Married to Your Financial Opposite? Follow These 4 Rules

Money minutes, money dates—you name it, my spouse and I work hard to find ways to come together regularly to talk about our cash. We do it because we know it’s important, but also because we’re aware that we’re financial opposites: He likes to spend, I like to save.

That’s not to say that I don’t know how to open up my wallet. It’s more about approach: He’ll shell out regularly for little purchases (a $9 mustard, a $30 video game) whereas I’ll prioritize zero(ish)-spending for a stint, then splurge on pricier items like a fancy moisturizer or new coat.

Still, if you are financial opposites, how do you play to each other’s strengths, while also staying financially aligned? We asked Aja Evans, a money expert and financial therapist, for her advice.

Meet the Expert

Aja Evans is a licensed therapist who has worked in the mental health industry for more than a decade. Financial therapy is a pillar of her work—in particular, how we handle stress and anxiety as we navigate our relationship with our money.

1. First, You Have to Open Up About Your Financial Past

Evans maintains that, if you’re financial opposites, it’s worth sitting down with your spouse to dig in deep on the origin stories and emotions behind your individual approaches to spending and saving. “Money differences in a marriage aren’t always just about the numbers,” she says. “Finances bring up questions about how you were raised and that can get very emotional.” And the way you were taught to behave financially (say, always paying off a credit card bill, but going into debt for education) might strike you as “right” and your partner as “wrong”. But, per Evans, if you have someone always coming in and saying, “Hey, that’s wrong!” it can feel like a personal attack on you and your parents, which can spark defensiveness and anger.

2. Then Write Your Financial Autobiography

To help her clients align on their spending and saving habits, Evans suggests they each write down their earliest money memories. “For example, ‘My family will never be able to afford or buy a house,” or ‘The people who spend that much money on a car must be this rich.’” Jot them all down, then take time to reflect on the facts behind them and what those money beliefs are doing to you and your partnership. “The point is to question the reasons these core money narratives—now marital differences—became so ingrained in the first place.”

From there, you can assess if your historical beliefs still apply to your current situation and what you should hold onto and what you should let go. “It could be something as simple as, ‘Hey, when I was growing up, I saw my parents nickel and diming themselves through these tiny little purchases. That meant we weren’t able to go on vacation later on. As a result, I would rather save for the bigger ticket items that I’m actually excited about.’”

3. If Spending Habits Differ, Look to the Future and Align on Your Goals

In a marriage, we tend to review money in terms of the mistakes—the dollars spent or the splurges that went too far. (Guilty!) But if you’re on opposite sides of the spending habit coin, it can be helpful to meet regularly to get on the same page about your shared value categories and goals. “It’s paramount that you know your spending priorities as a couple,” Evans says. “You also need to be open with the other person about the individual non-negotiables that you want to spend your money on.”

For instance, maybe you’re aligned on forgoing your theater subscription and instead saving for a bathroom renovation, and that that bathroom renovation should cost between five and ten thousand dollars. But maybe you’re not aligned on your husband’s $200/month rock climbing gym membership. In that case, you need to figure out how to address his non-negotiable. “This could mean setting up personal accounts that are funded monthly for those individual (and happy-making) items that matter, but can feel reckless as you work within your budget,” Alternately, she suggests working within spending limits. “If you’re going to spend over $200 on a purchase, a conversation is required,” Evans says.

The top priority for financial opposites? Avoid passing judgment. “During your monthly money dates, try to lead with curiosity vs. blame,” she says. “The more you can understand each other, the more likely your money differences can balance each other out.”

4. Never Relinquish Control of Your Finances

Financial opposites often end up simply deferring to one person’s method. We’ll never be on the same page anyway, you think, I’ll just let them handle everything. That’s a big mistake, warns Evans. “No relationship should ever create a situation where one half of the partnership is saying, ‘Oh, I don’t know what the money is doing. I don’t know where our retirement stands.’” This doesn’t mean you have to look at your finances daily or even weekly—although it’s not a bad habit to start—but a monthly understanding of the state of your accounts and debts is important for both sides. After all, lack of knowledge can lead to conflict, but awareness can create room for middle ground. “The goal is to limit financial misunderstandings,” Evans says.

And as for my husband and me? Let’s just say the conversations about $9 mustards have become way more productive.

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...