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The Money Personality Test: Are You a Saver or a Spender?

man looking at different shirts

If you were asked, “How often are financial matters a problem in your relationship?”, what would you say?

Dr. Sonya Britt-Lutter, Dr. Jeff Hill, Dr. Ashley LeBaron-Black and other colleagues studied the answers to this question, and questions like it, from a sample of 423 couples.[1] They found that a couple’s capacity to successfully solve their financial conflicts is the key to a prosperous relationship. Additionally, they have outlined four tools that couples can use to achieve this goal.

If you have heard that financial problems lead to divorce, you are not wrong. A study of 4,574 couples found that relative to other common marital disagreements, such as disagreements about sex or in-laws, financial disagreements were the strongest predictor of divorce.[2] This study controlled for family income, which suggests that financial disagreements are the strongest predictor of divorce even when accounting for differing income levels. Once a couple has enough money to comfortably meet their basic needs, the amount of money a couple earns might not be as important as how they handle and discuss the money they do have.

Britt-Lutter and her colleagues identified two “money personality types”, spenders and savers (also known as tightwads). When it comes to spenders and savers, research suggests that opposites attract.[3] What this finding means is that it is common in couple relationships to have one partner who is more inclined to spend while the other partner is less inclined to spend. Savers are characterized by their frugality, and spending is a very uncomfortable for them. Spenders, however, experience little or no discomfort when spending money.

In the study, couples were asked how often they had financial conflict, how well their partner managed money, and if their partner’s opinion was more prevalent when it came to how the couple spent money. The results showed that about 3 in 5 couples reported having financial conflict. For husbands, having a wife who they classified as a “spender” was the biggest reason for financial conflict. That is, husbands who perceived that their partner was a spender were 9 times more likely to report a conflict in the relationship compared to husbands who perceived their partner was a “saver” or a good money manager.

For wives, having a husband who viewed them as a spender was also a reason for financial conflict. Indeed, wives who had husbands who perceived that wives were a spender were 11 times more likely to report financial conflict. Labeling the husbands as a spender was also a predictor of financial conflict, but less so compared to husbands who labeled their wives as a spender. Labeling the husband or wife as a saver did not predict financial conflict, however.

woman holding a jar of money labeled savings

Other reasons for financial conflict had to do with the couples’ communication frequency. How often they communicated about their relationship (financially or otherwise) was the second strongest predictor of financial conflict for wives. For husbands, the number of children in the family was the second strongest predictor of conflict.

Based on these research findings, we offer the following four suggestions for couples:

  1. Communicate About, and Cope With, Distress
    In a couple relationship, it is crucial that both partners understand how certain types of distress—including financial distress—impact them and their partner. Sometimes financial stress can influence your ability to control your emotions, and it is important to find healthy ways to cope with financial stress. For example, some couples find it helpful to give the conversation a break and revisit the conversation when emotions have calmed down.[4] The principle is for both partners to understand how they and their partner experience stress and find ways to help both partners to cope with this stress.
  2. Equal Partnership
    Britt-Lutter’s research suggests that both partners should be included in making financial decisions. Historical gendered norms posit that husbands are the “breadwinners” while wives are “homemakers” who are often discounted in the couple’s financial decision making. Blindly following these gendered norms, whether we realize we are or not, can negatively affect a couple’s financial communication and can increase the risk of financial conflict in the relationship. The principles are to (1) communicate about finances with your partner and (2) ensure that both partners have equal say in how you manage your finances. In other words, one partner should not have more influence over the financial decision making than the other partner.
  3. Scheduled Financial Discussions
    Set a specific time and day on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis to discuss your finances together. For example, some couples may not currently own a home, and you could discuss any short-term or long-term goals to save for a down payment on a home. This meeting, in essence, can serve as an accountability checkpoint to make sure both partners are managing your finances in a way that helps progress toward their shared financial goals. These scheduled financial discussions can also help partners create and maintain a shared financial vision for the future.
  4. Mad Money
    The “mad money” strategy consists of each spouse agreeing on an amount of the monthly budget that can be used as each spouse wishes. For example, some partners have the means to allot $50 each month for both partners to spend on whatever they would like—as long as it is legal and morally acceptable. Having some leeway to spend on whatever a partner might please can help spenders quench their spending thirst and can encourage savers to gain comfort in spending money. In short, giving each partner some financial agency can help keep their resolve to work toward their financial vision for the future. Together, these strategies can help couples overcome their financial conflict and flourish in creating and maintaining their financial vision for the future.


[1] Britt, S. L., Hill, E. J., LeBaron, A., Lawson, D. R., & Bean, R. A. (2017). Tightwads and spenders: Predicting financial conflict in couple relationships. Journal of Financial Planning, 30(5), 36–42.

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

[3] 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.

[4] Carpenter, E. T. (2020). Stonewalling and taking a break are not the same thing. Family Perspectives, 2(1), 1-3.