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Sherri Richards, Published October 06 2011

Money-saving Mama: Lessons from a saver and a spender

In every relationship there is a saver and a spender. Regardless of whether both parties pinch pennies or spend like drunken sailors, someone will default into each role.

Before my husband and I married seven years ago, I was the saver, in a way by default. Craig didn’t have a savings account. He was more interested in buying music CDs than certificates of deposit. I checked finances as an area of concern when we filled out a premarital counseling compatibility test.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. Or maybe, the change is in the other pocket.

Not long after we exchanged vows, Craig read a book by David Bach, “Smart Couples Finish Rich.” Then he read another Bach book, “The Automatic Millionaire.” And that’s how my accountant husband took a shining to personal finance.

Bach’s “latte factor” – the idea that cutting small expenses like that daily coffee can lead to big savings – resonated with him. He was seduced by concepts like dollar cost averaging and compounding interest.

His friends noted, and sometimes mocked, his penny-pinching ways. Before we added text messaging to our cellphone contract, we had to pay per message sent or received. A friend from his college fraternity regularly sent him messages that read only “10 cents. Take that.”

The saver in me was glad to see my husband take an interest in our money as he researched options for retirement saving and investments. But suddenly, my fondness for an afternoon mocha made me the spender.

Craig sometimes gives me a hard time about my little indulgences, like lunch out with friends. I’ve had to remind him that spending is sometimes a necessary part of enjoying life. Maybe that’s why I encouraged – or at least didn’t campaign against – his taking a Labor Day trip to Minneapolis for a fantasy football draft and Twins game while I stayed home with our 3-year-old and newborn. True to his nature, he caught a ride to the Cities and skipped a post-draft trip to the bar to instead play pinochle with friends in an effort to save some green.

Here’s the thing about saving, though. It’s contagious, especially when both parties have an ultimate goal in mind. While I may be the de facto spender in our duo, we’re both on the saver end of the spectrum. My kids wear second-hand or clearance clothes. I buy generic groceries and household products. Craig and I spend our Saturday nights watching “The Suze Orman Show” and did this long before we had kids as an excuse for staying in.

Through this column, I hope to share some of the lessons we’ve learned as we try to save as much as we can toward a cushy retirement and pay off our mortgage early, even as I work part time and we raise two children. I won’t talk economic theories or debate returning to the gold standard – you can call my hubby for that – but will give practical suggestions for saving more and spending less. I’d love to track down the answer to personal finance questions you may have or share your best tips.

They say couples fight about money more than any other subject. I suppose that’s inevitable given the saver/

spender dynamic. But making personal finances a joint priority can make those debates productive and put more change in everyone’s pocket.

Sherri Richards is an employee of The Forum and thrifty mom of two. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com