted in late fees, but the occasional waste due to an oversight isn’t any better or worse than “wasting” the money, for example, on some frivolous purchase that sits unused in the back of your closet. Saving for a rainy day may be wise, but deprivation detracts from the quality of life. Balance the best of both your financial styles.
5. Don’t take your spouse’s habits personally. He developed his financial habits long before you came along and they have little to do with how he feels towards you. Mistakes may affect you, which can feel frustrating, but find a workable solution instead of fighting each other head-on. Don't heap anger and blame on top of the financial pressures.
Married partners with incompatible money habits can get along once they understand the reason behind each other’s financial style and learn how to use each other's strengths.