American husbands and wives both have reputations for overspending. He can't resist the latest high-tech gadget. She can't walk by a department store window without caressing her credit card. But stereotypes aside, who is the real saver in a typical relationship?
A new survey conducted for MoneyRates.com by Op4G asked men and women whether they prefer to save more or less than their spouses. Not surprisingly, neither men or women generally perceive themselves as the spending problem in their household -- and that's just one of the disconnects in this data that might explain why American savings rates are so low.
He spent, she spent
There is no question that somebody is spending the money in American households. Americans in this century have been saving money at less than half the rate they did over the latter half of the 20th century.
Failure to save is bad enough, but Americans are also building up massive amounts of debt. According to the Federal Reserve, consumer credit balances outstanding recently hit an all-time high of $2.82 trillion.
So who do husbands and wives think is more to blame for this problem? The survey results point to some things that suggest that Americans are not acknowledging their savings problems and not communicating well on savings goals. Here are some ways husbands' and wives' perceptions about saving money don't add up:
- Only a minority of those surveyed -- 37 percent of women and 26 percent of men -- report usually wanting to save the same amount of money as their spouse.
- Neither men nor women think they are coming up short when it comes to saving. Just 16 percent of women and the same percentage of men say they usually want to save less than what their spouse would prefer.
- In contrast, men and women often think they save more than what their spouses prefer, with husbands perceiving themselves as the real savings heroes. Forty-six percent of women and 58 percent of men say they usually want to save more than their spouses.
There are always caveats to surveys based on self-reporting, but these answers are revealing when contrasted with hard data about debt and saving in America. Neither husbands nor wives see their savings habits as a problem, but the facts show that saving money is an issue in most households.
Savings tips for couples
Saving money as a couple can be very different from saving money as an individual. Here are some keys to being able to save money while in a relationship
- Plan for the future. The first step toward saving is acknowledging that you have needs beyond the present. If you are in a long-term relationship, then start planning for the long-term by setting some money aside for the future.
- Communicate your priorities. She may want a bigger house. He may want a flashier car. Most budgets can't afford every extravagance, so you have to communicate. Neither side should give in on every spending decision, so each person will have to set priorities.
- Keep savings together, and checking separate. If there are two incomes, both husband and wife should be responsible for contributing agreed-upon amounts to a joint savings account and long-term retirement vehicles. Everything beyond that amount should be kept separate, so each person is clear on how much he or she has available for discretionary spending.
- Have a no-credit-balance policy. It's no use saving money when there is a growing balance on either spouse's credit cards. Credit cards are not only an easy way to undermine your savings goals, but with credit card interest rates at around 13 percent and even high-interest savings accounts paying less than 1 percent, even a small credit balance can negate the positive impact of saving money. Keep yourselves on track by agreeing that all credit card balances should be paid in full every month.
- Be a coach, not a codependent. Give positive feedback for positive financial behavior, and help your spouse look at the bright side of spending less money. Love does not mean allowing your spouse to indulge every whim, which can be bad for you both in the long run.
The survey suggests that neither husbands nor wives tend to see themselves as the primary problem when it comes to saving money, but statistics on debt and savings rates make it clear that Americans do have a serious problem. Like most things in a relationship, responsibility for solving that problem will be handled best if it is shared.