Reader Suggestions On: How To Convince Your Husband Or Wife To Be Frugal
I recently put out the query “how do you convince your husband or wife to be frugal?” It’s a question Mr. Frugalwoods and I receive with regularity and it’s one that we’re woefully inept at answering having never done it ourselves. Since we came to the decision to pursue extreme frugality together, we haven’t had the first-hand experience of navigating the challenging waters of aligning divergent financial goals.
And so, I
shamelessly begged asked all of you fabulous Frugalwoods readers to share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions on how to get on the same page financially (or not) with one’s partner. Your answers ran the gamut and were thoughtful and heartfelt–I’m tremendously thankful to all of you for sharing your wisdom. I’ve compiled some of the responses we received below in the hopes that this post will serve as a resource for anyone who is struggling financially within a relationship.
What I learned in this process is that, as with most things in life, there’s no one right way to manage finances with your partner. I’m not advocating that everyone try to convince their partner of the benefits of frugality. Indeed, it’s just not going to work for all people in all relationships. So, I’m delighted to collate these wide-ranging comments from readers of all walks of life and all ranges of relationships–from many years married to divorced to figuring it out.
There were two main philosophies reflected in the responses to this question. Philosophy 1 says that it is in fact possible to convert a partner over to the frugal dark side. Philosophy 2 says that it’s not possible to wholesale convert someone to frugality, but that there are coping mechanisms one can employ to foster peace between differing financial approaches in a relationship.
Philosophy 1: You Can Convince A Partner To Be Frugal; Here’s How.
Recognize And Reward Incremental Changes
Quite a few people mentioned the importance of accepting a spouse’s gradual financial changes and demonstrating patience with a partner’s slow progress towards frugality.
I’m definitely the frugal saver and he is the spendy pants. Slowly but surely, he’s getting better. He used to go out for breakfast and lunch almost daily. Now he takes his breakfast every morning and his lunch 3-4 days a week. He recently agreed to cut the cord and go without cable, and he says he doesn’t miss it at all. Woo Hoo!
Leslie Smith echoed a similar situation with her husband:
I am married to a spender, although he is ever so slowly coming over to my side. That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t make money mistakes (purchasing a high ticket item without talking to me first, etc,), but our goals are slowly becoming more aligned. It helps to have common goals, short- and long-term, which makes saving money much more appealing.
Mustachian Post advised:
Give it time. You would like it to happen overnight but you can’t change someone else’s mindset. It has to happen by itself if you want it to be effective.
Jessica from Too Many Lattes used good old fashioned math to convince her husband of the value of saving more and spending less. She outlined for him how much more quickly they could meet their goals with a higher savings rate and he was sold! Math for the win.
Russ from Adventure Days Dog Treats chimed in on this as well (sidenote: Frugal Hound greatly approves of Russ and his handmade dog treats):
I think the default setting for most men is that emotions are something individual to each person but may not cause a reaction or effect on our side of the fence. But facts are facts, and math is math the world over.
Show, Don’t Tell
Russ from Adventure Days Dog Treats shared this wonderful story about how his wife helped him to slowly, over the years, reform his spendy ways and become a devout frugaler:
It was very important that my wife let me come to this on my own. Never one to henpeck or hassle, she would make salient points and wait for them to penetrate the thick bear skull of her hubby and eventually become lodged in the the massively active and intelligent cortex she knew was in there. Open ended questions abounded:
“How long will the credit card take to pay off?”
“What did that money go towards?”
“Are you sure you want a car payment?”
She never TOLD, but she always ASKED….
Trying to appeal emotionally to a super analytical and logical husband is never going to work. The converse is also true of course. Also, realize that you can’t force someone to change, and even if you could, it would not take. People must change of their own accord in their own time. Feeling like you made the change YOURSELF is quite possibly the critical part of the whole deal.
Understanding a partner’s preferred communication style is something Mr. FW and I had to figure out early on in our relationship. My husband is an extremely analytical, data-oriented decision maker whereas emotional arguments tend to appeal more to me. Finding common ground where both of our needs are met in a given decision-making process was a key step for us in advancing our relationship and our ability to jointly plan for our future.
Bev says that in her experience, which includes showing her husband they could pay cash for a car thanks to frugality, that:
I believe when you can show someone with concrete actions what having money in the bank can really do for you, it makes them think twice before spending or accumulating debt.
It was actions that spoke loudest for Kim From Philadelphia’s husband too:
…[my husband] began to routinely hand over money for our joint savings even before we married–he was shocked at how quickly we amassed money–and became excited when we reached various savings goals. Fast forward 15 years: he leaned that we could live a happy, experience-rich life while watching our spending. I think what won him over to the frugal side was the freedom that comes from not stressing about our finances.
Establish Shared Goals
I’ve long believed that having shared life goals in a partnership is one of the central elements to being aligned financially. When you’re in agreement about what you both want in the long term, the immediate process of saving and spending falls into line pretty easily. But, I always wondered if this theory holds up. According to your answers, sounds like it does for quite a few folks.
Our Next Life explained that in their marriage:
We think of frugality as the means, and our major life goal of early retirement as the ends. No point leading a discussion about being frugal with the means—it’s all about the end goal… Once you’re on the same page about the ends, the means fall into line much more easily.
Kate from Goodnight Debt outlined her steps for helping her frugal spouse-in-training:
1) Find a goal. Saving to save is boring. Saving for a purpose is awesome. I love being frugal because it allows me to stress less, travel more and take risks when I want to. He’s onboard with these.
2) Optimize when you can’t cut out. There are great ways to be frugal with all the options today. Store brands vs. name brands, discount cell carriers vs. the big 4. Shop around for insurance. Introduce them to the glory of the library. Many people can’t see that it all adds up in the end. They see it as only $5 or $2 or $10. Gain momentum on your own where their experience doesn’t change. Then when they say it’s only $10, you have proof to the contrary.
3) Accept and celebrate gradual change. It’s not going to change overnight. They may never be as frugal as you, but any step in the frugal direction is a win. With positive reinforcement, it will be a lot easier for change to happen.
Brian C. provided the perfect articulation of how he and his wife ramped up their frugality:
I had always wanted to “make” her more frugal, but I was also smart enough to realize the futility of this… Yet last year, something interesting happened. We both got highly motivated to spend less. We both started looking for areas of our spending to cut back on. She was as motivated as I was. We’ve already cut ~$1,000/mo from our spending without much sacrifice, and can probably find more to save.
Want to know what happened? We started developing some joint life goals. Money was a part of this discussion, but not the biggest part. We started figuring out when we’d like to retire, where we want to live, and what we want to be when we grow up (you know, after our 30’s). Then we did the math and figured out how we could reach those goals. Once we had a firm goal in mind of where we want to be and what we want to do, we both starting finding ways to save. Neither of us feels like we’re scrimping (well, my wife isn’t totally sold on the clothes line) and we feel much better about our spending habits overall.
Philosophy 2: You Cannot Convince A Partner to Accept Frugality.
Accept and Respect Your Contrasting Financial Habits
Julia from Golopomo explained that she and her husband have different recreation spending budgets, due to her husband having relatively expensive hobbies, but that it works for them to have this discrepancy in their spending. Principally, Julia notes that she and her husband have discussed this and both acknowledged this balance of resources.
I think part of the key is realizing that you may each have different things you think are worth splurging on. So while I know that a successful marriage is a partnership (no expert, I’ve been married exactly 1 week), it’s also a compromise and a commitment to respecting each person’s individual values and priorities.
I think there is often a difference in specific values rather than complete disagreement about finances and frugality that can cause discord, and the way to resolve it is the way to resolve most conflict in relationships: respect your partner and try to see where they’re coming from. For example, I knit and my boyfriend plays video games. Video games are not necessarily what I would spend money on, and he would not buy yarn or needles, but we both keep the spending reasonable and let each other be.
Claudia from Two Cup House encapsulated this approach quite succinctly:
We focus on where we align and work toward those shared goals. We stopped wasting our efforts trying to convince or change the other person–unhealthy and counterproductive. Radical acceptance!
You Can’t Change Someone Unless They Want to be Changed
Much as we might want to change our partners, that very idea runs contrary to the fact that each of us is a unique individual who may or may not be receptive to “being changed.”
The Frugal Paragon sagely noted:
The bottom line is that you cannot “get” someone to do something. Ever. You can’t. Stop trying. With a whole lot of listening, you may be able to get more on the same page. More listening than talking. Read the communication chapter in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.
Rachel shared that she and her ex-husband weren’t ever able to find common ground with regard to their finances, which ultimately led to their divorce:
After we got divorced, it came as such a MAJOR relief to be able to manage my money without all the constant negotiation and scrutiny… So, for all you couples out there, I would urge the more frugal one to be kind and patient with your less frugal partner. Communicate regularly, show respect, and acknowledge all efforts, big or small. Keep your eye on the forest; don’t fixate on minutiae. Finally, consider your own assumptions and projections as you navigate and discuss your financial issues – it can be so tempting to paint your partner into a caricature that stems from your own perception, without observing the growth and change that can occur so gradually in a person over time.
Yet again, we hear about the value of acknowledging a partner’s gradual change and how important it is to commend them for their efforts.
Leah from Penn states:
I think you don’t. Or, in a different perspective . . . be sure to talk about money prior to getting with your partner. Get on more or less the same page. If you can’t, maybe it’s not the right fit.
Kalie from Pretend To Be Poor leaves us with this salient advice:
Ultimately you can only control what is in your power, and your spouse doesn’t really fit in that category, though we like to think they do!
You Can Work Together to Both Change
If you and your partner are both receptive to making improvements and tweaks to your spending habits, it seems there’s a wonderful opportunity to collaboratively influence one another.
This is something we are working at every single month. And no matter how difficult it has been, we have kept working at it. We recently had some major breakthroughs:
1) Budgeting “personal” money for each of us, so budgeting doesn’t feel restrictive
2) Cutting eating out as a category – either the person who wants to go out takes it out of personal money (above), or if it is a special occasion, it will come out of entertainment.
3) Agreeing that groceries are a big problem, which means we continually experiment with them. We are finally getting our groceries below $400.
A couple of key things have helped our communication to get us to this point. Most importantly,we communicate about our budget and spending check-ups via email, so we can do it at our personal convenience rather than when we are tired and cranky after work. We used to fight every month at the budget meetings because they were held grudgingly.
I love the idea of communicating via email with one’s spouse! It works well in the office as it enables people to respond in the time and manner that’s most suitable for them, so it sounds like a great idea within a relationship too.
If You Don’t Agree, Keep Your Finances Separate
This might seem like the nuclear option, but many couples find that separate finances allow them to stay together and not endure daily battles over their money.
Tyler and his wife discovered that keeping independent accounts made for a happy marriage:
We have 2 separate accounts (both having access to the other) and we have the bills separated and each of us deal with our accounts and our bills. She loves it because she now spends way more on decorating the house and stuff like that that matter little to me. I like it because she is making sure she has cash for things now before buying whereas [previously] she was just putting it on credit that we “can pay off later.” I use my additional money to pay off debt and even invest so that eventually my bills can all be paid by passive income.
Liz at Economies of Kale shared that since her relationship is just a year old, they’ve found separate finances advantageous:
We live together, but we have completely separate finances (since the relationship is still so new). We split rent, food, household goods, electricity, internet and date nights down the middle (we use the Splitwise app for this, which is fantastic!), and are responsible for everything else for ourselves. I track my spending religiously, whereas he’s more casual about it, so I don’t know how that will go when we do eventually combine accounts.
Furry Reads notes:
My SO and I keep our finances separate, that way when we want something that the other does not approve of (i.e. him a computer worth $800, and me flying off to New York for a weekend or going shopping), we won’t have any fights about it because it is our money.
Kate from Cashville Skyline also finds value in separate finances:
Honestly, it’s not easy. My partner and I keep our money separate. We both work hard and don’t tell the other one how to save or spend. However, I’ve noticed that some of my frugality has rubbed off on him. And perhaps I’ve changed my perspective, too. I think that happens naturally when you’ve lived together for several years. Slowly, you learn to compromise about spending money.
Give Each Other Allowances
Nicoleandmaggie from Grumpy Rumblings shared that what works well in her marriage is an allowance for her husband, which he manages and allocates himself:
We did a lot of trying to figure out how to make him happy with his spending given our budget constraints (which is how we hit upon the adult allowance for him–he either spends everything or nothing, and allowance allows him to spend everything without feeling miserable). Because I love him and really do want to maximize his happiness.
Mr. SSC of Slowly Sipping Coffee also remarked that having allowances enabled he and Mrs. SSC to navigate their way out of debt successfully:
We implemented allowances to have spending money while paying down my debt and mine was almost always cashed out. It took a few years before I realized things don’t make you happy, they just make clutter. It’s still a struggle for me sometimes but I finally came around. Even with our FIRE-type plan, it took a good year of her talking about it before I realized we could do it and not live in a trailer park eating ramen all the time. Now I’m on board but I still have my moments. Thank goodness for allowances.
Don’t Start, or Continue, a Relationship with Someone of a Differing Financial Ethos
Lance from Healthy Wealthy Income explained that he wouldn’t enter into a relationship with someone on a different financial wavelength:
I couldn’t get past the dating phase with anyone who couldn’t manage their money. If it caused me heartburn before, I didn’t want to take it into the marriage hoping that it could be better. I’m not saying habits can’t change, but better to talk things out and have a good idea of money philosophy ahead of time.
Sarah Jane commented that, through her experience of breaking off an engagement with a financially mis-matched partner and instead marrying someone who shares her views, she learned:
I think one’s proclivity towards frugality might be like temperament in that it’s relatively “fixed,” except not at birth as much as in emerging adulthood… As time passes, I am only more convinced that the tendency towards volunteer simplicity and conservation is more inherent to temperament and early life experiences than anything else. So if you’re really struggling with someone… Stop. Find someone else.
Isabel notes that in her first marriage, she and her husband couldn’t ever get on the same page financially, which ultimately led to their divorce. With her current marriage, she and her husband discussed financial matters at the outset, are still happily married, and have created a “simple but rich life” together.
Compromise and Meet In the Middle
Revanche from A Gai Shan Life shares that initially, she and her husband were financial polar opposites but that they eventually found bliss in the middle:
There was a happy medium to be found. For us, that meant extending spending beyond my extraordinarily tightfisted limits to allow things like travel and eating out, but also set savings rates in stone so that we (he) never lowered our savings for any reason short of job loss or medical emergency. Getting there was not so happy, not for a while, but it was the subject of many long drives up and down the coast of California… I won’t ever say that it wasn’t a lot of work, but it also required a lot of patience and two people willing to compromise.
Sarah from The Frugal Millionaire agrees:
My advice would be to talk and figure out a compromise. If your wife insists on buying coffee and eating lunch out, why not see if you can come with a spending limit each week. Likewise, if your husband has an expensive hobby like shooting or golf, set a monthly spending limit. You can’t deprive your partner nor force them to not spend money, so my only advice would be to set limits that you’re both comfortable with!!
The resounding piece of advice running through almost every comment is that, above all else, communication is paramount. Without an established method of discussing finances with your partner, you’re unlikely to come to any sort of compromise or agreement. Mr. FW and I actually have a formula we sometimes employ for challenging or heated conversations, which I outlined in my Frugal Weirdo’s Anti-Valentine’s Day Manifesto (not that I feel strongly about that holiday or anything… ).
Although Mr. FW and I found that frugality serves to strengthen our relationship by enabling us to ignore the distractions of consumerism and instead focus on forging a genuine connection with each other, it’s not the answer for everyone.
What does appear crucial–for any spot along the frugality spectrum–is establishing shared life goals with your partner. Once you both want the same things out of life, the path to get there becomes quite clear. Set your priorities and your money will follow.
I think there are as many different approaches as there are relationships, and so I hope these divergent viewpoints will help anyone who is currently grappling with how to find a financial path forward with their partner.