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‘Help! My Partner’s Frugal…But I’m Not!’

He is Mr. Saver, she is Miss Spender. She is a tightwad, he is a spendthrift. He hoards his dollars like the next Great Depression will hit any day, and she spends her dollars like there’s no tomorrow.

Do you know a couple like this? Are you part of a couple like this?

By now, you’ve probably heard the numerous research studies that show the number one reason for divorce in our society is conflict about money. Differences of opinion about money — and the fights that ensue — frequently drive couples to split up.

All of us develop a philosophy of finances — a lens through which we make decisions about frugality versus free spending. As psychotherapist Olivia Mellan pointed out, “When two people form an enduring relationship with each other, money is always a partner, too. Many individuals have a troubled relationship with money. Then, when they get into a couple relationship, money matters get explosive. Other people may have no problem with money individually; the trouble starts after they’re in a relationship.”

What should you do if your partner is frugal and you aren’t? Start by asking yourself these questions:

Does the real issue lie with YOU?

It could be that your partner’s frugality rankles you because it represents an uncomfortable contrast to your own extravagance. Being candid with yourself will not only offer you an opportunity for self-improvement (if needed), it may also increase the chances of defusing relationship tension before it arises.

Is your partner’s frugality and your lack thereof a DIFFERENCE or a PROBLEM?

Healthy relationships allow for a diversity of opinions and approaches to living. Within reason. Sometimes a line is crossed when mere differences become monumental difficulties.

How far apart are you on the spender/saver continuum?

Suppose there’s a frugality meter ranging between 1 to 10. If one partner is a 4 and the other a 6, they may find some minor irritations, but will probably learn to cope. The more distance on the scale, however, the more disagreements and frustrations couples will encounter.

Is it possible for each of you to move toward the middle?

Every enduring relationship involves areas of give and take. Can each of you negotiate and find middle ground? The best approach is to learn from each other. Perhaps your partner can become less of a cheapskate, and you can become more thrifty.

Does your partner’s frugality cross over to Scrooge territory?

The way a person uses money offers clues about his/her personality and beliefs. Someone who is excessively reluctant to part with their money may also find it difficult to give of his time, praise and encouragement, or reassurances when comfort is needed. You might decide you can tolerate your partner’s penny-pinching ways, but can you live with an emotional and romantic miser? Honest answers now could save you a lot of heartache in the years to come.

How do you envision your future together, money-wise?

Do you picture financial cooperation or probable conflict? Imagine sharing a joint checking account with someone who has tightwad tendencies. Does the thought cause you to cringe? Do you trust your partner’s willingness and ability to make mutual decisions?

As with all relationship qualities, compatibility in this area is the critical factor. Don’t underestimate the importance of finding a life partner whose perspectives on money are compatible with your own. Make sure of your common financial footing before moving forward.