She's a saver, he's a spender
How spouses with different financial habits can work together toward a common goal.
By Walter Updegrave, Money magazine senior editor

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NEW YORK (Money magazine) - I'm 22, in the military and married with a toddler. My husband also works and earns about the same amount I do.

When it comes to finances, however, we're complete opposites. I'm a saver -- I have a substantial emergency savings fund and I contribute to a Roth IRA and a regular investing account -- while he's a spender.

We're doing okay financially, but I think we can do better. How do I broach the subject delicately without offending him and get him to start saving?

-- Anonymous, Texas

First, let me say that I think you're approaching this situation the right way by trying to be sensitive to your husband's feelings.

The last thing you want to do is "pull rank" on hubby, so to speak, and assume that because you've got the financial high ground of being the saver that you can dictate how your spouse ought to handle his end of the finances.

That sort of approach is usually a non-starter and more likely to lead to acrimony than cooperation.

On the other hand, you don't want to be too timid in suggesting that your husband change his free-spending ways.

Fact is, it's difficult, if not impossible, for a couple to achieve real financial security if they're working at cross purposes, which you and your husband seem to be doing.

So I think it's clear that you and your husband need to have a powwow. As far as the tone of this meeting, it should be serious, but non-confrontational. Make it clear that you're not accusing your husband of anything, but you feel that you can work together more efficiently to achieve a goal you both desire.

This is the type of conversation you want to have preferably at a place in your house where you can sit down together to go over some numbers.

Beyond the tone of the meeting and the setting, I think there are three things you need to do to make this a success:

Show him where the money's going

While you don't want to sound as if you're charging your husband with some financial crime, you do want to have some specific evidence of what you consider his overspending.

So gather bills, credit card receipts or even just make a list to substantiate the volume of spending that's attracted your concern.

One benefit to this approach is that your husband simply may not be aware of how much cash he's going through. It's not uncommon for big spenders to underestimate their spending.

Whatever the case, having specific figures should eliminate any discussion of whether or not there's an actual problem and allow the two of you to focus on finding a solution you both can live with.

(By the way, it wouldn't hurt here for you to come up with some examples of how you've engaged in some unnecessary spending -- come on, there's got to be something!).

Show him the benefit of reining in his spending

People don't spend money by accident.

They do it because they get something out of it. They enjoy the things they acquire or they get a thrill out of shopping or they just like spending the dough.

If you're going to ask him to forego the pleasure of spending, I think it's important that you offer some sort of carrot, some benefit, in its place.

One possibility is to simply show your husband how much money you might accumulate over, say, 10 years or so if he cut his spending by a certain amount -- $200 a month, for example.

Assuming an 8 percent return, saving $200 a month would mean having an extra $36,000 in 10 years.

Better yet, though, would be to show how spending less might help you achieve some specific goal.

You say you have a toddler. Maybe you could come up with an example of how some extra savings would help with financing your child's future education.

Or perhaps you could show your husband how spending less would allow you to trade up to a larger home, or replace your car without having to take out a big loan or retire more comfortably.

The key is to make saving not so much an abstract concept, but something that delivers a benefit that both you and your husband will enjoy, whether it's something tangible like a better home or intangible like feeling more financially secure.

Lay out a plan

It's important after going through the two exercises above that you and your husband agree on some concrete ways to change your financial situation. Otherwise, you may have accomplished nothing more than having a nice talk about your finances that leads to no action.

There are many ways to put a plan in place.

You could agree that both of you have to okay any spending above a certain limit. Or you could agree simply to curtain spending in certain areas.

Frankly, though, I think the better way to go is to set saving goals.

Agree to a monthly savings target that you will both contribute toward ($200, $500, $1,000 or however much you can afford) and be specific about how you will both fund your end: Your 401(k) at work, an IRA, a taxable savings account, whatever.

To the extent you and your husband can put this plan on automatic pilot -- say, payroll deductions or automatic transfers from your checking accounts to a savings account or mutual fund -- the easier it will be to meet these targets and the better the chances that your plan will succeed.

While you certainly want to cut spending and increase savings, you've got to be realistic. A savings plan that's too Draconian, that limits your husband's spending too severely, will likely fail, much the same as an unrealistically ambitious diet doesn't lead to lasting weight loss. So be sure your plan allows both of you to enjoy some treats or the occasional indulgence.

After all, the goal here is enjoy life while enhancing your financial security, not to become tightwads so obsessed with sticking to a budget that you can no longer take pleasure in day to day living.


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