If you think you butt heads often with your spouse or significant other when it comes to money matters, you're probably not imagining it. Science has confirmed what many people have already suspected: When it comes to viewpoints on spending and saving, opposites really do attract.
This New York Times article discusses the result of new research proving that the frugal and the free-spending tend to attract one another. Unfortunately, this difference in outlook can lead to marital friction (if you've ever been on either side of a tiff resulting from an ill-planned impulse purchase, you already know this).
Here's what the studies found: Spendthrifts and tightwads (yes, those were the actual terms used by the researchers) tend to gravitate toward partners on the opposite side of the spend-save spectrum. Psychologists speculate that people unconsciously seek out a yin to their yang, since other studies have shown that people have the intention of seeking like-minded mates, although they don't follow through.
Why do people do this? Well, over-spenders might like having a built-in check in the form of a partner who says, "Honey, do you really need a $500 espresso machine? You don't even drink coffee!" Cheapskates, for their part, might appreciate a partner who says, "You've worked hard all week. Why don't you go out with the boys/get a massage?"
All too often, though, the result of this discrepancy is marital strife. It's familiar sitcom fodder, whether the depiction is of a shoe-loving housewife or a husband with a penchant for pricey power tools. In real life, though, not seeing eye to eye on money is cited as a major cause of friction and even divorce among couples.
Divorce lawyers and psychologists consulted by the Times said a major pitfall is couples failing to talk over and hash out mutual money rules before tying the knot. The current poor economy also plays a role. Impulse buys that might be overlooked when there's a healthy cushion of cash in the bank might not be so welcome in a recession, and a lack of agreement about how much of a couple's joint income is actually disposable is likely to be exacerbated when someone suffers a pay cut or loses a job.
If you're partnered with a fiscal polar opposite, money matters might be trickier but are nowhere near hopeless.
Lay down rules with your mate that you can both agree, or at least compromise, on. Make sure both of you participate to avoid stirring up resentment ("I have to make all the budget decisions!" versus "I don't get any input!") And agree to revisit the status quo whenever your income or expenses change in a big way, such as a child going to college or one partner netting a big raise.
In theory, profligate spenders and habitual misers can bring out the best in each other. The more frugal partner can help their mate develop discipline and good budgeting habits, while the spender can coax the Scrooge into enjoying the fruits of his or her labor. In the end, that kind of complementary partnership can even make a union stronger.
To have and to hold, in cash and in charge...