Disagreements Over Spending Strain Relationships

Why it’s essential to communicate clearly about “needs” versus “wants”

Key Takeaways

  • After meeting our basic needs for shelter, food, clothing, and health care, everything else is a want—and that’s where the money friction comes into play.
  • Disagreement over spending is the No. 1 predictor of divorce.
  • Research shows that financial responsibility is the top criteria young people use to select a mate—above good looks and career prospects.
  • At all stages of life, men and women are equally concerned about financial responsibility and their partners’ spending priorities.

A recent Kansas State University survey determined that how couples deal with money is the No.1 predictor of a successful marriage versus a divorce. And very often it comes down to a matter of needs versus wants. Our basic needs are indeed basic: shelter, food, clothing, and health care. Beyond that, everything else is pretty much a want. A recent Experian Consumer Services survey determined that 95 percent of young people considering marriage deemed financial responsibility in a partner the most important trait—that’s right, more important than physical attractiveness and career ambition. In fact, most of the young people surveyed said they looked at credit scores to really understand their potential new spouse.

When a young couple is starting off in the world, they really want to understand each other’s spending habits, especially when it comes to things beyond their basic necessities. When folks reach middle age, they’re getting bigger houses and they’re able to do many more things financially, and their needs and wants become more expansive. But they still need to be clear with each other about their priorities over spending on needs versus wants.

Eventually, when they decide to retire, some downsizing occurs, but there might be a second home that’s going to be in the picture, moving between here and some of the “sand states” to stay warm in the winter. What’s going on there? Folks really don’t want to change how they spend their money, and so there are discussions about those wants. Over the years we’ve observed how folks go through different stages of life. The successful ones constantly make sure they can articulate very clearly what defines those wants.

By the way, this is the same for men and women across all age groups. It’s really one of those things that we’re incredibly concerned about and want to make sure it is handled very carefully as one moves forward in life. For couples, it’s a continual balancing act of need versus want. And very often a couple’s goals, objectives, and thoughts about spending are passed on to their children and grandchildren.

It’s something that will always be an issue to some degree for us at all times.


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For additional reading check out this article on Money & Divorce.

Until next time, enjoy.

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