How Couples Can Adopt The Same Financial Goals And Win

In 2024, I am transitioning from a spender to a saver mindset. I am returning to frugal habits reminiscent of my lifestyle in the first thirteen years after college. This change is prompted by the need to rebuild liquidity.

One area I'm targeting to cut expenses is food. After a three-month experiment involving increased spending on meals, I grew tired of the excess. Now, I'm swinging the other way—planning to eat less for weight loss, opting for leftovers, and cooking more to save money.

The first day of the new year marked a positive start toward achieving my 2024 goals. I rose early to edit and publish a post, followed by a 1.5-hour pickleball session—a commitment tied to my New Year's resolutions.

However, upon returning home at 11:35 am, my optimism took a hit when I discovered an Uber Eats delivery driver blocking my driveway. Perplexed, I inquired about the address he was searching for, only to realize it was mine.

To my chagrin, my wife had ordered $48 worth of udon noodles for the kids, while I had mentally prepared to make cost-free grilled cheese sandwiches. Yum! Unbeknownst to me, they had already eaten grilled cheese for breakfast.

Can Be Hard To Get On The Same Financial Page As a Couple

Typically, I'm okay with spending money on food delivery to save time. My wife was being productive, editing the final chapters of my new book. However, with my resolution to save money in the new year, I felt disappointed on the very first day.

Here's the thing: at 12:35 pm, we were heading to a friend's New Year's party, which I attended with our son last year. They host a great party with a ton of food and beverages! So, stuffing ourselves beforehand and spending $48 on lunch felt like a double kick in the nuts.

We only argued for a minute and then moved on. But it got me thinking about how difficult it can be for couples to get on the same financial page, especially when there is a desired shift in spending habits.

At the end of the day, I failed to do the following:

  • Clearly communicate that I want to spend less money on food this year.
  • Inform my wife there is plenty of food for both adults and children to eat at the New Year's lunch party.
  • Prepare food for my kids before leaving to play pickleball for an hour.

How To Adopt The Same Financial Goals With Your Partner

The cause of many arguments between couples often stems from unspoken expectations. I had published my 2024 goals post and anticipated we would save money on lunch by attending a friend's lunch party. The problem is, I didn't share my expectations with my wife.

To me, I just assumed this was a logical conclusion. To her, she did not know what to expect from the party and was busy working. She was also ordering extra to take care of dinner for all of us and continuing a Japanese tradition of eating noodles on New Year's Day for long life.

In her mind, logically, it was better to feed our children before the lunch party to avoid hangry meltdowns and keep them happy. For reference, our kids usually eat lunch at 11:30 am, so having them wait to eat until 1 pm would be a recipe for potential meltdowns.

Getting on the same financial page with your partner is crucial for a harmonious relationship and can significantly minimize arguments. Here are 10 strategies to achieve financial alignment.

1) Open Communication

  • Foster open and honest communication about money matters. Establish a safe space for discussions, ensuring both partners feel heard and understood.
  • Regularly check in on your financial goals and discuss any changes in income, expenses, or priorities.

2) Set Shared Goals

  • Define short-term and long-term financial goals together. This could include saving for a home, planning for children's education, or preparing for retirement.
  • Ensure that your goals align with both partners' values and aspirations.

3) Budget Together

  • Create a joint budget that reflects your shared financial priorities. Be transparent about your individual spending habits and work together to find a balance.
  • Regularly review and adjust the budget as circumstances change.

4) Understand Each Other's Money Mindset

  • Recognize that individuals often have different attitudes and beliefs about money. Understand your partner's money mindset, considering factors like upbringing and past experiences. There's a big difference between having a scarcity mindset and an abundance mindset.
  • Be patient and empathetic, working towards finding common ground.

5) Designate Financial Roles

  • Clearly define each partner's responsibilities regarding finances. This could involve one person handling bill payments, while the other manages investments, for example.
  • Regularly discuss and assess whether these roles need adjustments.

6) Emergency Fund and Insurance

  • Prioritize building an emergency fund worth at least six months of living expenses to create a buffer for unexpected expenses.
  • Secure appropriate insurance coverage as well. The amount of mental relief my wife and I experienced after getting two matching 20-year term life insurance policies with PoilcyGenius recently was huge. The mental relief alone is worth the cost of the premiums.

7) Financial Dates

  • Schedule regular “financial dates” to discuss money matters. Make it an enjoyable activity by combining it with a meal or a walk, creating a positive association with financial discussions.

8) Compromise

  • Recognize that compromise is key. You may not always agree on every financial decision, but finding middle ground ensures that both partners are comfortable with the choices being made.

9) Financial Education

  • Invest time in financial education together. Attend workshops, read books like Buy This Not That, listen to podcasts that talk about couple's issues, or take courses that enhance your understanding of personal finance.
  • Learning together will strengthen your financial literacy and provide a shared foundation for decision-making.

10) Seek Professional Guidance

  • If needed, consult a financial advisor or marriage counselor. A neutral third party can provide guidance, especially during major financial decisions or if there are persistent disagreements.

Going From Spender To Saver Can Be Hard

After years of relatively free spending, transitioning from a spender's mindset to a frugal one can be challenging. As the manager of our family's finances, I feel the pressure to ensure our financial security, and the more we have, the safer I feel.

I'm willing to make extreme sacrifices like consuming only ramen noodles and water daily if it means replenishing our bank account. I'm also willing to work 60-80 hours a week for as long as necessary to achieve financial freedom sooner. I know this because it's the approach I took to retire at 34 in 2012!

However, I recognize that my perspective might be considered extreme. My fear of poverty stems from growing up in developing countries surrounded by it. Consequently, embracing frugality makes me feel more secure.

Fasting all morning to enjoy free food at a friend's lunch party brings me joy. Wearing the same clothes since 2002 feels like a badge of honor. I even wear my socks until they have not one, but two holes in them!

Some might say I have a frugality disease. Despite efforts to be less frugal since leaving my day job in 2012, the reality is that losing a stable income source doesn't make spending money any easier. And neither does having children.

If I'm not careful, my frugality may lead to lifestyle deflation and unnecessary conflicts with my wife. At the same time, if we spend excessively, financial stress will grow. For the well-being of our family, we must come to a compromise.

Best Strategy To Become More Frugal

If you feel like you've been spending too much and want to adopt a more frugal lifestyle, one effective approach is to consider the suffering of others.

Certainly, creating a budget, cutting up your credit cards, and avoiding unnecessary purchases are valuable steps. However, the most impactful way to shift from being a spender to a saver is to acknowledge the extent of poverty in the world.

Approximately 828 million people, or 10% of the global population, go to bed hungry every night. When you become aware of this and witness the faces of those who are starving, you are more likely to avoid overeating and gaining unnecessary weight. How can you indulge in another slice of key lime pie when there's a child out there who has only had one bowl of rice and pickles to eat all day?

Around 650 million people live in poverty. Experiencing or witnessing poverty is likely to make you less extravagant and more mindful of your spending habits. Consider watching videos online or taking a trip to a less affluent country. I assure you that such experiences will make you more conscientious about your spending.

World hunger

Related: How to spend lots of money and not give a damn

The Need To Communicate Better

My wife is not a big spender by any means. She purchased her wedding dress at Target for $80 in 2008, and to this day, her favorite store remains Target, where we go maybe once a quarter. She doesn't own fancy shoes or designer clothes. Most recently, she was perfectly content with us continuing to live in our old house until I convinced her otherwise due to my real estate FOMO.

Improving our communication about financial expectations is essential. I can't assume she knows what I want, and likewise, she can't assume what I want. Continuous assumptions will only lead to ongoing arguments.

Therefore, I'm adding another goal for 2024: to communicate better. Despite writing and podcasting for many years, I realize I'm not the communicator I aspire to be. I need to be more explicit when explaining things to my wife to minimize miscommunication.

At the end of the day, spending $48 on lunch before a lunch party isn't going to break us. Ordering turned out to be a good move because the food at the party was too spicy for the kids. Here's to better dialogue!

Questions And Suggestions

Readers, have you found it difficult to get on the same financial page with your significant other? How do you find solutions to adopt similar financial goals? Have you ever gone from being a free spender to suddenly an ultra-frugal person? If so, how long did you keep it up and what were you strategies?

Listen and subscribe to The Financial Samurai podcast on Apple or Spotify. I plan to speak to my wife about many financial topics going forward.

For more nuanced personal finance content, join 60,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009. 

23 thoughts on “How Couples Can Adopt The Same Financial Goals And Win”

  1. Sam,

    Really enjoy the content you provide weekly, thank you!

    On a recent podcast, you discussed the benefit of your wife returning to work in order for her to be able to provide for herself and your children should something happen to you.

    My wife and I currently both work full time jobs. I know that I have enough life insurance that she can replace my income through the rest of her working years so she and our children are not impacted financially should something happen to me.

    We are looking over the budget right now to see if we can make it work for her to stay home – our medical expenses and situation differ drastically from most families.

    Given your wife’s comments about not wanting to return to work, I’m wondering why you feel this is what is best if the same goal can be accomplished by affordable term insurance? I realize you may not be insurable, if so, this is likely coming across as rather cold – if that’s the case I apologize.

    I’m sure this sounds critical, and I don’t know your family situation, from the outside, appears she will be happier at home and you don’t have to deal with a competing working schedule, asking for time off, office policies/frustration, etc.


  2. Will from Buffalo

    So here is something the WHOLE family can enjoy to remember how lucky we all are (my kids LOVE this show).

    When you have family TV time, watch “The Most Dangerous Ways To School” (It used to be on Prime, we catch it on Youtube now….though I hate my kids watching Youtube, I reinstall it and delete it just for this show). There are 3 seasons.

    It REALLY resonates with our kids (age 6.5 and 4) because they see kids going above and beyond in poverty for a better life. It reminds my wife and I how lucky we are. All without having to load up the kids in the family mini van and drive them to the very rough neighborhood I grew up in….which I will do time to time when the kids demands get too much (American lower class is NOTHING like Africa/Asia lower class…I have always felt blessed).

    But I digress…..give it a shot with your kids…my kids LOVE it and it opens there eyes…for a little while.

  3. Remember a happy wife is a happy life. Just surprised my wife with getting new speakers put in her 2023 Kia K5 . The sound is unreal and she totally loved it. We all need to take care of our wife’s.

      1. We are both retired. We had an Optometry practice for 40 years. I did eye exams and she ran the office. We were just talking about you and she said I need to give you some support. I think you are great. We like your honesty.

  4. Anxiety can lead to a desire for control. If you’re anxious about money, you may suddenly decide for the family to batten down the hatches on spending. The next year you may feel less anxious, and loosen the reins for the family. If this is truly decided as a family with everyone having an equal say, it’s one thing. If not, it can be quite jarring, and the wildly contradictory and polar opposite habits can be tough to swing back and forth with, especially when you aren’t the one making them.

    Just be absolutely certain that it works both ways, and it’s not a one-sided deal where you are in control of all financial decisions, or parenting decisions, or housing decisions, or diet decisions, etc.

    I say all of this because I have a tendency to do exactly this.

  5. Communication is the key. The more you talk, the more you’ll get on the same page.
    My wife has been getting less frugal, but that’s good. We are getting older and we should relax a bit. We’ve been frugal for many years. It’s time to enjoy our wealth more.
    Good luck being more frugal this year. I think it’ll be hard to cut back. Going from frugal to spending is way easier. ;)

  6. This is such a relevant topic for me. My husband and I have been married for 23 years and have 4 children. My husband has the frugality disease, which is understandable because his family immigrated to the US with nothing due to the Vietnam War, only after leaving everything behind and then having to live in a Thai refugee camp for 3 years (dirt floor, thatched roof hut, dried fish and rice).

    Because of the disease, he has a scarcity mindset and emotional attachment to money that is very real and can’t be brushed aside or trivialized. I grew up in a household where money was never discussed and sometimes my parents could afford things and other times we couldn’t so it was all a big mystery to me.

    For the first 8 years of marriage, we couldn’t have a “discussion” about money because my husband, who managed all of our finances, would make statements like “We need to cut down our spending and save more” with nothing to back it up. No numbers on what we actually spent, no action plan, no budgeting, no goals – except for his feeling that were were spending too much.

    Finally, when I started to get involved in our finances, we realized he is the BEST saver and discount shopper and NEVER misses or pays a bill late but terrible in managing the overall numbers, creating long-term goals, or investing. Luckily, these became my strengths and over the past 15 years together, we’ve grown our net worth significantly and while I’m not retired, he’s been a stay at home dad for over 13 years now and counting. We are living our “rich” life because we continually worked on our financial goals together, no matter how imperfect the methods were!

    PS: I am a long time reader, and while I rarely leave a comment, I do enjoy reading everyone’s comments very much. And I bought 2 copies of your book to give as Christmas presents. Of course I don’t have a copy because I borrowed it from the library.

    1. Hi There!

      Thanks for commenting and wonderful to hear about your net worth progress. Sounds like you guys make a great team.

      That’s great he’s been a stay at home dad for 13 years. Because of frugality disease, I can’t help but want to keep on earning some type of active income though. So I think it’s unique he has frugality disease and is a SAHD. Could you ask him how he was able to reconcile the two and whether he ever longed to go back to work?

      Thanks for gifting copies of Buy This Not That! If you don’t mind leaving a review on Amazon, I’d appreciate it. Every review means a lot.

      Here’s to more open dialogue!

      1. While he will never admit it, he doesn’t long to go back to work when he thinks about dealing with bosses, co-workers and problems at work compared to staying at home, raising our children, and managing his own time. Because he stayed at home and took care of everything, I was able to focus on my job and grow my career and salary exponentially. He’ll say it’s because we’re a family and we’re both willing to do what is best for our family, even if it puts us in non-traditional or unexpected roles. Prior to being a SAHD, he was not handy at all. But over the years, he’s had the time to become a self-taught handyman and can install electrical outlets, put up drywall, build fences, change the oil in cars, anything, etc. It’s been a bonus because he can also help out family and friends on small projects that would otherwise cost them a bundle to hire someone that may be unreliable. Net, net – he’s ok with it because he can see the numbers that we are doing well which are irrefutable.

        Yes – I will leave a review on Amazon!

  7. If your young children normally eat lunch at 11:30 am, making them wait until 1 pm for a free lunch is a recipe for disaster! I try to have consistent meal times for my hubby so he doesn’t get hangry – and he’s an adult! (Granted, he has Type 2 diabetes and has to give himself insulin shots before meals, but when you need those calories, you NEED those calories! It’s like going over a cliff edge.)

    If your young children have been waiting, and waiting, and WAITING for their free lunch, and then it is TOO spicy for them to eat it, well, that is definitely a disaster! I was brought to tears one time when we went out to lunch a bit on the late side, I was very hungry, it took a loooong time to order and receive our meals, and then I couldn’t eat the soup I had ordered because it was way too spicy for me. So even adults can have problems when meals are delayed. A 90 minute delay in mealtime is significant.

    1. Indeed, which is why I was just gonna feed them grilled cheese sandwiches when I got home. Then hope there would be some decent food there for them to eat.

      It’s just a desire to do more DIY and lockdown ou expenses until our liquidity replenishes.

  8. Great article Sam. I face a similar case of ‘frugality disease’. For example, I’ll take the train to airport even though it’s a huge pain to lug a backpack and rolling luggage onto the train in NYC. I’ll also bike across Brooklyn/Manhattan to meet up with friends just to save the Uber/Lyft fare. I justify my frugality by telling myself that what I’m doing is good for the environment and it’s good for my health to get the extra exercise.

  9. Lifestyle inflation is rough. We will contribute the max of 61K to our retirement accounts this year and both are on our way to pensions. We have no debt outside of a couple years left on a 2.75% mortgage and a business car payment @ 1.9%. That said, we put everything on one credit card (monthly bills and everything else in order to earn flights/companion passes) and we pay it off monthly. It went from 3K…5K…6K and historically would have spikes of 8-11K during summer travel months with the kids. It now is more like 8-12K monthly with spikes of 18K during summer months and the current remodel. Lifestyle inflation and free spending is a very real thing and very hard to control. Would love to return to the <6K monthly credit card bill range. Have recently moved to a top 5% household income and that probably doesn’t help. Have never got after tax investing off the ground with our projected pensions + after tax accounts + 11-13 year timelines until retirement.

    My wife probably does 90% of the spending, but to be fair, she keeps the home supplied with everything that’s needed. Would love to save up for a home upgrade down payment or keep the exiting home as a rental. I feel like we could easily do so if our free spending wasn’t so high.

    1. $18,000 a month on your credit card sounds like a lot. But with a top 5% income, and aggressive retirement, contributions, and the pension for life, it sounds like you guys can afford it.

      It also makes sense to not focus so intently on building a taxable portfolio given you have a pension.

  10. Great article. My wife and I have done money meetings for a while, and there is zero anxiety about money in this house. We each have leeway on what we can buy individually, but large purchases require a unanimous vote.

    P.S. Did you see I-bond rates rose about 1.5%?

      1. I know. But you’ve used them in the past as a leading indicator of inflation. I thought it was interesting that it went up so much.

        1. Yeah, it shows perhaps inflation will be more sticky than feared. But the index used to calculate I Bonds is really a lagging indicator.

          Good warning though as stocks look fully valued. And higher risk free rates suck out liquidity from risk assets. Beware!

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