Counting cost of Scrooge or spendthrift partner

The debt from that spending spree could linger long after the magic moment. / 123RF
The debt from that spending spree could linger long after the magic moment. / 123RF

When seduction expert Mandisa O Mahlobo announced the controversial girlfriend allowance seminar last year, the country was polarised.

The seminar put the spotlight on a topic that is hardly spoken about publicly: how spending affects couples.

Some people claim to have a stingy partner, while others feel the burn in their pockets from partners who overspend.

"The issue of identifying whether your partner is stingy or a spendthrift is dependent on several factors," says relationship expert and motivational speaker Donald Seatlholo.

Study says spendthrifts and tightwads often marry each other

We have always heard that opposites attract, but a 2011 study by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business found that people who overspend tend to end up marrying those who are close wallet watchers.

According to the study, couples who are spendthrifts or tightwads ideally look for a partner who will be the opposite of themselves when it comes to spending, but in the long run, the two opposites clash.

The study, based on surveys of more than a thousand married and unmarried couples, shows that opposites
attract when it comes to spending habits, which often lead to disagreements and even separation and divorce.

Scott Rick of the university says: "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.

"However, this complementary attraction ultimately appears to hurt marriages, as it is associated with greater conflicts over money and diminished marital well-being.

"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."

"Whether we are talking about a partner who overspends or one who is reluctant to take out their wallet, affordability is the word of the day. Can they afford to spend?

"It is certainly not wrong to see someone with truckloads of money spending it to their heart's content, provided that their investments are in order and their family is well taken care of.

"The problem comes in when a partner is spending so recklessly that they become reliant on credit cards and loans to keep up with their lifestyle.

"The opposite side of the spectrum is also reliant on affordability. If your partner has a stable, well-paying job and they can live comfortably, yet they count every penny they spend and are reluctant to indulge themselves or even prefix every statement with 'it's not necessary', including romantic dinners or gestures, then we also have a problem."

Seatlholo feels that both problems arise because of several reasons.

"Most partners who overspend in their relationships are often pressured to [do so]. They may have wooed their partner with all the material luxuries and promises of weekly spending sprees in the initial stages of the relationship, but found that it was hard to keep up with the Joneses.

"Instead of [owning up] about not being able to afford the lifestyle any more, they plunge into debt as a solution. This is because the relationship was initially built on a masquerade of grandeur and their ego will not allow them to admit to not being able to afford the lifestyle.

"What I have found on a deeper level, though, is that most of these people actually suffer from terribly low self-esteem, and believe that no one would love and accept them as they are if they did not have material things to rely on as a crutch."

When it comes to stingy partners, Seatlholo says it could have a lot to do with how they were brought up.

"While most people who come from a disadvantaged background try to live the opposite of how they grew up when they are finally settled and have deeper pockets than their parents did, the truth is that a poverty mind-set can be engrained so deeply in a person that they simply cannot and even refuse to come to terms with being able to afford to indulge themselves. They become debilitated and almost panic-stricken by the concept of spending on things deemed unnecessary and a waste of money when they grew up.

"Personally, I know people who grew up being given the option between getting ice-cream, a TV game, a certain toy, versus getting school shoes, for example... This mentality can be with a person for the rest of their lives if not dealt with."

Although having a spendthrift or a stingy partner may seem like a mere personality flaw to some, he recommends extensive therapy to try to get to the root of the behaviour and to learn how best to deal with it.