Help! My Partner Is A Spender!

My Partner is A Spender

It’s the typical human story: you grow up, interact with the opposite (or same) sex, have little crushes, and you decide to pursue the other person in a more romantic way. You date a few people, you feel that you have met The One, and you decide to get serious and settle down with The One.

You get to know the other person a bit more, you are chugging along with your life goals and then all of a sudden you discover financial independence through blogs, reading books, podcasts, and whatnot.

The Discovery

You want to get aboard the gravy train, you want to stop spending, you want to get out of the rat race. Yes, I’ll invest most of my spare income. Yes, I’ll work on paying down my debt. Yes I’ll do side hustles. Yes, I’ll save more money!

You even write down all your goals and what you plan to do! Everything is chugging along very well. Then you tell ;your significant other about your plan and their face or their reaction when you tell them is more like the one below:

Peter Sleeping
Peter Sleeping – Sydney (the bear) looks more interested

Oh, and as you discover more about your partner, you realize they’re spenders. They may like the latest gadgets, clothes, shoes, whatever physical item they may like. They may even like to spend on travel or other things you do not exactly agree on now that you found the path to FI.

Your partner/significant other/husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend, whatever, is not aboard your plan and does not want to stop spending? What do you do?

Help! My Partner is a Spender!

Surely you can’t just dump your partner, right? Well, you probably could, but then are you really up for it?

It could be a good divorce story (if you’re married): “I’m filing for a divorce citing irreconcilable differences because you just don’t want to retire early nor do you want to be financially independent. It’s not going to work, honey, you spend too much.”

Then again, most divorces do arise from money issues anyway, just not told as upfront as above.

If you’re single, well, the easiest answer will be to find a partner/girlfriend/boyfriend who has the same beliefs as you when it comes to Financial Independence, much like Erik from The Mastermind Within did: he posted a blog looking for the ideal girl and he attracted a lot of attention from it! He actually managed to nab himself another financial minded partner, Fiery Millennials.

Of course, not everyone could be that lucky (or could be single when they find Financial Independence). It could happen by chance too, you know. Two people could meet, both equally frugal (in their own ways), and work their way through their money goals. Think Frugalwoods, Go Curry Cracker, and myself and Peter.

To be perfectly honest, financial independence is better and so much easier if both people in the relationship have the same goals. There’s tax benefits, more money to be invested, more money to be saved and invested. After all, collective goals make it happen faster, right?

Grand Entrance at the Reception
Grand Entrance at the Reception

Our own financial love story (and what you could learn):

A little segway/back story that you may not already know: I met Peter as a new immigrant to the US and we started dating. When we got to know each other better, we got to know each other’s money habits such as:

Peter (as a single guy from 4 years ago):

  • Still had student loans from university
  • Loved to eat out at least once a week (maybe twice)
  • Lived in an apartment in downtown, around a 20 minute commute one way without traffic (40 minutes+ round-trip from work to the apartment)
  • Spent 1/3 of his salary on rent (mostly because he was earning next to nothing)
  • Would love to travel but just didn’t have a companion to do it.
  • Would buy stuff full-price just because if he needs something, he doesn’t do much research on where to get stuff on discounts.
  • Put all his money into his checking account (earning 0% interest!).
  • Frugal by nature and was contributing to 401K and paying off his student loans + a little bit extra per month
  • Discovered frugality blogs and introduced them to Ruby.

Peter at the current time:

  • Extremely frugal, and always says: “I only spend money on you (Ruby), food, gas, necessities, and the occasional eating out. Oh, and travel, but you handle most of the travel hacking anyway.”
  • Maxes out his 401K, Roth IRA, HSA, contributes to his Vanguard fund religiously.

Ruby (as a single girl from 4 years ago):

  • Loved to shop — but hated to pay for stuff at full price (will always buy at a discount)
  • Loved to travel — would not stay still, nor would she settle for staying at home on a weekend. It pained her to do it.
  • Bought toys, purses (cute ones), shoes, Disney Tsum Tsum lip balms, stuff from her childhood, blah blah blah. So many I forgot what it is I want and collect. It all depended on my mood at any given time (see point 1 above).
  • Frugal in many ways, just don’t mess with any of her collections (see point 3 above).
  • Refused to spend above a set budget amount in her mind.
  • Maxxed out her 401k, Roth IRA, HSA (now on PPO, but before, yes I was maxing my HSAs), invested in Vanguard, and had various bank accounts that gave her bonuses or high yielding interest.

Ruby at the current time:

  • Nothing much changed from the above except: I side hustle (clean AirBnB, handle affairs in the house, do laundry, cleaning around the house, freelance write, flipping stuff, and the like)

Obviously Ruby is the clear spender between the both of us:

Ruby in Disney Springs
Ruby in Disney Springs

This is such a big revelation!

OMG but Ruby, aren’t you supposed to be the more frugal one? After all, you’re the one who we mostly met in Camp, or in Fincon, and you’re the one who mostly writes on the blog!

The truth is, even if you’re the spender in the relationship, there’s always one in both of you who could be a spender in your relationship. After all, every single person has their own hobbies and passions that they are pursuing.

We are all individuals, and we can’t really control every single thing in our own little world/ecosystem that we move around in. There are names for that: control freaks, micro managers, and the like. Not everybody likes (or tolerates) control freaks or micro managers anyway. And you know what? It’s OK! As I mentioned, we’re all individuals who are all different.

Help! My Partner is a Spender!

Alright, coming from a spender (at least from our relationship), I’ll give some tips on how to keep your relationships intact, avoid fights, and make you more in tune with your partner/significant other/whatever.

Most of this is based on personal experience, and it may or may not help you in your own particular situation.

Talk Openly About Money

Money is such a taboo and people just try to avoid the topic altogether. However, in a relationship, don’t you have to be more open to each other and not keep any secrets?

That means being open about your money too.

Now, you don’t have to tell your partner how much you are earning (if you’re not married yet). If you’re married, that’s an entirely different thing where you’re legally entitled to half of your spouse’s assets (or liabilities) acquired during the marriage if you don’t have a pre-nup agreement.

Puts you in a particular spot, right? If you don’t know what the other person is doing with their money, huh? I know we mentioned that you should not care about how other people spend their money but if you’re married, then you do care about your spouse’s money. Oh, and your parents too, but that’s an entirely different story.

There are too many stories about people finding out about their spouse’s gambling, shopping, or other addictive habits until later on in their marriage to find out that they’re deeply in debt and they have to file for bankruptcy. That ends up eating your assets too.

By the way, divorce also eats up your assets as the legal proceedings are expensive.

So, do talk about money between the two of you. There’s no need to keep a secret, and there are so many resources out there on the interwebs to learn more about how to handle money as a couple, like Couple MoneyWe were actually interviewed on one episode here!

Keep Your Money Separate (paying jointly for essentials)

One thing we do differently than other married couples: we keep our money in separate bank accounts, with a few joint accounts that we use for business expenses and necessities.

When you’re not married, it’s easy to keep your separate accounts: after all, you just go on as usual. If you’re married, the social norm will be to keep your money together in one account. That does not go well for us (and for most people for that matter).

Scenario 1: Wife wants to buy a Kate Spade mobile phone case. Husband does not want to spend $50 for a phone case when you can buy a plain one for $10.

Scenario 2: Husband wants to buy a gaming console (and games, of course) which can range anywhere from $150-$500+ (and counting). Wife hates playing video games and does not think that this purchase is a good idea.

Scenario 3: Husband wants to invest in a highly speculative index fund or a fixer-upper real estate project in a not-so-desirable area of town. High risk, high rewards, right? Wife does not agree as she has a very conservative view when it comes to investing.

On the Road in Bohol, Philippines
On the Road in Bohol

The ‘Fun’ Money

When it comes to the scenarios above, does it not make sense to just keep separate accounts for fun and ‘play around’ with other money making methods? Sure, the money making methods could be one of the greatest investments ever, or it could also be a dud.

My point is, by keeping your accounts separate, you are free of guilt and obligation from each other. There’s not much need to justify one’s spending or investing methods to each other. You keep the marriage intact.

If you’re side hustling too and you’re the spender in the relationship, then that side hustle money goes directly in your bank account too. It doesn’t touch your spouse’s savings. Can pay for your spending then, right?

But what about the essentials?

The essentials are necessities: what you truly need to survive. Shelter, utilities, food? These all have to come from somewhere, right? This is when your joint account can come in.

Every month, myself and Peter reconcile our credit cards and decide which are essentials that we both have to pay half for, and which are non-essentials (like you know, my shopping or his movies, or his eating out with his team).

It adds an extra hour or two to our month, but reconciling does work. Think of it like running your own business — except you are in business with your own spouse and you are running your financials as partners.

Of course you can put in a little buffer here and there: we do not reconcile how much toilet paper we use, how much food we eat (because we all know one spouse or partner can eat more than the other), how much running water we use. That’s just stupid. We’re not going to go all Joy Luck Club on each other and say “Why did you buy this ice cream? I am paying half of it but I don’t eat ice cream!” Please.

You can have a little allowance or a maximum budget for each other, and you can even give way to your spouse’s additional spending habits.

Peter Eating Out
Peter Eating Out

Don’t Force Change

You should definitely not force change on your spouse or partner. That’s a big turn off and well, that’s also a big trigger point in fights. You can’t just change a person overnight, nor can you force someone to change.

Rather, you could be an example to your partner or your spouse in your new financial ways. You could show them how you are doing your own method of financial independence without cutting off things that they like doing.

Heck, they could wake up, decrease their spending (through earning more, or saving more by various means), and even get on board with your exact method of financial independence. You could even become more frugal than your spouse in the end, much like the guys from FI180!

Any other tips on what to do if your spouse or partner is a spender?

This post is already 2,100+ words long so I’ll leave you guys to comment more on tips. Maybe if we gather enough tips and anecdotes, we can even put it in another blog post!





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    1. Post
      Ruby Escalona

      Agree on the joint and individual goals. We’ll probably edit that in the future, but for now our fun money is very little – maybe $100 or so a month for any discretionary spending. If it is higher, I run it through Peter and he has veto rights 🙂

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