I know a couple who was in constant conflict over money. He was a manager in a large shipping company and earned a good salary, but it was never enough for his wife. She had savings accounts and investment accounts, as well as college accounts, set up for each of their four kids. They owed little debt and their mortgage was nearly paid off.
The husband felt like he was in chains—never able to freely spend money. When he wanted to buy something, a great commotion always ensued. She told him it should go into savings. When he did spend money, he did so fearing his wife’s inevitable reaction.
When they came to see me, she immediately began blaming him for being a compulsive Spender. She did not trust him to oversee the money, because she was convinced it would be squandered away. He blamed her for being obsessive about saving. She was too tight with their money and made their lives miserable; he could never have any fun and felt like he was in jail.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Cheryl, you need to save, that’s a fact. Nothing is going to change that. Every month, you need to see your savings increase. Norm, you need to have money every month that is your own to spend. An amount that is agreed upon and is guaranteed—and you are accountable to no one about it.”
I asked them if such a structure were set up to give both of them what they needed, would they give it a try?
They agreed—and it worked. They laugh about it now. Rather than existing in a constant state of irritation or resentment, or avoiding each other for fear of confrontation, he is now learning to say, “Oh, that’s what she needs in order to feel safe. She has to save.” And she realizes, “That’s what he needs to do in order to feel a sense of autonomy and enjoyment. He needs to spend.”
They now operate under an agreed-upon plan that specifies how much savings will be set aside each month and how much he gets to spend on his own. He gets his own bank account for this use. In fact, the amount he gets to spend each month increases as certain savings thresholds are met.
If you are in a relationship and the financial situation is frustrating, it’s not the other person’s fault. It’s not the Spenders’ fault that they need to spend. You have your way of looking at money, and they have their way. What couples need is an agreed-upon plan and structure to accommodate both partners’ automatic behaviors, their own idiosyncrasies. And you need to accept the fact that you cannot change each other.
One time, a man asked me, “How do I make my wife responsible? She spends too much. I am worried about it. How can I get her to see what it does to our finances?”
I told him he couldn’t make her do anything. I told him to quit trying to change her because it wasn’t going to work.
He came back vehemently. He was livid. “She has to change! She has to grow up. How can you call yourself an expert in financial planning and condone such irresponsibility? She must change.” I run into this all the time. Marital problems occur around money when we try to change the other person instead of setting up a structure that will meet the needs of both partners. This man’s wife is obviously a Spender and she needs a structure to allow her to spend while not putting them in the poorhouse. But this fact is not what he wanted to hear.
The first step is to determine and recognize what type of money person you are.