Don’t let financial clashes put stress on your relationship. We’ll help you get on the same page—and make smarter spending choices.

By Maryn Liles
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Husband and Wife Discussing Finances
Credit: Shutterstock

The fact that you've committed to being someone's life partner doesn't mean you share the same approach to money. Far from it: 73 percent of married couples consist of one saver and one spender, reveals a survey conducted by Bethany and Scott Palmer, married coauthors of The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Language. This combination can lead to frequent conflicts and flat-out financial dishonesty. Nearly one third of couples polled admitted to keeping secrets about their spending habits, according to a recent study by Harris Interactive. To stay together (and happy), it's critical to get on the same team.

1. Learn Your Partner's Money Personality

Is your partner the type who will invest in a pricey child backpack for the one time you'll ever go hiking? Or, by contrast, does he (or she) insist on squirreling away extra cash toward retirement even if it means skipping a new swingset for your kids? Understanding his underlying money values is an essential first step if you hope to reach a compromise, says Bethany Palmer.

2. Make a Money Date

Fewer than half of all partners discuss financial matters regularly, despite the fact that maintaining an open dialogue is the most effective way to avoid budget fights, notes Scott Palmer. Sit down with your other half once a month to update your money goals and discuss your needs and wants so that you can work toward achieving them together.

3. Share Control of Spending

Regardless of your work status, you and your partner each need some financial autonomy, says Jean Chatzky, founder of Money School, which offers virtual financial classes. Some couples set up a monthly allowance per person. Others put aside a percentage of their individual earnings to spend as they please, whether it's on a workout class or concert tickets. Come up with an arrangement you can both live with, and revisit it every few months.

4. Set an Approval Limit

Agree to discuss purchases that exceed a set dollar amount in advance, whether it's $50 or $500, suggests Brad Klontz, Psy.D., coauthor of Mind Over Money. This "checks and balances" approach ensures that your big buys are joint decisions—and avoids unhappy surprises when the bill comes.

5. Meet in the Middle

Whether you're a saver and your partner's a spender (or vice versa), you can each make minor adjustments in your money-management strategies to find common ground.

If You're a Spender...

Born shoppers need to cut down on impulse purchases by evaluating buying decisions more carefully. If you fit the description, try adopting these strategies to improve your money habits and build a healthy savings cushion.

  • Shop with a List Spenders need guidelines, so make a list before you go shopping—and stick to it. It's easy to pick up extra socks for the kids or treat yourself to an iced coffee at the mall, but these "harmless" little expenditures can add up in a hurry. It's important to be mindful of just how these in-the-moment spending choices will impact your family's bottom line, advises Barbara Nusbaum, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York City who specializes in working with couples on financial issues.
  • Never Say "Budget" The term is as appealing to a spender as the word diet is to an overeater, so call it a "spending plan" instead. "Focus on the fact that establishing one will help you afford the things you need and save for those you merely want," says Dr. Brad Klontz.
  • Avoid the Shopping Trifecta Don't buy things when you're angry, sad, or hungry. Rage makes you take bigger risks with your finances than you would when you're calm. The blahs can lead to a pricey impulse purchase you think will make you feel better (hello, new shoes!), says Jean Chatzky. And hunger gets your shopping motor going.

If You're a Saver...

You have clearly defined financial goals and track your monthly living expenses (such as food, rent, and child care) closely. Chances are you already have emergency, retirement, and college accounts in place. If not, make sure you do.

  • Automate Your Investments Take the busywork out of saving by deciding how much to sock away and where the money should go. Then set up automatic transfers. Knowing that you're regularly contributing to your savings will help you feel less guilty about spending on the things you and your family truly need, says Chatzky.
  • Allocate Funds for Fun Your instinct is to hoard cash, so use this mind-set to your advantage. Open an account that's earmarked for discretionary purchases, such as a weekend getaway. "This strategy dovetails with a saver's natural tendency to put away money," says Dr. Klontz.
  • Place a Value on Your Time Rather than constantly scanning coupon sites in search of the best deal, factor in how much money your free and family time are worth, recommends Dr. Nusbaum. You may find that scouring the Web for bargains on big-ticket items, such as airplane tickets or a big-kid bed, is worth the payoff, whereas the precious few moments during your toddler's nap might have been better spent chatting with a friend rather than trying to save a couple of bucks.