How To Get Your Significant Other To Be More Frugal

Mar 01

It’s common knowledge that the number one relationship killer is money.

So how do you convince your significant other to be frugal in order to become financially free at an earlier age while still living happily ever after?



A few months after Ms. Red to Riches and I began dating, we began opening up about our student loans and our financial situation. We met because, at the time, we worked for the same employer and at the same position (different teams), so we essentially knew we had similar incomes.

When the student loan issue came up, I told her how I created spreadsheets to help track them and figure out how fast I can pay them off. She was intrigued and asked me to help organize her situation.

Together, we reviewed all of her loan information together and created amortization tables and spreadsheets. We also reviewed the maturity of each loan which was the real eye opening moment for her.

“My minimum payments add up to $1,000 per month!?!? How long am I going to have to pay this? 20 years!? Oh shit.”

Granted most of her loans have 10 or 15 year maturities, she did have one at 20 years, so obvious the minimums would drop off as time went on. But the AH HA moment happened and it was impossible to reverse.

Almost three years later, she is still using the same spreadsheet to track her progress on a monthly basis.

What if you don’t have student loans?

I would do the same exercise with any car payments or mortgage payment and show your significant other the alternatives as a comparison (ie: a used paid off Camry for $6,000 vs a $30,000 SUV).

What if you don’t have any debt?

Honestly, if you don’t have any debt (including a mortgage), you’re probably already on the right track.

However, maybe you’re in a great financial position because you work 100 hours a week at an investment bank or a law firm and want to transition to a lower stress career as soon as possible.

Then you can have a similar conversation but with showing if you invested $X,XXX per month, you would have a net worth of $XXX,XXX which would either be enough to retire or transition into a lower stress job.



It’s in our DNA. We don’t like when people tell us what to do, especially if it’s our significant other.

I can only imagine Ms. Red to Riches’ response if I said “You can’t go out with the girls tonight, you’re over budget on your entertainment budget for the month!”

We respond better if it’s worded in a way that benefits us.



Why should Ms. Red to Riches’ cut her spending? What’s in it for her?

More money to spend on what’s important to her (travel). Less working years in the long run. The ability to switch careers later in life to her passion that is less paying but more rewarding. Removing stress from always thinking about student loan debt.



In a financial sense, I think of being “cheap” as spending the least amount of money to survive in the short-term, regardless of your comfort level.

I think of being “frugal” as spending the least amount of money to survive in the long-term and maintaining a basic comfort level.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t learn this one until I met Ms. Red to Riches.

She made me realize I was being cheap, not frugal.

What I was eating was directly related to how small I could make my grocery bill (yes, Ramen had a spot in my cabinets when we first met).

However, if I ate shitty processed food for 15 years until I was able to retired early, how would that impact my health? Is that sustainable? Probably not.

I was being cheap. I was spending the least amount of money I could to avoid going hungry.

In this scenario, being frugal would be wasting the least amount of food and buying certain items in bulk or on sales. Yes, buy some fresh veggies from the local farmers market, but just make sure you don’t let them spoil.

The same logic can be used to many areas of life, but make sure the justification is real (ie: health benefits) vs rationalizing luxurious purchases (brand new couch is super comfy!).



This is a huge part of every goal. Don’t try to convince your significant other to change 100% of their bad spending habits immediately.

And guess what? Each bad spending habit has a root cause of some behavioral habit (whether good or bad).

For example, if your significant other spends too much on clothes, smokes too much, drinks too much, goes out with friends too much, buys too much fast food, spends too much money on cars, spends too much money on decorations, spends too much money on pet toys, etc, EACH one of those has at least one underlying habit that needs to change to fix the spending.

To ask someone to change, in some cases 5+ habits, will be near impossible. In my opinion, the more likely route to success is to find a relatively large spending item (entertainment, eating out for lunch, etc) and try to slowly bring the spending into an acceptable range.

For example, is your significant other spending $10 per day going out to lunch? Could you start buying lunch meat and bread and fix a few sandwiches for both of you the night before?

To cut back on spending money dining out, could you cook larger meals at home and use leftovers for lunches the next day?

In both cases, the alternative really isn’t hard so it should be an easy place to start.



Yes, this is contradicting my last point, but there is a reason.

What if your significant other makes $40,000 per year, but took out a $25,000 car or truck payment?

You need to start there.

No matter how many meals you prep together or lunches you make together, it will not make a dent in the situation compared to the low hanging fruit such as a large vehicle loan.



When you first tell your significant other about the potential to retire early or become financially free at an early age, you may get some push back.

Why not point them to an article or two by the great pioneers in this field? My personal favorite is (MMM) because that is one of the first places I really got into it. The articles are great and the forum makes it a great resource for everyone.

He’s really not THAT extreme compared to what your significant other may think of when you tell them they can retire in 10 to 15 years. They may think they need to live in a camper and hitchhike to work to do that.

MMM has extremely entertaining articles. This is one of my favorite to show someone new to the subject:

Browse around his archives and see if you can find an article you and your significant other can relate to and discuss it.

There are plenty of blogs and books on the subject, try to find one that may best relate to your significant other.



After a few months of dating, Ms. Red to Riches and I spent most of our time together working (we worked at the same employer but often worked at home as well), watching movies, and hanging out with friends.

Most of the couples our age spent time going out to bars and/or dining out several times per week.

We knew we couldn’t afford that lifestyle.

So what did we do?

I taught her a two player competitive card game that we both enjoyed and even taught her parents and had many epic battles.

We began having friends over and playing Cards Against Humanity and other card games. Everyone brings their own beverages and we all chip in for food.

We walk to the local riverfront which is a 15 minute walk away. It gets us a bit more active and it’s always a decent view.

We hike/walk around the local state park. Although it’s a 30 minute drive, we enjoy the hiking and scenery of the closest state park to our house. There are also a handful of nature preserves and county parks that can keep us busy if we don’t feel like driving 30 minutes.

There’s no free lunch…. but there are definitely cheaper alternatives that can be more meaningful than staying out until bar close or eating at a fancy restaurant (not opposed to either, but extreme moderation is key!).



I think I may have made it seem easier than it really is, especially in relationships when there is a large discrepancy between each individual’s lifestyle.


It makes it easier if your individual financial situations are similar. Ms. Red to Riches and I both had a lot of student loans and made similar incomes.

I would also argue if people are on the opposite side of the frugality spectrum, they don’t tend to stick together for very long.

For example, if Ms. Red to Riches decided she needed to buy a new outfit for every gathering and was obsessed with buying shoes and eating at fancy restaurants, or that she needed a 3,000sqft house, it would mean our core values are much different and we probably won’t get along well.

That being said, many relationships exist somewhere on the spectrum of extreme spending and extreme frugality. Finding a harmonious spot on this spectrum can be discovered to help achieve financial goals.

Let me know methods you’ve used in your own situation in the comments below!


One comment

  1. Nice practical proposals 🙂 My proposal is to have a joint budget. Do it for her and show it every quarter or month. But that is valid if you want to have a long life together 😉

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