Big spenders tend to marry big savers, researchers find

NEW YORK Tue Jul 28, 2009 10:53am EDT

Shoppers carry bags as they walk down Fifth Avenue in New York, December 6, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East

Shoppers carry bags as they walk down Fifth Avenue in New York, December 6, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Chip East

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Frustrated by your spouse's spending habits?

It might be why you married them, according to a working paper titled "Fatal (Fiscal) Attraction" by professors of the Wharton School of Finance and Northwestern University.

"Surveys of married adults suggest that opposites attract when it comes to emotional reactions toward spending," Wharton's Scott Rick and Deborah Small and Northwestern's Eli Finkel said in the paper.

They found that people who generally spend less than they would ideally like to spend, and those who spend more than they would like to tend to marry each other.

George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in a separate study called "Tightwads and Spendthrifts" published last year, found that the degree people feel of a "pain of paying" determines if they are a "tightwad" or a "spendthrift."

Loewenstein's study, conducted with Wharton's Rick and Carnegie Mellon doctoral student Cynthia Cryder, found that the extent to which people said they found a pain of paying strongly predicted their savings and credit card debt, but were unrelated to income.

That could be a reason why these opposites attract, Rick, Small and Finkel wrote. Those who find it painful to spend, for example, may dislike that characteristic in themselves, and so are attracted to people who are more liberal in their approach to money.

That's even though most single people say they would be happiest marrying someone with similar spending habits to their own.

"The disconnect between what people say they look for in an ideal mate and the characteristics of actual mates to whom they are attracted is unfortunate," Rick, Small and Finkel wrote, as the different spending habits often result in greater financial conflict in marriage.

It is also unlikely that people will change from being a big spender to being a big saver or vice versa, said Loewenstein.

"We have been looking for any reason in people's pasts that could make them into a tightwad or a spendthrift," he said in an interview. "We haven't found it yet. Perhaps it is genetic."

(Reporting by Kristina Cooke; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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