Expert Advice on Living with A Less Frugal Spouse
by Cheryl Maguire
Aug 29, 2022
“Did you use the coupon?”

I asked my husband this question when he returned from the store. I had a good idea about what his answer would be—some variation of no. Usually he says “I forgot.” But that hasn’t stopped me from trying for the past 20 years.

My husband doesn’t understand coupons or sales or reward programs. He is very intelligent so it’s not due to these things being too difficult to comprehend rather it’s not wanting to figure it out. He thinks that couponing is too time consuming and not worth the extra dollar that you may save. Sometimes he will use a coupon because he knows it makes me happy but for the most part it is not a priority of his.

Many couples also struggle with differences in how to spend or save money.  Two of the main reasons most people get divorced are related to communication issues or financial problems.

“Conflicts about money are one of the top three reasons couples seek therapy,” says Joyce Marter, licensed psychotherapist and author of The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life.

I consulted some experts for advice on how to maintain the peace when you and your spouse have different ideas about frugality.

Create a plan.

If saving money or a frugal lifestyle is important to you, you want to sit down and discuss your viewpoint with your spouse, rather than getting into spats over individual trips to the supermarket. Marter recommends creating a plan of how you want to divide responsibilities regarding saving money.

“Trying to force your partner to use coupons may lead to lasting resentments,” she says. “Consider having a discussion with your partner about you taking responsibility for most purchases, so you can maximize the benefits of coupons. Let your partner take the lead with other household tasks that maybe more within their areas of strength.” In other words, if you care the most about how you spend your money, you should take charge of the shopping and purchasing for the household. Your spouse might care more about home or car maintenance, schooling for the kids or family activities, and can take the lead on those projects.

Make saving easy for your spouse.

Couponing can be confusing since the rules can vary from store to store. If your spouse is not a regular coupon user then they will probably give up if it is too difficult.

“Provide your spouse with tools that make couponing easy like apps and browser extensions. A coupon plugin like Cently automatically adds coupons and even cash back whenever you’re buying anything online,” says Andrea Woroch, a family finance expert.

If your spouse isn’t on board with coupons Woroch recommends using alternative ways of saving. “Compare brand prices or even opting for generic or store brands for significant savings. Otherwise, download a few apps on their phone to help them save when shopping,” she says.

Express your feelings about money.

If you are upset that your spouse made an expensive purchase or refused to use a coupon it is important to let them know how you feel. “Be honest about your feelings and express them in a way that is emotionally intelligent, kind, respectful, honest and direct,” says Marter.

She recommends using “I” statements rather than “you” statements since this helps people to feel less defensive. For example, “I feel worried and upset that you spent that amount of money when we are trying to pay off our credit cards” instead of, “You are selfish and wasteful and don’t care about our debt.”

Mikela Hallmark, a counselor in Atlanta, GA agrees about the importance of expressing your feelings in a respectful way. “Often people use criticism or contempt, but these are relationship killers,” she says.

“Have more meaningful conversations to explore what this—using or not using a coupon—means to you. What does it represent? What is the story behind it?” says Hallmark.

Instead of making assumptions try asking questions. “Take a curious stance and try to remember that this is someone you love and want to understand more fully, says Tecia Giusta, a marriage and family therapist in Encinitas, CA.

“It can be helpful to talk about childhood experiences we have around money. Sometimes, the memory of a parent losing a job was scary and traumatic for the person. They may have told themselves, ‘I'm never going to be in this situation again,’” says Giusta.

Manage separate bank accounts.

If sharing a bank account is causing too many conflicts, it may make more sense to have two separate accounts.

“Some couples keep their money separate, some live like roommates and split the bills, and some pool everything together. There is no right or wrong way. It is important to have a plan you both agree on, says Marter.

Be willing to compromise about money.

Woroch accepts that her husband will never share her same level of frugality. “I realized over the years that that is okay. However, we have talked a lot about what matters to me and vice versa so that we understand that this whole financial compatibility thing requires compromise.”

She explains that her husband has learned to make compromises on being more frugal like shopping sales at the grocery store and recycling cans to deposit the money into their kids’ college fund. And she is willing to compromise about sometimes spending money.

Woroch suggests finding creative ways to help change their mindset. “My husband doesn’t like eating leftovers and would rather throw food away. So I figured out that if I come up with a fun way to remake our leftovers, he doesn’t mind it as much.”

Hallmark also stresses the importance of compromising. “Both spouse's needs should be considered. Some couples set a budget, some have a 'no pressure' spending account they get to use however they want every month. Some make large purchase decisions together. Figure out what works for you as a couple,” she says.

Schedule monthly meetings to discuss finances.

Marter recommends having monthly meetings to discuss finances. She also recommends being in a good mental space so that you can be calm and collaborative. “Don’t wait to discuss money when there is a problem,” she says.

During these meetings Woroch recommends creating shared financial goals. “Outline goals for 1 year, 5 years, etc. along with how much you want to save and what you’re saving for. When your spouse can visualize a financial goal, it’s easier to stick to the household budget and understand how personal spending decisions can impact your overall future,” she says.

Hallmark recommends thinking of you and your partner as a team. “When you approach it from a we perspective, start to consider how you might work together to reach your goals,” she says.

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