When One Spouse Is a Saver and the Other a Spender
Jeff Feldhahn is frugal with money, but his wife Shaunti has no problem spending freely. "FamilyLife Today" hosts Dave and Ann Wilson share this same saver/spender dynamic. Listen as these couples unpack both sides of this equation with real-life marriage examples every couple will relate to. Discover the most common underlying values driving these behaviors as reflected by data-driven research with thousands of couples.
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Jeff Feldhahn is frugal with money, but his wife Shaunti has no problem spending freely. Dave and Ann Wilson share this same dynamic. Listen as these couples unpack both sides of this equation with real-life marriage examples.
Bob: Are your views about money shaped more by your life experience or by your personality/your temperament? Author, Jeff Feldhahn, says the research shows both are a factor.
Jeff: Both, fresh out of graduate school, we were living in Manhattan. I was working at a big law firm, and we had brought $135,000 of student loan debt to the marriage; this was in the mid-‘90s.
Shaunti: Harvard was expensive. [Laughter]
Jeff: I was focused on just hammering away at debt.
Dave: Yeah, baby; pay it down.
Jeff: I wanted to get rid of that. I was working all these hours all the time, in order to preserve what I thought was my job to keep myself secure in that position, so we could reduce this debt.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Different people have different perspectives on money for different reasons. The question is: “In marriage, can we figure out how to make our differences work for us instead of working against us?” We'll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We've got our host, ScroogeMcDuck, and his wife—[Laughter]—is that the appropriate way to introduce your husband?
Ann: I'd say, “Who am I?”
Bob: Well, you are—I don't have a name; I don't have a character.
Dave: I think a Material Girl. [Laughter and singing melody from Material Girl]
Bob: This is a very interesting way to start this program, where Scrooge McDuck and the Material Girl are man and wife. But when that happens, there's conflict ahead.
Dave: The fun thing—we're talking about money—and I think we have Scrooge McDuck and the Material Girl as our guests—[Laughter]—am I right? Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn are with us, and they're a little bit like the Wilsons in terms of money. They wrote a book about it.
Shaunti: I'm just here to support Ann.
Ann: Thank you!
Shaunti: That's all I'm—that's the reason I'm sitting here.
Dave: Now we know. We've been talking about for love and money—really the book is Thriving in Love and Money. Even the title's like: “Can you thrive in a marriage with money at the center?” So, let's keep going; this is a hot topic. Obviously, my wife needs your help; so—[Protests and laughter] No, we're kidding—we all need your help.
As you dove into the research and said, “Okay, we're going to find out what's going on in the world and marriages with money,”—we've already talked about you had a big surprise. Remind us what that is, and then let's go from there.
Shaunti: When you're having tension around money, it's not about the money. When you're avoiding talking about it or whatever, it has nothing to do with that. It's about all this stuff running under the surface/all these other factors. You deal with those, suddenly, talking about money comes kind of naturally.
Jeff: And talking about it is what moves the needle in the relationship.
Shaunti: Yes; yes. And we did, by the way—we should have mentioned that last time—that we actually, statistically, found that—that is the factor that is the most important for the relationship—if you can talk about money. It's, believe it or not, the biggest obstacle to financial freedom and generosity, and people being on the same page about tithing, and all the other stuff that comes along with life and a healthy financial life.
The biggest obstacle isn't that you know how to do a good budget—although maybe you don't—or that you have too much debt—although you might—the biggest obstacle is the inability of a husband and a wife to sit down, around the kitchen table, and talk about it.
Bob: And there are all kinds of reasons why these things are hard to talk about. I grew up in a home, where both of my parents had been through the depression. They grew up with a money mindset of scarcity; you've got to be thrifty.
My mom loved to sew, and so she made clothes for all of us kids. My dad had this sense that, if your kids are wearing clothes that mama makes, that's a badge that says, “We don't have money at our house.” He was feeling threatened as a provider/feeling anxiety as a provider, because mom made clothes. Mom's thinking, “I'm saving money for other things; plus, I like doing this.” I remember that being a tension spot. But all of that goes back to stuff they learned in their family of origin, childhood patterns, what their own financial situations were.
We don't recognize the kind of baggage that we bring into a marriage around money. It's all there, subconsciously; but it starts to come out as soon as we're asking a question, “Where do you want to go on vacation this summer?” Somebody says: “A friend's got a cabin on a lake. We could go there,” “I’m thinking maybe we could go to Cancun,”—right? And all of a sudden, it's on the table; what's going on here?
Ann: That's even a great question, Bob, to ask one another: “What was it like for your family, growing up?” I think we all have a story. Just as you had, Bob, I had a mom and dad who used to fight about money. I can remember, when I was four, my dad being so angry that he threw a chair across the room and broke it.
Ann: So later in high school, it just made sense to me that my mom had given me a credit card, and whenever we would shop, she would wait and say, “Oh, your dad's home. Let's not bring in our packages until he's gone.” I carried that into my marriage.
Is that a question to ask?—or where do we start in the conversation?
Jeff: I think it is a question to ask, but the interesting thing that the research led us to is that family history—your origin story of how you view money—is not necessarily your experience that you had. We interviewed brothers and sisters—maybe nine, ten, eleven months apart—and they had the same experience, growing up; maybe it was a difficulty in finances for the family. The sister would say: “Because of that, that's why I save everything; because I never want to feel what I felt as a kid.” And you ask the brother and he says, “That's why I spend the way that I do, because I never want to feel that way of not having things.” That family history doesn't even yield the same result.
Shaunti: Well, it turns out—it's not necessarily the history—it's how you responded to it.
So that is a great question to ask each other: “What is the background?” and “What did you feel about that? What did you think? What were some of the things you decided?—‘I never want to feel that way again,’ or ‘I'm always looking forward to the day when I have money’” because of whatever. That will help get at some of those things.
Jeff: It will, but the problem is that we don't even ask that question. We just assume that our way is right—[Laughter]—and that's the proper way to look at it—because it's natural; it feels natural for us.
Shaunti: One of the key things that we're touching on here—and Bob, your story was a perfect example of this with your parents—is that one of the big factors that's running under the surface, that we don't realize, is that we're just not valuing what the other person values. We know we're different people; but for some reason, we don't translate that into thinking that this other person might care about something different than me, and that might be legitimate.
Like it's okay that, for example, you have a desire to spend something and enjoy life; and he or she wants to save everything, because she grew up with the parents [who were] in the depression, so she wants to save everything—or whatever those factors are—that's very legitimate—both of those things.
Jeff: When we were first married, both fresh out of graduate school, we were living in Manhattan. I was working at a big law firm, and we had brought $135,000 of student loan debt to the marriage; this was in the mid-‘90s.
Shaunti: Harvard was expensive. [Laughter]
Jeff: I was focused on just hammering away at debt.
Dave: Yeah, baby; pay it down.
Jeff: I wanted to get rid of that.
Jeff: I was working all these hours all the time, in order to preserve what I thought was my job to keep myself secure in that position, so we could reduce this debt. Shaunti wanted to spend time together.
Shaunti: Imagine that. [Laughter
Jeff: She wanted to enjoy New York. We would try, a couple of nights a week, to get together and have dinner. I would leave the office; we'd have dinner, and then I'd head back to the office.
Jeff: And it was always good; we found it as a time to talk, until the waiter came and said, “Can I get you anything to drink with your meal?” Shaunti would order a Diet Coke®, and I'd sit there—
Shaunti: —and he'd order water.
Jeff: —and I'd order water. In my mind, I'm thinking, “That's $4.50, right there”; you know? I'm thinking, you know, “Okay, it bugs me a little.”
Jeff: And finally, I recover and we're enjoying the meal [Laughter].
Ann: But you didn't say anything.
Jeff: Of course not—
Jeff: —no. Then the waiter comes back and says, “Can I get you anything else?” Shaunti would say, “I'd like another Diet Coke.” Anyone who has lived in New York knows that there is no such thing as free refills in Manhattan. He brings out another Diet Coke; and automatically, I'm adding it up and going, “That's nine bucks on something you could have ordered water for.” By that time the conversation pretty much ended, and I was feeling angry and annoyed; and then I'd go back to the office.
Dave: —to make money to pay for Coke.
Jeff: Exactly. [Laughter]
Ann: Alright, Shaunti, let's hear your side.
Dave: What do you mean, “…her side”? [Laughter]
Ann: There's always a good side; Shaunti always has a good side.
Shaunti: Well, see, here's what we didn't know at the time. I didn't know he was sitting there, fuming about paying off the student loan debt; and what he didn't know—we were newlyweds—he didn't really recognize, until he was able to sort of articulate it and we talked about it months and months later—
Jeff: —many spoiled dinners later.
Shaunti: —many, many spoiled dinners later—he didn't know I actually don't like the taste of water. I don't know why; I'm kind of weird that way. I need an iced tea; I need a soft drink.
I literally/I finally was able to tell him: “Look, I just want to enjoy the meal. If I don't have some sort of soft drink with it, I just won't. I'd rather stay home and save the money rather than go out to a nice dinner, and not be able to get a Diet Coke or whatever, with it.” That totally changed it, because he then knew why. It was no longer, in his mind, a character flaw; it was just me, valuing something different.
That kind of “aha” moment is, as you can tell, that's super simple—it's kind of stupid; it's silly—but it's of those semi-stupid minor things that these marriage issues are made. This is one of the reasons why this is such a source of friction in marriage.
Bob: We don't recognize, until we stop and really think about it, what we do with money is as picture of what matters to us. Saving it means we value security, and stability, and longevity, and a nest egg; and we feel better if we've got that. If we spend it on this, it means we value recreation; if we spend it on this, it means we value looking good; if we spend it—so really, we're expressing, every time we pull our wallet out, “This is what really matters to me.”
Shaunti: Those values aren't just like, you know: “Do you value the big vacation in Cancun?—or the mountain lake?”
Shaunti: It's literally things like valuing whether there's a deal on it versus not. Most of the time, those things are not objectively right or wrong; they are just different. We have to honor that.
Dave: And yet, sometimes we think, don't we, that our value is objectively right, compared to their value? Like I would have this going on in my mind: “She wants to spend that on something,”—and I'm not saying what she wants is wrong, but I'm thinking—“That could go in the bank,” “That could go toward retirement.” I'm valuing saving and the future; hey, that's biblical! I can give you verses.
I have felt it; I'm guessing most spouses have thought: “No, no, no. This is more than—I value/she values/he values—this is right. This is even backed up biblically.” Now, what do we talk about?
Shaunti: Well, let me—Jeff, you might want to tell them what you felt, right when the pandemic first hit, and the economy had to completely shut down. You came to me and told me something. It was hard to hear—
Jeff: Shaunti often said/back at the time, was saying, you know, kind of: “At this moment in time, a lot of savers are feeling pretty darn vindicated.
Jeff: “This is what you save for—events like this.
Dave: “This is a rainy day.”
Jeff: “You prepare for them.”
Jeff: And we didn't have that; we didn't have that significant amount of cushion that I felt comfortable with. I came to Shaunti and I said: “You know, I've got to tell you—the past couple of weeks, I've been feeling a little bit of resentment, quite frankly, thinking about last year”; you know, we ate out all these times.
Dave: —and “You drank those Diet Cokes.” [Laughter]
Jeff: She drank those Diet Cokes. [Laughter] We went toDisney World with the kids. “If we hadn't done those things, we would have several thousand more dollars in the bank account right now.”
Shaunti: —which we could use [now], because all our income shut down—
Shaunti: —you know, like all the events are cancelled.
Jeff: And I kind of left it as that. And then over the next week—it took me awhile—but because of this research/because of the stuff that I'd been learning, I began asking myself the questions of: “Why did we do these things?” “Why?” “What was important to Shaunti?”
I finally came back to her and I said, “You know, I had been looking at all of those things as a net cost as opposed to a benefit.” For example, what we gained from eating out as a family/having those fun experiences, what we gained from being at Disney was a great bunch of memories.
Shaunti: —and closeness and togetherness.
Jeff: —and closeness. And now, when we're in this pandemic—and we're all sitting on top of each other in the same house—we liked being around each other. We had this great connection and fun. You know, there was an investment that she was willing to make, the year before, in a lot of these things.
That investment cost money; but the investment in experiences/in family closeness—in all those things that I would have probably chosen maybe different things, like a free picnic in the park—[Laughter]—but nevertheless, what she was choosing helped benefit our family.
Ann: Well, there's two big things that I heard, Jeff. One, that you came and shared your frustration; like that's big, and you probably wouldn't have done that back in the day. I don't think most of us do—we just kind of stuff it—but even, after kind of contemplating
and the realization that you came to, that was laying down your pride, of saying, “Wow; look at the things that we've gained.”
Shaunti: Guess what that did for me? Because he was able to tell me what he was thinking and feeling, it changed me; because I was so used to being defensive every time he came to talk about money—I just shut myself down. Instead, suddenly, I'm hearing: “Wow, I see what value you were placing on this. I see why you cared about doing this—and yes, I might have handled things differently—but now we're stuck on top of each other, and we like each other, and we enjoy being together,” and “I really, you know, even though maybe we still disagree with certain things, I really understand where this came from.”
It made me want to then open myself up to what he valued, and to be able to say: “Look, I know this time has got to be so nervous for you; and for you to be thinking about, ‘What does this mean that all of our speaking events are cancelled?’ and the fact that we don't have as much cushion as we wanted, coming in to a time like this. I'm sorry and what can we do now to be able to talk through it and go, 'Alright; let's just shut down a whole bunch of spending until we see how this is all going to play out—things that would then reassure you.'”
I would have probably done that before; because I don't want to be irresponsible, you know; be wise. But I wouldn't have talked about it; I wouldn't have said those words, and he wouldn't have known that was in my heart for him.
Ann: It took you to a whole new level of intimacy and trust, which you never would have expected—
Ann: —and oneness, as we talked about.
Dave: It's interesting—you said, earlier, that conversation really wasn't about money.
Jeff: Yes, that’s true.
Dave: Even though it was about money, it was a deeper deal. I love that you had the perspective of: “What did we gain?” from the thing you thought was a loss.
We've had the exact same experience. I don't want to admit it, because it means Ann's right; but—[Laughter]—early in our marriage; and again, this is 40 years ago—she highly valued vacations. She said, “My family took vacations; I think that's something we should do with the boys as they grow up.” I'm like, “I went on one vacation my entire life.”
Again, here's the value—I didn't even know it at the time—mom and dad married, airline pilot, rich, builds houses in New York City or outside New York, gated community—divorce; mom becomes an elementary teacher and no money; and scarcity all through the rest of my life. There's this built-in fear: “I don't ever want to live there again.” My mom and I took one vacation; I can remember it.
Ann's like, “We've got to take vacations.” I'm like: “No, we don't have the money; we're not going to have the money.” She demanded we do this. She was right; it doesn't have to be an expensive vacation. There's a lot of ways to get in a tent and let the rain fall all over you, which we did.
Anyway, long story short—we did vacations every year. I can tell you, as we're driving wherever we're going, I'm mad—right? [Laughter] I'm mad.
Ann: Yes, he’s in the worst mood.
Shaunti: Was he really in a bad mood?
Ann: Yes; and we're in a big fight; and it's like, “Ohhhhh!”
Dave: Sometimes, it would take me to the third day before I go, “Okay, this is actually fun.” Anyway, all I know is, as our sons were getting married, we have these conversations: “What are you going to miss? What do you remember most?” Everyone of them—the only thing they remembered—“Oh, our family vacations!” Ann would be like, “Told you; told you.” [Laughter]
But it's just what you did. It's like it didn't break the bank; it really didn't. It was a wise choice to value something that she valued, which was something the family valued.
Shaunti: You know what? The other thing, though—just to say this out loud—there are things that matter to us that aren't necessarily building family connectedness/that aren't necessarily wrong, either. I mean, one of the things that we've created to go along with
the book is a curriculum.
One of the people that we interviewed—they had had this knockdown drag-out fight about some of the things they would do on a vacation. Because she's the saver, she'd be like: “We have some credit card debt, and it needs to be paid off. So okay, fine; we'll go on vacation, because we've already paid for it. But we're going to eat every meal at McDonald's®; we're going to eat every meal at fast food.”
Well, her husband/he happens to be a foodie. He loves being able to find cool places and to be able to really enjoy unique food; that's something that gives him joy. For her to recognize, “Okay, that's legitimate,”—and to be able to talk about it—led them to a compromise, where: “Okay, we'll go on vacation; and we won't cancel that.” And he says: “You know what? I don't need to have an expensive foodie experience. I'll go to all the little local hole-in-the-walls seafood places at the beach that the little tour guides recommend. I just don't want to go to McDonalds for every meal.”
That made her see he is honoring what she values, which is: “Let's come back from this vacation with the ability to continue to get out of debt.” It's all about talking about it.
Bob: The thing that has been so good about all of the work you've done, for years, has been that you help us understand one another better with your research. It's like: “Now I get why you're this way. I just thought you were flawed,” or “…you were annoying. And now I understand, ‘Oh, this is how you are.’” So when the women read For Women Only, they went, “Oh, so this is how men in general think.” When we read For Men Only, it's like, “Oh, this is how women think.”
This book, Thriving in Love and Money, helps us understand better: “Oh, this is what you value; this is what's important to you.” That understanding, alone, is more than half the battle to reducing the conflict, and the stress, and the tension. The assessment that you've developed, which we've got a link to on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, folks can go online and take that for free. That gives you insight.
And then your book, Thriving in Love and Money, we're making that available to any FamilyLife Today listener who'd like to get a copy this week. If you can help with a donation to support the ministry, the book is our thank-you gift to you in exchange for your support. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and say, “I think we would benefit from getting a copy of that book”; make an online donation or call to donate. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Jeff and Shaunti's book is called Thriving in Love and Money. Just request your copy; and we're happy to send it to you as a way of saying, “Thanks,” for your ongoing support of this ministry. We couldn't do what we do without folks, like you, making this possible; so we're grateful for your partnership with us.
And then I want to mention one additional resource we are making available this week, absolutely free. It's something we call “Taking Your Marriage from Good to Great.” It's an online resource. It gives you access to a couple of video-based mini-courses: one on how to resolve conflict when it occurs in marriage; another course we call “Lightbulb Moments in Marriage.” Then there are messages available to you from Paul David Tripp, Gary Chapman, Voddie Baucham, Juli Slattery—great messages designed to strengthen your marriage. And there are download-ables: conversation starters/questions for conversation between husbands and wives.
And there's a bonus incentive for you to engage with this content; everyone who accesses it will be automatically registered for a giveaway we're doing. One couple is going to join us, here, at FamilyLife® for an upcoming FamilyLife Today recording session and then dinner that night with Dave and Ann Wilson. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com; find out about the “Taking Your Marriage from Good to Great”resource. It's totally free; no purchase necessary. All the contest rules are available online. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information; or if you have any questions, call us at 1-800-358-6329—that's 1-800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we're going to talk about why it is that people, who you might look at and say, “They seem to have enough money to be able to cover everything; why do they still have money problems?” That's a reality for a lot of people. Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn will be here again tomorrow. I hope you can tune in as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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