September 18, 2009
Tightwads And Spendthrifts Attracted To Each Other

Scott Rick of Michigan's Ross School of Business find that tightwads and big spenders are attracted to each other and then make unhappy marriages.

Rick and colleagues Deborah Small of the University of Pennsylvania and Eli Finkel of Northwestern University surveyed more than 1,000 married and unmarried adults in three separate studies to find out whether feelings toward spending money predict who people will marry and whether spousal differences in feelings toward spending money influence marital well-being.

They found that both tightwads and spendthrifts are unhappy with their emotional reactions toward spending money—and the more dissatisfied they are, the more likely they are to be attracted to people with opposing views toward spending.

"However, this complementary attraction ultimately appears to hurt marriages, as it is associated with greater conflicts over money and diminished marital well-being," Rick said. "The more spouses differ on the tightwad-spendthrift dimension, the more likely they are to argue over money and the less satisfied they are with the marriage.

"This remains true even when income, debt and savings are controlled for. That is, even though a spendthrift will have greater debt when married to another spendthrift than when married to a tightwad, the spendthrift is still less likely to argue about money with the other spendthrift."

No wonder so many marriages end in divorce. People enter into marriage with incompatible desires about money. But they choose the incompatibility.

Not married yet? If you are a tightwad then marry a fellow tightwad. If you are a spendthrift then I do not know what to advise. You are headed for financial disaster.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 September 18 10:48 AM  Brain Economics

John said at September 18, 2009 4:24 PM: do you define "tightwad" and "spendthrift" - I am a tightwad about clothing and makeup, my wife is a tightwad about technology expenditures.

odograph said at September 19, 2009 7:15 AM:

I've lived this, but fortunately not in a marriage situation. I was a young, idealistic, tightwad, who just thought that all you had to do was explain the basic rules for personal finance.

Brett Bellmore said at September 19, 2009 4:38 PM:

If you're a tightwad, marry a fellow tightwad. If you're a spendthrift, marry a tightwad; THEY might be worse off for it, but you'll probably benefit from it.

D. Ch. said at September 21, 2009 11:53 AM:

Of course tightwads are attracted to spendthrifts -- during courtship they get the benefit of lots of money being spent that isn't theirs. As for the reverse attraction, that of spendthrifts for tightwads, they will like how much more than usual their spending is appreciated. I do not think there is any need to rely on deep psychological analysis to explain this phenomenon...

Lea said at September 21, 2009 11:54 AM:

I would think this would mainly be a problem at the extremes, where compromise is impossible. You would think some tightwads might do well to marry a slight spendthrift, and vice versa, as they will complement each other.

If you're a spendthrift, marry a tightwad


Maybe a bit of mild disagreement is good, because it forces people to make actual decisions about how to spend their money.

Paul in NJ said at September 21, 2009 11:55 AM:

> If you are a tightwad then marry a fellow tightwad.
> If you are a spendthrift then I do not know what to advise.
> You are headed for financial disaster.

The financially correct term is "frugal." I and my equally frugal wife have never, after 20 married years, fought over money -- and we've even managed to save some of it despite all efforts to tax away our middle-class nest egg.

My brother, the spendthrift, married a woman who was more than happy to enable him. They divorced many years ago surrounded by huge tracts of bills.

Hey, we're a microcosm!

Steve Poling said at September 21, 2009 11:56 AM:

My wife and I have spent most of our marriage believing she was the tightwad and I was the spendthrift, but in fact, we're both tightwads and we're both spendthrifts. Two people will prioritize purchases differently. If she buys something that I regard as a low-priority, I'll think she's a spendthrift at that point. And if I buy something that she regards as a low-priority, she'll think I'm the spendthrift. When she squawks about my desired purchases (that she values less than me), I think she's a tightwad. And vice versa.

I've tried to arrange my earning and spending so that there's enough discretionary money in the family budget that we're not squabbling over blood money, but on the margins. One of my secrets of a happy marriage.

billylauderdale said at September 21, 2009 1:13 PM:

During courtship, the tightwad "poses" as a spendthrift to attract the spendthrift.

After consumation, the tightwad returns to his miserly ways causing disappointment by his profligate spouse.

They then lead a dysfunctional relationship until death.

ss said at September 21, 2009 1:58 PM:

It's just the "opposites attract" phenomenon. As the post indicates, people who are disappointed in their emotional response to money admire the opposite in another person. If I'm a tightwad, I think it's neat that this girl has such a carefree attitude about money. In a way, I wish I could do that. I admire her and want some of her relaxed attitude to rub off on me. I'm also sure that she can benefit from some of my restraint. Equally, she admires my restraint and hopes that some of that will rub off on her. Plus, she's sure she can help loosen me up a little. We convince ourselves that our relationship is symbiotic. We view ourselves as corresponding pieces of a perfect whole. However, the fallacy is that few of us can ever change significantly how we feel about money. Soon, the trait we admired in the other reveals itself as our worst nightmare. Resentment builds, and the fights never stop.

Joe said at September 21, 2009 2:09 PM:

My daughter used to mock my tightwad ways. Now she's engaged to a spendthrift and has discovered that in her heart, she is a tightwad.

(My father thinks his children have all turned into spendthrifts. By comparison to him we have. While not quite Scooge McDuck, my father would have gained membership Scrooge's club so just about anybody on this planet is a spendthrift by his accounting.)

Oh, and I've slowly moved my wife to my tightwad ways. Fortunately, she has enough obsessive compulsiveness in her that once she started couponing and sales watching, it's become a bizarre addiction that has saved us a boat load of money. (It's also led to us recently having fifteen boxes of brownie mix in the cupboard and me having to toss a long expired jar of Miracle Whip the other day (knowing her, it was probably free, so there was no false economy, though I do tease her about that.)

Dwight said at September 21, 2009 4:18 PM:

When did spendthrift come to mean spender, rather than someone who is thrifty about spending??

Dwight said at September 21, 2009 4:22 PM:

Well, it is in the dictionary as extravagant, etc., so, my misconception, apparently; I withdraw the question.

Jimmitude said at September 21, 2009 5:50 PM:

I was/am the tightwad, my wife was/is the spendthrift. We used to fight about money, but I've become much more casual about spending (not that my spending will solve the recession, mind you but I don't get a headache for spending a 20 and not getting change back) and my wife will now often see something she wants and not buy it. If you can make it through the first couple of years both types can benefit from seeing the other side.

HC said at September 21, 2009 7:47 PM:

The old written novel version of Gone With The Wind had a line several people used at one time or another trying to explain real married life to young Scarlett O'Hara, which boiled down to: "Like must marry like or there will be no peace."

A _modest_ difference in spending vs. saving can benefit each other, but you can only bridge so big a gap. Also, choices of spending and saving reveal something about core beliefs and core values, which is why money arguments between spouses can be about so much more than just the money, and why disagreements about spending can be so painful, it's because they reveal something, often, about who he or she is or is not.

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