What to Do Before Marrying: Saver vs. Spender

Take these steps to head off problems if spending patterns clash

You’ve found the one you love and have decided to get married. But while making plans for your shared life, you and your soon-to-be spouse discover that one of you is a spender and the other is a saver. Luckily, there are ways to manage joint finances that will leave both partners happy. Here are some tips to help you successfully navigate your way to financial harmony.

Key Takeaways

  • Spenders and savers who plan to marry should share their feelings about money, as well as how they were raised to view it, prior to their wedding.
  • Be sure to set up a budget together for bills, long-term goals, and emergencies.
  • Having a “mad money” budget line for each partner to spend as they please can satisfy the needs of both a spender (who can splurge on a coveted item) and a saver (who can sock away their share).
  • If you and your spouse can’t agree on a budget, then consult a financial planner, who can develop a plan that works for your relationship.
  • Free financial planning tools are available, too. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission offers several free online tools.

Talk About Your Feelings Toward Money

Much of our approach to money is emotional: Money may make you feel anxious or excited, and managing it may fill you with calm or dread. Take some time before you get married to explore together how each of you feels about money and why. Did you grow up in a household where money was tight or where you never had to worry about where it was coming from? Your upbringing may substantially impact your feelings toward money, and your future spouse may not always see things from the same perspective.

If you understand the source of your and your spouse’s points of view regarding money, then you’ll be better able to empathize and communicate compassionately if you disagree on a financial issue.

Discuss How You’d Like to Spend Your Money

One partner may value designer clothes, while the other might have an expensive hobby. You both may love to travel, want to own a home, or retire early. If you and your partner spend time discussing each of your desires, then you two will likely find some overlap. If you plan to save for the things that you want together and spend the savings on an item or experience that you both really value, then you and your partner will walk away from the purchase happy.

In addition to saving and spending for fun activities, it’s imperative that you and your partner devise a budget together. The keyword here is together: It is a negotiation, and if both partners sign-on, then you will have a solid plan for discretionary spending and how much to save for long-term financial goals, such as retirement.

You can reassess the plan later if it isn’t working, but having an initial budget provides each partner with acceptable guidelines to build upon. Rather than wondering if you should buy the $50 jeans or splurge for the $150 pair, for example, you will know what’s within your budget and head off a disagreement over your spending.

Many couples—especially those who marry or move in together later in life—set up a joint bank account for household and common expenses but also maintain their own personal checking accounts. These accounts can be the ideal place for each partner to keep their “mad money” to use for discretionary expenditures.

Budget for Unrestricted Spending

Consider adding a “mad money” line to your list of expenses. Pay your bills, save for emergencies and long-term goals as agreed upon, then give each of you a set amount of money to spend on whatever you wish. If you want new running shoes or the very best headphones, then go ahead and buy them with your share of the “mad money,” not with the household money or out of your emergency fund.

The spender will have the freedom to buy whatever they want, and the saver can stash or invest their funds and won’t have to worry about not having enough set aside for a rainy day.

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help

Whatever you do, don’t lie to your significant other about your spending or try to hide anything. If you feel that you can’t be honest about money with your spouse, then that means you haven’t come up with a plan that works for you as a couple.

If you’re having trouble agreeing on a budget or a plan, then visit a financial planner together for assistance in creating a budget that will work for your relationship. Financial planners are not emotionally invested in your finances and will be able to help you decide whether, say, that beach vacation is affordable or a splurge that you should pass on this year.

According to a 2022 survey from the National Association of Plan Advisors, only 30% of Americans have a paid financial advisor. If you are part of the 70% of those who don't have one or cannot afford one, there are free options available. Your bank or credit union may offer free financial consultations. Unions or employers may offer a free visit with a financial planner as part of your benefits package, and organizations like the Financial Planners Association may offer pro-bono services to those who qualify for the services.

What If My Spouse Overspends?

If your spouse is spending more than your household can afford, you may benefit from talking to a financial advisor to help you make a budget you can both agree on. There are also free financial planning tools available online, and some banks and credit unions may offer free financial counseling.

Can a Saver and a Spender Stay Married?

Yes. Of course, a saver and a spender can stay married. All couples can benefit from having honest conversations about money, setting up expectations about spending and saving as a couple, and making an agreed-upon household budget. For some, each having their own bank accounts as well as a joint account can help.

How Much Is a Financial Planner?

Financial advisors don't all charge the same amount of money for their time. There are fee-based financial advisors, financial advisors who charge by the hour, and those who offer their services for free or for a low fee for certain individuals. If you are meeting a financial advisor for one meeting, they may charge a flat, one-time fee of $150 and up, but most financial services are costly.

The Bottom Line

Savers and spenders can have successful lives together, as long as both individuals have agreed to a plan and a budget and can stick to it. If one plan does not work for the two of you, try another. If you can't afford a fee-based financial advisor, don't worry.

Free online tools and pro-bono financial planners can help you make a budget and economic roadmap for your partnership. Financial planning is meant to make life easier, and having one may mean fewer arguments about money.

Article Sources
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  1. National Association of Plan Advisors. "Why Consumers Use—and Don’t Use—Financial Advisors."

  2. FPA. "Covid-19 Pro Bono Financial Planning Program."

  3. Pillar Wealth Management. "Financial Advisor Fees and Costs Go Far Beyond What the Advisor Quotes You."

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