Lauren Greutman’s couponing began as a practical way to trim her family’s household budget, but the Oswego, N.Y., mom’s mission to save quickly escalated to the point where she wouldn’t buy anything that wasn’t at a deep discount. “I went overboard,” she now admits.
Her husband, Mark, concurs—and says he frequently felt frustrated by her frugality. “There were many eye-roll moments,” he recalls not too fondly.
Perhaps you can empathize? When one spouse is more anxious than the other about spending, marital discord over money is pretty common. In fact, one study found that “tightwads” tend to marry “spendthrifts”—and those couples are 23% more likely to fight about money. “Everyday spending decisions can gnaw at them,” says study co-author Scott Rick, a professor of marketing at the University of Michigan. If your partner is economical to a fault, use these tips to pry open the wallet.
1. Find out what fuels the fire. Rather than passing judgment (again) on your spouse’s stinginess, discover what’s driving it. Break the ice with, “Honey, I’ve noticed that you are very conscious about our spending. Tell me what concerns you.” Is it a fear of going broke? Patterns learned as a kid? A countermeasure to your overspending? “The reason doesn’t necessarily justify the behavior, but if you can understand the fear or goal, you may be able to find a more agreeable way to address it,” says Brad Klontz, a psychologist in Lihue, Hawaii.
2. Look at the bigger picture. While you may never see eye-to-eye on spending, you’re likely to value similar financial goals, like retiring at 65 or going on vacation. From this common ground, analyze your finances to gain perspective on what’s rational (or not) when it comes to purchasing. “You can see where you have room for improvement or relaxation,” says Ed Coambs, a marriage counselor in Charlotte. Seeing where you stand may convince your spouse that spending $10 on lunch or $10,000 on a renovation isn’t apocalyptic—or may convince you that it is.
3. Request free rein day to day. Keep yourself from feeling hamstrung by your partner’s rules by asking him or her to allow you a splurge limit—say, $200 a month or 5% of each paycheck. That way you have limited license to spend as you wish, no questions asked.
4. Put a price on penny pinching. At the same time, help your frugal spouse do a cost-benefit analysis of his or her deal hunting. You might show how driving around to gas stations to save 3¢ a gallon actually wastes money. Or help your partner assess the hourly wage of cost cutting, as Lauren now does with couponing. “If I spend two hours a week and save $50,” she says, “then I feel it was worth my time.”
Farnoosh Torabi is a contributing editor at Money Magazine and the author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. Her new podcast So Money features intimate interviews with leading entrepreneurs, authors and influencers. Visit SoMoneyPodcast.com.