Money & Career

Is your spouse too frugal?

By: Helen Racanelli

Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

Is your spouse too frugal?

By: Helen Racanelli
"My husband is so cheap…" is a refrain I often hear from a friend of mine. A stay-at-home mom, she relies on her hubby for spending money, and according to her, what he pays out is not enough. And even among the DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids) of my acquaintance, there are at least a few couples where one accuses the other of being pathologically frugal. These spouses aren't alone. A recent survey released by Credit Canada and Capital One Canada suggests 48 per cent of Canuck couples do not believe they have the same philosophy when it comes to managing money. So, how can you deal if your spouse is too frugal? For more insight, Canadian Living checked in with Calgary-based registered psychologist Lesley Lacny. (You can check out her website at

Why people are frugal
"Our spending tendencies result from a combination of influences including upbringing, education, and, personal experiences," Lacny says. "Spending habits, like any other habits, may be triggered by emotional responses leading to habitual behaviours or reactions," she explains.

When being too cheap is a problem
"Spending habits and views can become a problem if they are having a negative impact on your well-being or your relationships," Lacny says. "If your spending views or habits are on opposite ends of the spectrum, it may be important to find more of a balance. If a spender and a saver are in a relationship, this balance becomes crucial; they will need to blend two different ways of managing finances. Practicing moderation is nearly always of value as both partners can help to balance the other’s spending tendency. Unfortunately, instead of bringing balance to the other's approach, they tend to end up arguing and feeling threatened or pressured to change," she says.

Why merging different spending habits can be difficult
"Some of the difficulty around harmonizing a couple's spending habits stems from the fact that we aren't always operating from a place of rational or logical thinking. Our spending decisions are sometimes made in an instinctual or reactionary manner resulting from our past experiences," she explains. For example, someone who experienced poverty as a child may deny himself something they really want, even though they can afford it. "They may deny themselves this out of a deep-rooted and most often subconscious fear that poverty may strike, or out of guilt for purchasing something they want versus something they really need." She says these types of behaviours may result in denying our partners and ourselves some of the pleasures in life. "Some indulgences can actually be worth the cost – when keeping a realistic view of what is within our means financially," Lacny says.

Page 1 of 3 – Learn how to come to grips with your partner’s attitude towards money on Page 2

Frugality isn't gender specific
If you're convinced that men tend to be cheap, or women the penny-pinching sex, you're wrong. "In my experience, frugality does not appear to be gender specific; rather, our financial attitudes seem to be based on personal experiences and the principles we learned growing up," Lacny says. Although gender can affect some of the social lessons we learn, the complexity of how we internalize our experiences can lead to problematic spending attitudes in both sexes, she says.

Come to grips with your partner's attitude

Our financial attitudes make up part of who we are and can be difficult to change, Lacny says. "When we expect our partners to do things more 'our way' they may feel pressure, frustration, and even resentment, which can lead to disconnection in the relationship. It's more promising to balance our approaches through compromise and awareness and understanding of attitudes and behaviours."

Acknowledging the benefit in each partner's financial attitude can lead to a happy medium that leaves both people feeling satisfied, says Lacny.

If people hate talking about money, why do we so often hear "My spouse is so cheap?"

If we are not feeling heard or understood by our partner, we may seek this approval or understanding from others, Lacny explains. Subconsciously, we may catastrophize the situation in order to get the support and understanding we feel we may be lacking from our relationship, she adds. "When we are dissatisfied with our partner's behaviour it usually triggers an underlying worry or fear that goes beyond the issue at hand. For example, your partner's frugality may highlight your awareness of your tendency to overspend; this may trigger a fear that you are not in control of your behaviour, or perhaps a fear that your partner is trying to control you," Lacny says. She says this tends to result in "disaster thinking" which can lead to habitual ways of responding versus responding to the actual issue at hand. It is then easy to lose perspective and misinterpret your partner's intentions.

Page 2 of 3 Learn 8 tips on how to get along with a frugal spouse on Page 3

How to get along with a "frugal" spouse.
Lacny recommends these eight tips to happily merge spending styles.

1. Avoid criticism, blame or judgment
Blaming your partner or assuming that your way is the right way can lead to disconnection in the relationship. Look at how parts of each of your financial attitudes can lead to a balance between the two of you.

2. Offer understanding and empathy
Try to understand your partner's world and why they take a frugal approach. Recognize that your partner's behaviour is usually not deliberate but resulting from past experiences. Respect your differences and plan around them.

3. Communicate
Talk and listen. Look for common long-term goals and how you each plan to get there; accept that your ways of getting there may be different. Be proactive and talk about expectations, goals and plans of how to resolve future financial issues. Talk about how you feel and what your hope is versus telling your partner what they need to do differently. Come up with solutions that suit both of you, as opposed to solutions that meet the needs of one partner and leave the other feeling resentful or dissatisfied.

4. Stay calm
Timing is important. Trying to discuss issues when you are angry easily leads to a fight. Wait until you are both calm and make a commitment to discuss the issues then.

5. Compromise
Accept that your partner is not going to just adopt your way and take the "You're right, I'm wrong" attitude. Focus on working as team: As allies, not enemies.

6. Be honest and open
Secrecy can lead to mistrust, which contributes to disconnection in the relationship.

7. Stay informed
Both partners should be aware of the financial situation even if one partner is managing the finances. Awareness supports the development of different choices and behaviours.

8. Know when to get help
Communicating about finances can be challenging, as emotions are running high and defenses may be up. This can keep you from understanding what underlies each of your behaviours and reactions. Counseling support can be helpful to manage and regulate your reactions and emotions and to develop a better understanding of your partner's experience.

Remember, there is usually no quick fix to dealing with a too-frugal partner. Understanding yourself and your partner is a process that takes time, Lacny says.

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Money & Career

Is your spouse too frugal?