Opposites often attract with money

Opposites often attract with money
07 July 2013

Social psychologists often indicate that people tend to choose their partners based on similarities, especially similar interests, attitudes and values.

This belief should also indicate that people with similar spending habits would be attracted to each other, too. But a study has found the opposite to be true. The authors of the study, Rick, Small, and Finkel, professors of the Wharton School of Finance and Northwestern University found that while most singles say that their ideal mate would have similar spending habits, when it comes to feelings toward spending, opposites attract.

In the study, aptly named Fatal (Fiscal) Attraction: Spendthrifts and Tightwads in Marriage, the authors indicate many people spend differently than they would ideally like to spend. On the one hand, “tightwads” tend to spend less than they would ideally like to spend because they find spending money too painful. On the other hand, “spendthrifts” tend to spend more than they would ideally like to spend because they don’t find spending painful enough. 

The evidence of the study suggests that tightwads and spendthrifts tend to marry one another. Could this be the very reason that so many couples argue over money? The authors suggest that to be the case but they do give hope and a few suggestions.

Find balance 

According to the study, one possible explanation for why tightwads and spendthrifts seek their opposites is a desire for balance. They want someone who can help them overcome their emotional reactions toward spending. In other words, a spendthrift may seek out a tightwad because he or she thinks the tightwad might help reign in the overconsumption and unwise purchasing. Before you wish your partner saved more or could loosen the purse strings, consider whether their habits have changed your behaviour toward spending for the better.

Recognize your own frailties

The unhappier someone is about his or her own emotions toward spending, the more attracted that person will be to his or her financial opposite. It is important to consider your own money identity, are you a tightwad or a spendthrift? Can you see how unhappy you are being either of these traits and how finding balance and understanding will enable you and your partner to create a new relationship with money?

Accept and embrace each others traits, but in moderation

Find ways for the spendthrift to feel valued with a reasonable treat now and again, and find ways the tightwad can create security by being a practical consumer. By reaching a middle ground; or compromise, both partners are accepting each other’s needs and agreeing a way forward to avoid conflict. It is very important to acknowledge what you admire most about your partner’s money habits. 

Finally it is recommended that each partner separately draw up a list of short, mid and long-term goals. Then compare the goals and compile a joint list that both of you are happy with and can work toward. And most importantly, stick with it! Is your partner the opposite of you with their money habits? How do you cope?


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Head of Behavioral Finance
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