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Making Us Work

Marjorie Kondrack

OPPOSITES MAY ATTRACT—but that doesn’t always make for a happy financial relationship. For instance, tightwads and spendthrifts often marry, each hoping the other will change his or her ways or perhaps provide needed balance.

But that, of course, can lead to conflict—and couples may struggle to negotiate their differences. They wind up having the same argument over and over, and nothing’s accomplished until they listen to each other and try to find common ground. Consider four common money personalities:

Avoiders are people whose eyes glaze over whenever the subject of money comes up. They’re satisfied if they know there’s enough money coming in to pay the bills. They don’t want to talk about money, and they have no interest in money management or investments.

Spendthrifts tend to spend impulsively on themselves, while also being generous with others. This category includes big-shot spenders, those who like to dish out dollars for show. They like to be seen and recognized as important.

Tightwads are frugal to a fault. They keep meticulous records of every purchase they make. Separating them from their money can actually cause them pain. Extreme tightwads can be skinflints—those for whom saving money is their life’s primary goal.

Accumulators like to save money, are careful with expenditures and never carry credit card balances. They’re forward thinkers, investing for specific goals and focusing heavily on financial security.

Do you recognize yourself or your partner in any of these four categories? You may have elements of each category but in different degrees.

My husband is a classic “avoider” when it comes to talking about and managing money, while I’m very proactive. I keep my husband informed of our financial situation on a quarterly basis, and have him review any changes to our plan. I also prepare a personal financial statement on an annual basis, so he’s aware of what we have—though I sometimes have to cajole him into taking off the horse blinders and looking at the statement I’ve prepared.

If you and your partner have a money personality mismatch, it’s important to find a system that allows you to accommodate your different viewpoints. You don’t have to accept what’s commonly called “financial infidelity,” such as being secretive about money or having secret credit cards. Such behavior is almost always found out, and that could mean the end of the marriage.

Sometimes, I’m all too aware of the imbalance between how my husband and I approach money. I’m assiduous about my recordkeeping and not much gets by me. But occasionally I slip up and sometimes I get a little overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, my husband brings a lot to our marriage, so I try to keep that in mind whenever I feel the burden of managing our household finances. He has never once balked at anything I’ve wanted to buy. His fine character more than compensates for our opposite money viewpoints. I accept his money personality and he accepts mine.

Many young couples start out laden with debt. They spend too much on the wedding, and they often come to the relationship with student loans and credit card debt. It’s hard for them to get ahead, especially when different money viewpoints are in play. But interestingly, after decades of marriage, spouses often grow more alike. The spendthrifts married to tightwads manage to find some middle ground, learning from each other over the years.

One reason so many couples struggle to talk openly about money is that they’re lacking in financial literacy. For help in creating a plan to pay down debt, or for guidance in reaching their goals, couples might go to a financial planner—which is fine if they’re in harmony. But first, it’s important to stop criticizing each other’s money perspectives and come to some agreement.

Financial compatibility can make things easier in a relationship. But it isn’t an essential element. Instead, what’s important is how we manage our differences.

Marjorie Kondrack loves music, dancing and the arts, and is a former amateur ice dancer accredited by the United States Figure Skating Association. In retirement, she worked for eight years as a tax preparer for the IRS’s VITA and TCE programs. Check out Marjorie’s earlier articles.

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