Money and Marriage: How Couples Can Be Too Frugal

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Money and Marriage: How Couples Can Be Too Frugal
Image Credit: Ashley MacKinnon / Flickr
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Can you ever be too frugal? Is there such a thing as saving too much of your money?

If you’re future-oriented and obsessed with turning your financial goals into realities — and constantly delay all gratification in the name of financial progress — you could be guilty of both these things. And if your spouse has the same tendency, it may be even more difficult to balance enjoying life today with saving for tomorrow because there’s no one to check that future-focused mindset.

What Your Perception of Time Has to Do with Your Financial Success

According to this “time personality” quiz from Magnify Money, your financial health largely depends on your attitude toward the past, present, and future. According to the site, ‘your financial health is the result of countless decisions you make over time…and the way you make decisions is largely determined by your approach to time.’

Do you live for the now? You probably spend like it. Addicted to building a better future? You probably invest, buy insurance, set goals. Are you stuck in the past? That may keep you from investing.

When I took this quiz, I was unsurprised to find that my results said I risked worrying so much about the future that I could miss out on opportunities today. “Even your mom probably tells you to live a little,” the quiz chided. (It was right; she has told me that.)

Financially speaking, this means I prefer to save rather than spend. I have a tendency to sit out on some experiences because of the cost, and I can get caught up in the numbers.

Most of the time this isn’t bad. I feel very financially stable, and I love making progress on my big financial goals. But I understand that my one-track mind for saving money, living frugally, and working to get closer to financial independence can mean not seeing current opportunities… that may not come back around again in the future.

You can be too frugal if your dedication to saving more and putting money away for the future starts interfering with your ability to enjoy life today. Frugality shouldn’t mean sacrificing your happiness now for some obscure point in the distance.

It’s all about finding — and keeping — a good balance.

ARTICLE: Clark’s advice on money management for couples

The Problem with Marrying Someone with the Same Money Mindset

I’m not the only person out there who can be a little too frugal sometimes. I’m not the only person who has crossed the line from frugal over to cheap, either!

In fact, I married someone who shares my frugal tendencies and money mindset. My spouse is even tighter with money than I am, and rarely wants to buy anything. Considering that the top predictor of divorce is disagreements and arguments over money, I’m happy that we’re on the same financial page. We’re both big savers, we love learning about money, and we love finding new ways to live on less.

We’ve been so in sync over financial matters that I’m at a loss when people ask me, “What advice do you have for other young couples who need to compromise on money issues and goals?”

I don’t know what to say, because my spouse and I rarely argue about finances. Unless, of course, it’s over whether or not we should be saving even more. We don’t squabble over spending, but if our 40% savings rate is good enough. Or we seem to negatively influence each other, each (inadvertently) pushing the other toward increased frugality.

Don’t get me wrong: Achieving financial goals and learning to live well on less as a married couple is fantastic. I believe in consuming less and focusing on experiences and relationships as the key to a happy life (instead of buying more and more stuff). But I can admit that my spouse and I have both put work before family more than once.

We’ve prioritized our ability to save and invest over chasing dreams. We’ve made some of our biggest life decisions — like purchasing our home — based only on financial considerations. In the case of the house, it wasn’t a great fit for us. But it was a good investment, so we made it.

We don’t act too impulsively, and we’ve always played it pretty safe. Although our dream is to travel, we decided to work hard now in order to save as much money as possible today and hope that we’ll still have the opportunity and ability to travel when we’ve reached financial independence sometime in the future.

In other words, we’re both highly motivated by our future goals. We delay gratification to the extreme and focus so hard on what we’re striving for that we sometimes completely forget to stop and smell the flowers along the way.

The problem with marrying someone with the same money mindset? It becomes hard to strike a balance between your natural tendencies and emotional behavior around money with what’s best both for your present and your future.

For us, neither one of us speaks up when we get obsessive about saving and investing. Neither one of us can say, “You know what? Our behavior is extreme to the point where it’s unreasonable. We can afford to spend a little bit on fun stuff this month, so let’s plan on a weekend trip instead of working overtime — again — to try and make more money.”

That’s what it means to be too frugal — and we’re guilty of it pretty often. If you’ve fettered yourself with blinders and fail to take in the good stuff today because you’re only living for tomorrow, it’s time to take a step back and seek more balance.

ARTICLE: 3 ways to budget as a couple so you don’t kill each other

How Like-Minded Couples Can Find Balance with Their Finances

This kind of extreme behavior can happen within your relationship no matter what kind of mindset you have. If you’re a spender married to a spender, neither one of you may speak up and say, “Wow, we’ve spent almost every cent we made this month! We need to re-evaluate our budget and automate our savings, so we’re paying ourselves first.”

If you’re a saver who paired off with another saver, like me and my spouse, you might find that there’s no one to “give permission” to have a little fun today after you put some money away for your future.

Couples who come into a marriage with opposite financial philosophies can find themselves in disagreements and arguments. If you have the same beliefs about money as your spouse, you aren’t likely to spat about dollars and cents. But being so in sync can mean engaging in some extreme financial behaviors that aren’t balanced or challenged by a dissenting voice.

That’s the challenge for like-minded couples: finding your financial balance. If you’re a too-frugal couple, you need to find a way to take care of your future goals without completely missing out on fun and opportunities today. Here’s how my spouse and I started to manage this after realizing we were both too frugal for our own good:
 

  • Budget for that fun stuff. Adding a small line item for spending money that you might otherwise deem “unnecessary” and therefore better to save can build in that “permission” you need to loosen up the purse strings from time to time.
  • Understand your values, and align your spending with them. Get frugal with all the expenses you don’t care too much about so you have room to splurge a bit in areas that are important to you. You can prioritize more than just saving!
  • Focus on experiences and relationships, not things, when spending money. If you avoid spending because you’re afraid you’ll regret parting with that money, reduce the chance of buyers remorse by avoiding stuff. Don’t avoid spending entirely. Just use it for experiences, which bring real and lasting happiness.

When it comes to money and marriage, balance is key. And talking about your financial tendencies is the perfect place to start.

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