Ira Cohen and his wife, Lisa, have been married for 34 years, and they are the first to admit that they are financial opposites: “She’s a ‘let’s live for the moment’ person, and I err on the side of caution,” says Ira, a mutual fund executive.
Having two different and, at times, opposing money management styles has created conflict for the Sugar Land, Texas, couple in the past. When the pair remodeled their kitchen several years ago, Lisa was insistent on a $1,500 warming drawer that Ira didn’t think was necessary. The couple bickered over it, then “I overrode him and bought it anyway,” says Lisa, a high school administrator. He wasn’t happy but finally succumbed. “If she is that passionate about this, am I really going to fight and scream over it?” he asks.
In a poll last year, MONEY found that 70% of couples argue about money, putting it ahead of conflicts over chores, sex, or snoring. In this year’s survey, we identified the No. 1 source of conflict: “spending too much on frivolous purchases.” A partner’s frugality is another major trigger, as the Cohens can attest.
“It’s easy to agree on the necessary expenses. The big thing is where you draw the line on the wants,” says Ira. “I tend not to try and debate the value of it with her, but be the voice of reason on timing and assessment of need.”
When Lisa wanted to redo the bathroom right after the kitchen, Ira pushed back; they ended up waiting five years. “I tell him what I want, and then I let him tell when the time is right,” says Lisa, who patiently advocated for 10 years before she got her husband to agree to spring for a trip to Europe. “I rarely override him,” she says, “but you have to push each other and be honest if it is important to you.”
The pair admit that even when the other’s ideas on spending frustrate them, they are grateful that they’re such opposites. “If you have two people who spend all the time, they’re going to be unhappy when an emergency comes. At the same time, there are lots of people with money in the bank who just let it sit there,” Ira says. “I like to be somewhere in between, and I think our different styles get us there.”