What to Do if You’re a Saver and Your Spouse Isn’t

January 29, 2014

saver and spenderMarried couples can face financial stressors on various fronts. Maybe this isn’t even a stress – but a preference – but what do you do if you’re a saver and your spouse isn’t?

It’s actually a serious dilemma though, even if many would not consider it to be an actual problem. Some people have a deep emotional need to have savings. Others could care less. If you are in the ‘deep emotional need to save’ category, and your spouse isn’t, what can you do?

1. Give your spouse the lion’s share of household expenses.

This is the game of divide-and-conquer, applied to your household finances. Essentially what you do is allocate the bulk of households expenses to your non-saving spouse. This will ensure that the majority of their income goes to pay common and necessary expenses. At the same time, it will free up your paycheck to concentrate more heavily on savings.

While your spouse is tied down paying household bills, you can allocate money into short-term savings, long-term savings, and even a greater share in retirement.

On the surface this may sound unfair. But if your spouse has no inclination to save, this could reshuffle your budget allocations to make sure that common household expenses are paid and free you – the saver – to save money.

This will be a benefit to your non-saving spouse as well. They will benefit from the fact that household savings are increasing. In addition, the non-saving spouse will be participating in the savings process by freeing up more of your income for capital accumulation.

2. Have your spouse direct deposit money into savings.

One of the best ways to get a non-saver to save money is to take the savings decision out of their hands, and automate the process. You can do this through direct deposit payroll savings. You can establish or increase the amount of money that the non-saver direct deposits into savings, investment accounts, and retirement accounts.

Those savings vehicles will then continue to grow virtually unnoticed by the non-saver. I’ve actually seen non-savers accumulate tens of thousands of dollars through direct deposit savings. It really works!

3. Set up accounts that require both signatures.

One of the basic issues of non-savers is that they have little regard for savings, even beyond the dislike for the process of saving money itself. For better or worse, some people view money as something to be spent, which opens up the possibility that any savings accumulated might be raided for some other purpose.

The best protection against this outcome is to set up joint accounts that require both signatures for withdrawals. This will mean that you’ll be alerted anytime the non-saver might want to access one of the accounts.

Also, if you give your non-savings spouse the lion’s share of household expenses, while you act in the role of designated saver, joint ownership will eliminate the fear your spouse may have that you are accumulating assets while they are “stuck with the household bills”.

Of course, you won’t be able to do this with retirement accounts as they are strictly individual vehicles. But that’s what you have direct deposit for. And as we all know, withdrawing money from a retirement plan is a lot more complicated than pulling it out of a savings account or even a non-tax-sheltered mutual fund.

4. Have your spouse max out retirement contributions.

Some non-savers will never be converted into savers. It may be too much to ask for them to fund multiple savings and investment accounts. You can get around that by picking just one account that the spouse can focus on funding. If you have to make a choice, that should be their personal retirement account.

There are numerous reasons why this is a natural choice – and why it will probably work:

  • Since it is funded by payroll deductions, it will be almost effortless to carry out.
  • Part of the funding will be covered by lower payroll tax withholding.
  • The account will specifically be in the name of the non-saving spouse (an example of “paying yourself first”).
  • They will be providing for your common retirement (most people – even non-savers – don’t want to get this wrong).
  • If the non-saving spouse is covering a greater percentage of retirement savings, it will free you up to concentrate on the rest.
  • Funding even one type of savings is better than none, and a real victory for a non-saver.

5. Create a goal that will make saving attractive.

Some non-savers simply lack the motivation to save. But you may be able to fix this problem by creating a goal that will make the process of saving money attractive. That might best be accomplished by making the savings goal something that’s fun.

For example, you can set the savings goal as something like one of the following:

No, none of these goals will accomplish anything more practical, such as saving money for a new roof, a new paint job on the house, replacement of the furnace or air conditioner, or even building an emergency fund. But we can never have all in life, and you probably can’t push a non-saver too hard.

If you can get a non-saver to at least fund their own retirement, and one or two common savings goals, you might just have to declare victory and call it a day. Change, after all, comes one step at a time. And for a non-saver, any of these changes just might be a revolutionary act.

Do you have a spouse who is a non-saver? What are you doing to get them to save at least some money? Leave a comment!


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Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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3 Responses to What to Do if You’re a Saver and Your Spouse Isn’t

  • Debt BLAG

    I think the right idea of marriage isn’t one where one person has a superior opinion, and the other goes along with it. What would be best is to set aside time for an honest discussion about financial goals — with plans for many more! In that first meeting, listen — and I mean REALLY listen — to your spouse’s goals. Hopefully, you will get a chance to speak as well. But nothing is more important than listening.

    • Kevin Mercadante

      I completely agree. But the suggestions in the article are meant for people who have tried that without success.

      Unfortunately, a lot of married couples aren’t in sync when it comes to money. Even and sometimes especially couples who have been married for a very long time.


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