You, Me and Our Money: A Valentine's survival guide

More often than not, we end up partnered with someone who has a contrasting approach to money. Picture: Independent Newspapers.

More often than not, we end up partnered with someone who has a contrasting approach to money. Picture: Independent Newspapers.

Published Feb 14, 2024


If you have a different money style than your partner – well, you are certainly not alone.

In fact, more often than not, we end up partnered with someone who has a contrasting approach to money.

That is according to Scott Rick, an associate professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and author of a new book, "Tightwads and Spendthrifts: Navigating the Money Minefield in Real Relationships."

"People with different money approaches can find each other interesting and novel – but that can be tricky," says Rick.

On Valentine's Day, the white-hot spotlight on relationships can lead to a lot of spending, as well as some uncomfortable moments.

Americans are projected to spend $25.8 billion this year on their Valentines, according to data from financial information site WalletHub. That makes it the third-priciest holiday on the calendar.

To survive this mid-February minefield, here are a few pointers.

Develop the art of gift-giving

This is one of the biggest moments of the year for giving a gift to your partner, so put some serious thought and effort into it. Running down to the Walgreens at the last minute is just not good enough. It may do more harm than good.

"These are huge moments where we reveal what we know and value in our partners, and it's so easy to get it wrong," says Rick.

Gifts do not need to be expensive, but they need to be thoughtful.

"A good gift requires some sacrifice, so they need to know that it wasn't super easy for you, and that it was difficult to find or to think of."

Meet closer to the middle

It is entirely natural that people have very different understandings of money, because of how we were brought up or because of the salary we make. But if we are on either the "tightwad" or "spendthrift" side of the scale, it would be wise to moderate our more extreme tendencies.

"We do find that with the better relationships, the ones that last, the two partners do come together somewhat over time," Rick says. "You can't completely change yourself, but you can sand down the rougher edges of each other."

Create joint and separate accounts

A common mistake of serious relationships is thinking that you have to choose between having a joint account, or separate accounts. False – you can have both.

A joint account is helpful for covering shared expenses and establishing a pot of funds for mutual goals like a family vacation. Joint funds can also help avoid conflicts over who is contributing to which household expenses.

Separate accounts can also be useful for a portion of our income, Rick says.

"We can spend some of our money without close monitoring by the other person," he notes.

Aim for financial ‘Translucency’

Do you want a partner who pores over every single financial transaction you make? Probably not. After all, we are adults, and we are individuals.

That is why total financial transparency is probably not even desirable, Rick says. Instead, we should be looking for "translucency," which is more along the lines of semi-transparent.

"You need to find a way to manage information – decide how much you want to share, and how much you want to keep private," he advises. "Some information can be available on request. You don't need to be actively looking over each other's shoulders all the time, because that will lead to a lot of unnecessary arguments."

Identify your own money style

As much as you should try to understand your partner's money style, start at square one: Figure out your own. Many of us have not done the hard work to discover what makes us tick, and why we feel the way we do about money.

Lucky for you, Rick has a quiz, opens new tab to help with just that. Once you better understand yourself, you can be more thoughtful about meshing money styles with your significant other.

A final prescription for Valentine's Day: "Whatever you do, don't just ask what they want," Rick says. "Try to learn more about them, and figure out what they might like. Moments like this can profoundly shape where the relationship is headed."