You save, he spends: How to find financial common ground

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesYou want to save money for a rainy day. Your spouse would rather make hay while the sun shines. When a saver is married to a spender, how do you find common financial ground without going broke or ending up divorced?

"Our attitudes toward money are so deeply embedded that we tend to believe we are right and our partner is wrong," Diane McCurdy, author of How Much Is Enough? Balancing Today's Needs With Tomorrow's Retirement Goals, told "Typical responses are: 'I'm a responsible adult and you're a spoiled child,' or 'I like to have some fun and you're a miserly killjoy.' If more couples understood how their partner feels about money, fewer would end up in divorce court."

Experts agree that the best way to find common ground is to start by developing a budget -- together. In it, be sure to discuss "wants" vs. "needs" and to earmark funds for the spender to spend as well as a (much-larger) amount for the saver to save. But before you sit down to dissect your finances, it's important to take a long hard look at your own and your spouse's point of view about money.

Could spending or saving money be about something other than financial responsibility? What was your childhood experience with money? What was your spouse's? Your propensity to save (or spend) could hinge on something that happened while you were growing up. A personal example: During my sophomore year in college, I often had to choose between spending my change on food or bus fare to work -- that is, if I rode the bus instead of walking four miles round trip, I'd have to skip dinner that night. Now, nearly 20 years later, I take leftovers to work for lunch because there was a point in my life when having leftovers was a luxury. You guessed it: I'm a saver.

My husband, however, is more of a spender. At least, more of one than I am. He's all about the thrill of the (bargain) hunt, and is likely to seek a little retail therapy when he's stressed. Keeping our finances separate goes a long way toward keeping the peace in our household. Our common ground: I'm willing to spend a little to save a lot in the long run, and he's willing to search the stores for the best deals possible.

If you're a saver, having an emergency fund in the bank may represent security and safety. You may be showing love for your family by ensuring that you can provide for them even when times are tough. But instead of feeling secure, the spendy spouse may feel deprived while the saver pinches pennies.

If you're a spender, expensive gifts or over-the-top vacations may represent stability and joy -- after all, you can't spend money you don't have, so your finances must be just fine, right? You may be showing love for your family via The Grand Gesture, or finding The Perfect Gift. But instead of being pleased, the money-saving spouse feels stressed: If the $300 spent on dinner had been invested instead of digested, how much would that money have earned in the future?

Scott and Bethany Palmer, a.k.a. "The Money Couple," suggest that couples try to remember the intentions of each spouse. The saver doesn't intend to make life boring or unhappy for the spender, and the spender doesn't intend to drive the saver into bankruptcy. "Each person is acting according to his or her own psyche or money personality," they write. "Keeping this in mind can help Savers and Spenders resolve money problems and make decisions more peacefully."

Are you a saver or a spender? How do you resolve money issues in your marriage?