How To Live With A Spender When You Are A Saver
In a marriage, there is usually a saver and a spender. I confess that I am the spender in our marriage. However, my financial personality does not define who I am, nor does it mean that I am irresponsible with money (even if it did in the past). For most of my young adult life before I got married, and even into the first year of marriage, I was oblivious to how I spent my money. I just knew that when I got paid, it would all be gone before the next payday. In terms of financial personalities, I was the “ostrich” – someone who would rather bury their head in the sand than deal with their finances. Basically, I was in denial about how much I was spending (a lot), saving (none), and while I never racked up any consumer debt (miraculously), I had very little buffer room for financial emergencies. This is not actually that hard to believe given that 50% of Canadians are $200 away from not being able to pay their bills. When my husband and I were engaged, we took a pre-marital course through our church that highlighted potential sources of tension for us. Differences in how we were raised, and values about money were at the top of the list. We knew that a commitment to communicating through these issues were key. But I don’t think my husband knew the extent of my “ostrich” tendencies with handling money. To be honest, I didn’t either.
The first time we butt up against our differences about money was about 6 months into the marriage, when my husband sat me down to show me just how much I had spent on non-essentials of our money. I highlight our money because when we got married, all of our finances also got married into joint accounts. For me, it was like getting a triple pay day. Not only did we got to share expenses now (housing, utilities, food, etc.) but I also had access to a lot more money on payday – mine and my husband’s. This was not going to end well. Even though I was guilty of spending away all of our money, I was in serious denial. Whenever my husband brought up the issue of money, I literally shut down, wanting to avoid any talk of this “dirty stuff”. I was above talking about money. Or perhaps, it was a pride issue. I didn’t want to admit that I had a problem. So it was best to just make it a non-issue. Yeesh. I shudder at my behavior and selfishness back then. Through a lot of tough love and grace extended by my husband during the first year of marriage, eventually I pulled my head out of the sand. I started taking our finances more seriously, and knew that if I didn’t take control of my spending habits, this would turn into a much bigger problem.
First things first, we had a heart to heart about what we wanted our futures to look like. We wanted to start a family soon, but ideally be able to support ourselves through only one income so I would have the flexibility to stay at home with the kids. We also wanted to have room in our budget for regular travel. But most importantly, we wanted to be debt free. Like I said, we had no consumer debt, but we had about $15,000 in student loans left from my bachelors and masters degree, plus about $25,000 in student loans for my husbands degree. We had been making the minimum payments on my student loan, but hadn’t touched my husband’s student loans in Australia. That is when we got laser focused. Basically, instead of spending money on frivolous non-essentials every month, we put any extra money after paying living expenses towards my student loan. We paid that bad boy off within 5 months. Can you believe that if I had continued to make the minimum payments, I would have been paying for those loans for another 10 years? I shaved more than 9 years off of my payments, not to mention all the extra interest I would have accrued.
Next up was my husband’s student loans. At this point, we had a few other savings goals that we had to prioritize: saving up for our Australian wedding. While we had already been married for almost a year, we actually never had a formal wedding. A year earlier, after receiving the blessing for marriage from our parents, we got married on our friend’s balcony in English Bay, Vancouver with an officiant and two witnesses. Not even our parents attended that private ceremony. We just wanted to seal the deal, and plan the wedding after. We decided to do the wedding in Australia for about 30 guests (mostly family members). We needed to save $15,000 for the intimate ceremony, reception and flights. So in order to save for the wedding plus pay off my husband’s student loans as soon as possible, we knew that we had to do something drastic. While we weren’t homeowners in Canada at this point, my husband had a rental property in Australia. We decided it was time to sell. This was back in 2011, so the Australian real estate market was still somewhat suffering and feeling the effects of the global financial crisis from 2008. It took longer than expected to sell, but with some patience (and many prayers), the home sold with a month to spare before the wedding. Around this time, I was working for my local university in marketing, but I also decided to start a jewelry business as a side hustle to try and help meet our savings goals. With the combination of my business commissions and the net profit on the sale of the house, we were able to meet our goal of paying off my husband’s student goals plus cash flow our Australian wedding. We also had a celebration in Korea and Toronto with almost 100 guests, which, full disclosure, my parents helped pay for. The last celebration was a casual gathering with our Vancouver friends in a hall at the university I worked for. I got the employee discount and had some amazing coworkers bartend for us. All in all, a fiscally responsible event (a far cry from where I was a year earlier!)
If I am honest, that was a lot for me to share. I tend to be an open book on this blog, but some of the things I revealed about myself above are downright embarrassing. But I shared them in hopes of helping others. Like the title insists, there is a way to harmoniously live with a spender! But it does take hard work, mostly on part of the spender. However, a warning to the saving spouses that forcing change on your essentially financially sick partner may backfire. As serious as the situation is, the spender needs to want to change before being able to take the necessary steps. Tough love is also one tactic, but keep the word “love” in mind. Having my husband respectfully and lovingly bring light to our stressful situation was really what helped me to have a change of heart. It was also the collective goals we made together that drove me to do better with our money. When I was able to visualize the finish line of certain goals, and sense the freedom that came from achieving them, it was like a fire was lit under my butt. The feeling of having a new pair of shoes began to pale in comparison to the feeling of financial independence.
A part of my spending personality comes from the fact that I derive social value from spending. What that means is that I love being able to buy gifts for loved ones because I am addicted to the feeling of giving and the boost of self-esteem it gives people (including me). So when I was spending thousands every month on whatever I wanted, it is safe to say that half of my spending was on others. I bought clothing for my husband, gifts for nieces and nephews, and lunch for a friend just because. Because of this “social spending” I felt justified in my spending. I was being generous with others (and myself). But while there is nothing wrong with being generous, there is a problem with being addicted to the feeling of giving, especially when it hurts your bank account! While I am still a giver, and always will be, I now know that generosity comes in other forms. Baking cookies for a neighbor, offering to babysit a niece or nephew, or simply hosting a coffee with girlfriends are ways of being generous without compromising financial goals. However I also began to realize that the more responsible I am with my money now, the more financially generous I can be in the future. It also means that instead of working all the time, our family has more time to serve and volunteer in our community.
To be honest, I am still selfish when it comes to money, but in a more productive way. Instead of spending thousands each month on clothing and eating out, I “pay myself” first. Every paycheck that comes into our family account gets automatically divided into retirement and savings accounts before I can even get my hands on the money. Only after “paying ourselves” does the money get put towards our expenses (mortgage, utilities, groceries, gas, etc.) Finally, any money that is leftover is used for entertainment, gifts and family extras. I should mention that tithing is also one of the first things we do after getting paid, and something we have always done, even when money was tight. In fact, it is in those really tight times that God has showered us with blessings in the form of generosity from friends, family and even perfect strangers. When we became foster parents to a little girl with special needs, our community rallied around us providing meals, baby clothing/gear and a million diapers.
I still have my struggles, and the urge to spend more than I should does come over me at times, but I have learned coping strategies to curb those tendencies and avoid certain triggers, which I will share in a future post. I also keep my eyes on the prize – our future goals, which at the moment includes getting rid of our final debt (mortgage) as soon as possible, so my husband and our kids can spend part of every year on the beaches in his home country of Australia. In the meantime, I would love to know whether you are a spender or saver and what coping mechanisms you have if your partner is the opposite.