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Are You and Your Partner Financially Compatible?

Money decisions can affect the health of your relationship.

Key points

  • Financial compatibility is about shared approaches to spending and saving.
  • Savers often pair with spenders, and spenders often pair with savers.
  • Financial compatibility includes shared perspectives on big money decisions and small ones, too.
  • Financial incompatibility is linked to conflict and may predict divorce.

Everyone loves a payday... but what do you do with any extra earnings? Whether you're a "saver" or a "spender" might seem like a private matter, but in relationships, everyday and long-term financial decisions are not personal. When romantic partners intertwine their lives, their money choices become interdependent as well.

As new partners get to know each other, they can uncover secret money facts about each other. They see their partner's lavish spending and learn it reflects hidden family wealth... or mounting credit card debt. They witness careful frugality and come to understand that their partner is paying off loans, living paycheck-to-paycheck, or has a growing savings account, along with an insatiable fear of not having enough.

Whereas much of our true financial story is obscured to the public, romantic partners have an upfront view, and they may or may not agree with each other's approach to money. When couples struggle to find financial footing in the relationship sense—i.e., compatibility and comfort—their relationship health can suffer.

Opposites attract when it comes to financial approaches.

We might think that spenders pursue spenders, and savers prefer savers... but empirical research suggests that such is not the case. As much as similarity tends to attract, a fascinating pattern tends to emerge in which people who like to save money often pair with people who like to spend money (Rick et al., 2011).

On the surface, savers and spenders seem like a complementary match, an arrangement that would help everyone out. Indeed, it tends to be the "tightwads" (who spend less than they ideally want) and the "spendthrifts" (who spend more than they ideally want) who are regularly marrying each other (Rick et al., 2011). Maybe they'll influence each other's money habits, helping each other engage in more or less financial restraint and find a healthy balance.

The dominant outcome, however, is not one of compromise. As much as we might like to see gentle adjustments from both spouses, marriages between "tightwads" and "spendthrifts" tend to suffer from financial disagreement (Rick et al., 2011).

Financial compatibility includes the full scope of money decisions.

Financial compatibility is not about making the same amount of money or coming from the same amount of money: It's about people's approach to money. Think about the many joint money decisions and personal money decisions that people in relationships make. Highly compatible people argue less frequently about money; less compatible partners argue more.

How compatible are you? You can gauge your financial compatibility by thinking about how you and your partner navigate major money decisions, including:

  • Should we rent or buy? Which apartment or house do we choose? How much of a loan are we comfortable with? When do we sell?
  • What do we do for vacation? Do we belong to a gym or club?
  • Do we own a car? How many? New or used? What kind(s)?
  • How much do we spend on daycare, private versus public school, kid activities, college?

Partners also make smaller money decisions, which can reveal financial compatibility:

  • Do we buy coffee and/or lunch or make it at home?
  • How much is appropriate to spend for each other's birthday or our anniversary? How much do we spend on gifts for other people or to help family?
  • How much do we spend on clothing, TV subscriptions, phones, or hobbies?

How does it feel reading these questions? Couples who easily agree on questions like these show higher financial compatibility than couples who readily disagree. Remember, too, that money can bring up emotion, with incompatibility setting the stage for significant conflict.

Financial incompatibility predicts relationship instability.

Romantic couples can argue about any number of topics, but financial disagreements appear especially toxic to relationship well-being (Dew et al., 2012). Longitudinal work has demonstrated that a higher frequency of financial disagreements predicts divorce (Dew et al., 2012). Indeed, financial disagreements explain away any connection between how financially well-off people are and their relationship stability. In other words, it's not how much money you have but your conflict associated with money habits that helps explain whether relationships fall apart.

How partners differ as savers or spenders is best represented on a continuum. You might be mostly the same, somewhat the same, somewhat different, or vastly different. Interestingly, marital well-being is inversely associated with how different people are in their saving-spending tendencies (Rick et al., 2011). The more extreme the difference, the more potential for disagreements that could introduce vulnerabilities into your relationship.

Partners can find an approach to finances that supports relationship well-being.

Marital well-being appears to suffer when spenders marry savers, with more dramatic differences in financial habits predicting more arguing and worse relationship quality (Rick et al., 2011). So what do you need to know if you're in love with a financially incompatible person?

  • Financial transparency: Initial experimental evidence from unpublished work (mentioned in Olson et al., 2022) suggests that having joint accounts versus personal accounts predicts better relationship outcomes. Perhaps knowing the true state of a partner's finances—as compared to not knowing—allows for healthy relationship functioning, including, perhaps, more open conversations about financial standing.
  • Acceptance: Whether partners become more like one another over time—on account of each other's influence—is a debated question, but a partner can decide to "accept" another partner's frugality or their tendency towards luxury. By accepting, even embracing, some money habits of their partner, individuals remove the angry, frustrated, negative response that they formerly had, and the behavior becomes tolerable (Doss & Christensen, 2006). The conflict, and the potential damage to the relationship, is removed.
  • Specialization: Long-term partners juggle a wide range of responsibilities, including managing their money. What often happens is that one partner becomes the relationship's Chief Financial Officer, making most of the money decisions. It's usually this person who develops more financial savvy as the years go by (Ward & Lunch, 2019). Perhaps this alleviates a source of conflict; if one person is deemed "in charge" of money decisions, the other may not be involved in many of the decisions.
  • Communication: Talking with a partner about their spending or discussing your stress tied to money or making a plan about money or discussing how much money someone needs in savings to feel "safe"... these conversations can be challenging. Financial conversations, however, can be important for relationship well-being. Recent evidence suggests that negative impacts of financial stress can be weakened when partners engage in financial communication (Wikle et al., 2021).

Money means different things to different people, often representing safety, power, and success. Understanding the underlying meaning of money for your partner may help you make sense of their day-to-day decisions and allow for a stronger starting point for financial compatibility conversations.


Dew, J., Britt, S., & Huston, S. (2012). Examining the relationship between financial issues and divorce. Family Relations, 61(4), 615-628.

Doss, B. D., & Christensen, A. (2006). Acceptance in romantic relationships: the frequency and acceptability of partner behavior inventory. Psychological Assessment, 18(3), 289-302.

Olson, J. G., & Rick, S. I. (2022). “You spent how much?” Toward an understanding of how romantic partners respond to each other's financial decisions. Current Opinion in Psychology, 43, 70-74.

Rick, S. I., Small, D. A., & Finkel, E. J. (2011). Fatal (fiscal) attraction: Spendthrifts and tightwads in marriage. Journal of Marketing Research, 48(2), 228-237.

Wikle, J. S., Leavitt, C. E., Yorgason, J. B., Dew, J. P., & Johnson, H. M. (2021). The protective role of couple communication in moderating negative associations between financial stress and sexual outcomes for newlyweds. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 42(2), 282-299.

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