You, Your Spouse And Your Money

A few years ago, before Pele (pronounced like the soccer player) and I were married, we took a trip to Phuket Thailand.

While sitting in the waiting area at Changi International Airport, in Singapore, Pele decided to take some money out of the ATM machine.

When she came back I asked, “Hey Pele, did we get paid?”

We’re both working for the same employer, and we get paid ten times a year.  So when we do get paid, it’s a reasonable sum that gets deposited into our accounts—at least, it’s a reasonable sum for a couple of school teachers.

What made this month sweeter is that we were each going to get paid double.  Once a year, we get an annual wage supplement that equals our monthly wage.

So I was surprised when Pele told me that she didn’t know whether we got paid or not.

“Did you look at the balance?” I asked.

She did better than that.  She printed it off and stared at it for a moment.

“So Pele, did we get paid?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, “All I know is that if there’s money in there, that’s a good thing.”

Now, my wife isn’t a credit card junkie.  And she has never been a big spender.  But before we met, she was fairly oblivious as to how much money she had in the bank.

But after watching me write down every penny I spent (which I did for years) she picked up the same habit.  I’ve since abandoned the practice, but Pele hasn’t.

If there’s one of us asking, “Do you really need that?” it’s generally her.  And now she always knows how much we have in the bank.

How about you and your spouse?  Who’s more frugal?  And can a frugal person live harmoniously with a spendthrift—ever?  What are your thoughts?

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Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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18 Responses

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  2. Mich @BTI says:

    Even though I am in control of finance in our household, it's my wife that vetoes my "spending-thrift" urges!

  3. Echo says:

    I'm definitely the frugal one of our relationship. My wife is a spend thrift, but we balance each other out and have probably reached a happy medium with each other over the years. I could totally see my wife looking at the balance statement wondering if we got paid though 🙂

  4. DIY Investor says:

    My wife is definitely more frugal and she has gotten me to the point where I have a hard time buying anything that's not on sale or that I can get for free. This kills me sometime when I want to get a book that has just come out and the library system has a long sign up sheet for it.

    The best thing that has come out of all of this in my opinion is that all 3 of my kids handle money well. None have credit card balances and all use coupons.

    I have to admit that I'm not sure if a frugal person can live harmoniously with a spendthrift.

  5. 101 Centavos says:

    Although I've been called tighter than bark on a tree, and Mrs. 101 is no slouch herself when it comes to tightwadishness, we both give in to the occasional urge to splurge. I had a dear friend who had a weakness for photographic equipment. His motto on spending was "it only hurts once".

  6. @Mich @BTI

    Hey Mich and Robert,

    That's interesting that you guys are the ones on the tight reign! You're lucky because I know that you guys are both interested in wealth accumulation so it's great to have a partner who can help you with that. All three of us are lucky–and for far more reasons than money, I'm sure.

  7. My wife and I share a good balance. We both like to splurge now and again, but also look for deals on everyday items. She understands I want to save and buy more dividend-paying stocks, she firmly believes in frequent contributions and indexing our RRSPs for the long-haul and she fully agrees we should always have an emergency fund. We're a good team. I count myself a pretty lucky dude.

    Fun post Andrew.



  8. @Echo
    Hey Echo,

    There's no way that my wife would have known what we got paid—never mind when. So there's a chance that your wife could eventually be the one reigning you in. I joke about not being able to buy as many avocadoes as I want now.

  9. @101 Centavos
    Hey Centavos 101,

    I guess the odd splurge is healthy. A good friend of mine sometimes sells everything to pay off accumulated debts, he lives like a monk for a while, but then starts to treat himself and the whole budget falls apart and he reverts back to hyper-consumerism for a few years before starting the cycle of selling and living like an ascetic again. A healthy splurge with balance sounds like the right key to success. Maybe it's like dieting!

  10. @Financial Cents
    Hey Mark,

    It sounds like successfully financial people, such as yourself, have a process of team-work going on that works. Without some kind of common goal, it's probably pretty tough. I love picturing the concept of you "shopping". You're not buying products. You're buying the companies that sell or create those products. Nice!

  11. Between me and the spouse, we're more or less on equal terms and have similar thoughts in terms of spending money. There is shared spending for common expenses, and then money each partner can use on their own expenses, but neither of us really abuses that freedom. We both aim to save at least 50% of our net income. I don't know if we'll hit that goal this year with all the initial expenses of moving into a new place, but we will try!

  12. Jim says:

    Being on a similar or same page for saving and spending as your spouse is important. A major reason for divorce among couples is money. I can speak to that first hand. I had a wonderful spouse with lots in common. Lack of financial discipline was what started to unravel our relationship. As I get older I am finding more balance than my tight ass college years. I don't splurge for luxury things but I save and buy nice things I need or want. I never was into getting he 4 buck a night hostell while traveling just to save or get the cheap thrill. My saving/spending is sorta like eating. I eat a very healthy peso vegetarian lifestyle. I don't deny myself pumpkin pie at holidays but I self monitor. Eat too much then I cut back later or exercise more. Spent a bit more on the hot air balloon on the African safari then skip the nice restaurant and extra bottles of wine later. Everything in moderation. It does make me wander what some of these wealthy tight asses will actually do with their money at the end of this monopoly game called life. Eat, drink, exercise and enjoy your one life you have while keeping an eye on thus savings and the waist line!

  13. @Mich @BTI

    Maybe that's a good thing Mich. I've read that women make more purchases, but it's men that make those big ticket purchases–a new bike, motorbike, tech gadgets etc. Is it like that with you and your wife?

  14. @Echo

    So Pele (my wife) isn't the only one. Echo, you probably don't run your account down to the wire the way I sometimes do. Otherwise, if your wife saw a balance of $11.50 (which was my balance yesterday) your wife would definitely think something was up.

  15. @DIY Investor

    I think you've done a great job then Robert. I've heard about so many kids of frugal parents who go crazy with purchases when they're finally free to do it.

  16. @101 Centavos

    Hey Centavos,

    My wife just read your comment and laughed out loud. "Tighter than bark on a tree" isn't something either of us has heard before. But we love it!

  17. @Invest It Wisely


    You two rock! Saving 50% of your income is amazing! Even if you save 40%, I'll end up being really really impressed!

  18. @Jim

    Hey Jim,

    My sister had a similar issue with her ex. He loved to spend, and she wanted to try keeping the house in order so things wouldn't spin out of control. The thought of you taking a hot air balloon across an African plain definitely tells me that you've struck a nice balance. That would have to be an experience and a half!

  19. Mercedes Martin says:

    Hi Andrew,

    We are a mixed nationality couple living in Singapore. I’m from Spain and my husband is from the USA. I just read your books and I’m wondering what the best solution for us is if we are to build a joint diversified index stock and bonds investment account.


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