In money, as in love, opposites attract.
More than 65 percent of Americans marry someone who is their “financial opposite.” He likes to spend; she likes to save. She likes taking risks with investments; he’s risk-averse. She knows how much is in the joint checking account down to the penny; he has no idea.
When money flows freely, those differences can easily be ignored. But when one partner suffers a pay cut or a job loss, spenders and savers clash.
One of the best ways to prevent conflicts over money is to talk about money. Experts agree, however, that that’s easier said than done.
Most couples “don’t know how to communicate about money,” said Walter Bera, a psychologist at Kenwood Therapy Center in Minneapolis, which specializes in financial and personal counseling. “Couples aren’t sharing their stories.”
The reasons vary, but Darryl Dahlheimer, program director for LSS Financial Counseling Service with offices in Minnesota, said one or the other partner fears the relationship could be threatened if they divulged their spending patterns or credit card debt.
St. Paul, Minn., financial adviser Ruth Hayden recommends that couples talk early and often about their money beliefs as well as their saving and spending habits. In her book, “For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples,” Hayden includes questions that help couples explore their childhood experiences with money and prompts readers to examine how those experiences have formed their behavior as adults.
Sarah Danielson, 22, said that growing up in a family where money was tight has made her fastidious about paying bills on time. That’s why the student and part-time nanny often pays the rent months in advance, contributes to a common grocery fund with her boyfriend and uses unspent grocery money to pay for entertainment.
She and boyfriend Josh Altenburg, 24, talk about money a lot — or at least more than their friends do.
“When we go out for dinner with a group, our friends are asking each other ‘Can you get it this time?’ when the check comes, but we always make that decision before we head out,” she said.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have financial challenges.
Altenburg, a house painter, incurred credit card debt when he was temporarily unemployed.
“We fight about this and that, but she never throws the debt in my face,” said Altenburg.
And the Roseville, Minn., couple managed to avoid the No. 1 killer in financial relationships: the unpleasant surprise. Altenburg talked about his debt early in their relationship.
Talking won’t erase money problems, but it can help a couple weather them, said Bethany Palmer, co-author of “First Comes Love, Then Comes Money.”
“Even if it’s just to check in for 15 minutes and say, ‘Here’s where we are at with our expenses this month.’ ”