A study reveals that when it comes to money habits, opposites attract, with big spenders attracted to big savers and vice versa
It’s a new type of Cinderella story. A debtor is saved by someone who, well, saves. In an analogous version, a penny-pincher is freed by a liberal-spending lover. The two fall for each other and marry.
These tales of love borne out of financial disparity may be more realistic than the one with the glass slipper. According to a working paper entitled, “Fatal (Fiscal) Attraction: Spendthrifts and Tightwads in Marriage,” released in February 2009, people are attracted to and tend to pick spouses with opposing spending habits. Purchasing style was examined on a scale from penny-pincher or tightwad, to compulsive shopper or spendthrift. The study’s authors — Scott Rick and Deborah Small from the University of Pennsylvania, and Eli Finkel from Northwestern University — then tested to see how people felt about their respective spending habits. Data indicated that those who disapproved of their own behavior married someone with opposite tendencies. In general, findings suggested that people who are unhappy with their frugality tend to marry someone who is ashamed of their overzealous expenditures.
Using the terms of personal ads, their findings might read “Spendthrift ISO (in search of) penny-pincher for LTR (long-term relationship).”
The reason for this attraction to a dissimilar partner is consistent with past psychological findings by researchers Eva Klohnen and Gerald Mendelsohn that suggest people will avoid traits in a mate that they have and deplore in themselves.
It doesn’t appear, however, that the compulsive shopper alters his or her behavior when going through life with an economical partner and vice versa. Data implies that the partners don’t balance each other out with time. In fact, the different reactions to spending may lead to a not-so-happily ever after.
“However, this complementary attraction ultimately appears to hurt marriages, as it is associated with greater conflicts over money and diminished marital well-being,” said the authors.
Also examined was unmarried people’s perception of the perfect marital partner. Those surveyed said they would be most content marrying someone who spends money similarly to themselves. The authors agree that the respondents would be likely be happier marrying someone with similar habits, yet that they typically will end up with someone with opposite financial inclinations.
“The marriages that result appear to make tightwads and spendthrifts about as happy as the Hoarders and Wasters in Dante’s ‘Inferno,'” the authors reported.