Are you married to your financial opposite?

Spendthrifts and tightwads are attracted to each other, but money talks can get fierce in marriages where spouses don't have the same habits.

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By Catherine Clifford, staff writer

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NEW YORK ( -- Does your wife's closet look like a jewel box of shoes, while you wish your bank account could afford an actual box of jewels? Or maybe you're tired of your spouse snapping up the newest tech gadgets and instead want to spend the money on a vacation together.

You're not alone.

When it comes to money, fiery opposites attract, according to "Fatal (Fiscal) Attraction: Spendthrifts and Tightwads in Marriage," a study being authored by a team of professors from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University.

"We found that people tend to marry spouses with opposing emotional reactions toward spending," the report said.

People register how much something costs in terms of how much it pains them to dish out the cash, according to the report. As a result, spendthrifts gravitate toward tightwads to help them balance their financial tendencies and emotional reactions to money -- even if they do it on a subconscious level.

"Opposites attract for personality traits that people dislike in themselves," said Deborah A. Small, one of the three authors, who is an assistant professor of marketing at The Wharton School. "Critical to the definition of spendthrift and tightwad is that there is some self-recognition involved. You recognize that you are acting differently than you want to act and as a result you tend to be attracted to people who act in a different way than you."

So how did the authors determine that financial opposites attract? Online surveys that focused on consumers' feelings about spending money -- theirs and their spouses'. The respondents were then rated on a Tightwad-Spendthrift scale that ranked them based on their emotions toward money -- not necessarily how much they actually spend.

Spendthrifts, for example, are those who experience little pain or remorse when spending, while tightwads are all too conscious of what it costs them to part with a dollar. One person feels guilty for not saving more, while the other is wracked by not enjoying life.

"Tightwads and spendthrifts are generally unhappy with their emotional reactions toward spending, and complementary attraction may benefit both spouses if they help each other overcome their prepotent emotional reactions toward spending," according to the report.

Double-edged sword: Of course, the reality of being married to someone with different -- and thus, ideally, complementary -- attitudes toward money is not all joy and partnership. When you want to buy the new flat screen and your spouse wants that cash to go into the retirement fund, compromise can be hard.

"Complementary emotional reactions toward spending money among husbands and wives will be associated with greater conflict over finances, which will in turn be associated with diminished marital well-being," the report finds.

So while there are plenty of long-term benefits of marrying your financial opposite, the frequent bickering can certainly strain relations.

Get it out before the wedding bells ring: How many times have we all heard there are three topics that you just don't talk about: religion, politics or money. But waiting to find out about financial ghosts in the closet until after getting hitched doesn't make sense.

"Most of us were raised that talking about money was taboo, so we don't know how to communicate about it," said Joan Sharp, CFP at Life Strategies LLC in Newcastle, Del.

"But if you went into business with someone, wouldn't you draw up a business agreement on how you are going to pay each other or how you are going to unwind the business if one of you wants to buy the other out?" said she added. "Marriage is love, but it is a business."

You have a right to know how much your spouse-to-be makes, how much debt -- from credit cards to education loans -- your future life partner really has, and how much your partner likes to spend on Starbucks every week.

"Ideally, I would have this very unromantic conversation before you got married where you actually showed each other your credit scores and talked about any ongoing financial obligations," said Jill Gianola, Certified Financial Planner at Gianola Financial Planning in Columbus, Ohio.

Navigating the tension: The recession has pinched consumers, putting additional pressure on money talks. If you are having battles over financial decisions with your spouse, then professionals suggest you start the conversation about your bigger goals.

"One of the first things I do is pull them back from the day to day nitty-gritty to the bigger vision of where they are going as a couple," said Gianola.

Save the dollars and cents for another conversation. "Sit down and don't pull out money," added Sharp. "Have a conversation about what is important to each other. The first time that you sit down and talk, don't talk money."

In order to better understand the other spouse's feelings, Gianola recommends that if one person always pays the monthly bills, the other spouse ought to take over the checkbook for a while. Furthermore, a couple could set aside one day a month to go over their performance for the month in terms of meeting established goals. To top of page

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