‘The Money Couple’: Saving Marriages With Better Money Conversations

The Palmers, who identified five different "money personalities," have developed resources to help couples have better discussions about money.
‘The Money Couple’: Saving Marriages With Better Money Conversations
Scott and Bethany Palmer, known as "The Money Couple," have identified five different "money personalities." (The Money Couple)
Catherine Yang

Bethany and Scott Palmer are better known as The Money Couple—both financial planners of more than 20 years, they have made it their mission to save marriages by making talking about money something accessible and less stressful.

It started years ago, when the Palmers were sitting in a conference room going over an account review with a couple who was financially really well off, but unhappy.

"There was just a ton of tension in the room, so finally I was just like, 'Hey, what is going on with you guys, are you OK?'" Scott said. "All of a sudden she said, 'Well, we're here because we're getting a divorce, and we need to split up the assets.'"

The Palmers had known the couple for a while and had children the same age, so they were shocked, and Bethany asked why they were getting a divorce.

"And they said, 'We just can't get along about money,'" Scott said. As the couple's financial advisers, they couldn't understand. The couple certainly didn't lack in money, and everything looked great on paper.

Scott called them two days later to follow up, because he couldn't understand what kind of money fights they could be having, to the point of wanting a divorce.

"He went on to explain to me that every day, they were having disagreements over money every day," Scott said. It would start with the morning coffee—he liked to buy a morning cup, she was always handing him a thermos so he could save that money—then client lunches, and so on and so forth.

As it turns out, the vast majority of divorces involve money problems, and the Palmers really don't find that surprising. According to a study of more than 4,500 couples in the journal Family Relations, fights about money are the No. 1 predictor of divorce. Almost every decision we make on a daily basis has some kind of money component attached—what gas to buy, whether to have breakfast at home or buy it on your way to work—and if couples have fundamentally different ways of looking at money, the disagreements become constant.

Scott relayed this couple's story to Bethany, and she said they should find some resources to help couples fighting about money.

"And what we found was that there was nothing," Scott said.

Over the next three years, the Palmers interviewed thousands of couples, and the research has culminated into several books, the concept of "money personalities," and a set of resources to help couples have better discussions about money.

Scott and Bethany Palmer, known as "The Money Couple." (Courtesy of The Money Couple)
Scott and Bethany Palmer, known as "The Money Couple." (Courtesy of The Money Couple)

Your Money Language

Together with Stanford statistician Kirk Cameron, the Palmers discovered that there were five distinct "money personalities," and that everyone has a primary and secondary money personality.

"Interestingly, we discovered that most couples are married to their money opposites—they say that you're attracted to your opposite, well it's not different with money either," Bethany said. And that's why money-related fights are so common.

There are savers and spenders, but there are also risk-takers, security-seekers, and flyers. These personalities don't change (children display these personalities as well), so the key to a good relationship is to not try to force change but to artfully compromise—and the personality matrix gives people the tools to do so.

No one wants to sit their partner down and say, "Let's talk about your debt," but taking a quiz (TheMoneyCouple.com/resources/money-personality-assessment/) and sharing the results as a conversation starter makes it a lighter, easier way to discuss money.

"If we could come to major discussions knowing more about our spouse, it can really help take the money talk down to one that's kind of fun to talk about versus one that causes so much discord," Bethany said.

"Instead of looking at the person and being frustrated or wondering why they're so different than you are, you can now quantify it," Scott said.

At the heart of this is compromise: You cannot fundamentally change the ones you love, and realizing that, you can learn to better understand and accommodate their needs.

The assessments not only give couples a way to talk about money on neutral ground, but most of the time, it's eye-opening for both parties to realize how they look at money themselves.

Some of these personalities are recognizable: Society puts the "saver" on a pedestal with their debt-free, early-retirement lifestyles, but only a third of Americans are savers, and this isn't the only way to be smart about money, Scott said.

"What about the other 66 percent?" Scott said. "What we find in a lot of relationships is that one person is shamed for the way they do things with money, and the other one is the money guy or the money girl, and it gets frustrating."

"The reality is, thank God we have spenders in society, thank God we have risk-takers that start businesses, they're what drive the economy," Scott said. "There is no right money personality, there is no wrong money personality, there just is what there is."

The Personalities

Not only is it possible to be married to your complete money opposite, but many people actually have opposing primary and secondary money personalities, which accounts for the ways they struggle with money decisions as well.

"There is a huge difference between and savers and security seekers," Bethany said. "A saver will go to any extreme to save money: a coupon, not doing an activity, whatever. And they can never have enough savings. A security seeker, they don't care about saving money, they care about having a plan with their money. So they'll spend, it's not going to hurt them to spend, but it has to be in a plan."

Likewise, spenders and risk-takers have distinct differences.

"A spender, they don't care about spending money on themselves, they don't care about spending money on gifts—very, very generous—money doesn't get in the way of any of that," Bethany said. "The difference between that and a risk-taker, a risk-taker may not care about spending the money but they want to make sure they're doing something different, something unusual, something that may be more risky, more spur-of-the-moment, unpredictable."

The Palmers were surprised to find a whole category of people who "couldn't give a rip about money."

"They really don't think about it very much. When they go to make a plan, whether it's to go out to eat or what soccer team to put their kid on, the money component doesn't even come to mind," Bethany said. "They fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to money, and they really put relationships before money, and so we just realized that whole category of people who have the flyer personality really goes undefined in our society—people categorize them irresponsible, but they're really not, they just put relationships before money."

The Palmers then developed different resources including books, videos, online courses, and pamphlets that guide couples through conversations from a broad level to how to find compromises on specific issues.

It takes a little time to acclimate to the compromises, Scott added, but once couples have the compromises to agree on it's usually a weight lifted and a total game-changer.

The Palmers have developed resources, including a self-quiz, to help couples have better discussions about money. (Courtesy of The Money Couple)
The Palmers have developed resources, including a self-quiz, to help couples have better discussions about money. (Courtesy of The Money Couple)

The Compromise

Scott and Bethany are both spenders, but their secondary personalities—Scott's a security seeker and Bethany's a risk-taker—completely clash.

That meant Scott was always being the "no" guy, shooting down ideas because of his need for a plan. Then Bethany would either just not tell Scott, which would make him mad, or not do what she wanted, which would make her resentful.

But once they had this language to define their differences, they were able to come up with a compromise that satisfied everyone's personalities.

"Yeah, let's absolutely take the risks, but you just let me go through my security-seeking motions to make sure the risk we're about to take is a good risk—so it really helped our relationship, and it helped our business," Scott said. "It had a huge impact on our relationship."

Another area of contention is typically the budget, especially if one person is the saver, and the other is a spender.

A good budget isn't the end-all, be-all, Bethany said. No matter how well-mapped a budget is, if both parties' personality needs aren't met, there is tension.

"Budgets are a big one for people," Scott said. "So say if you have one person in the relationship who says 'Hey, this is our budget and we're sticking to it no matter what,' they're probably going to get divorced. Especially if they're married to a spender who says, 'Literally, I have no flexibility? Even if I'm working, I have no flexibility to spend my money, or our money?'"

"What we tell people is, if you have somebody who is managing the purse-strings so tightly, you're probably going to end up getting divorced, because the other person is sooner or later just going to throw their arms up and say, 'Forget it, it's not working," Scott said.

What they recommend is acknowledging the budget is important, but then budgeting in an amount for the spender to spend at will.

"It might slow down the savings plan this person has put together, it might even mean now it's going to take us three years to get out of debt, instead of one and a half years to get out of debt, but that's absolutely worth that relationship," Scott said.

Raising Money-Savvy Children

Bethany and Scott were friends for years before they started dating, because their fathers, who were both financial advisers, knew each other. Despite having that family background in finance, they didn't grow up talking about money, and their parents also had recurring disagreements about money.

Bethany says she now knows her mother is a saver and security seeker, and her father is a saver and risk-taker, and she can see in retrospect where their money clashes came from.

"Now I wish they would've understood the difference, because he could have said things like 'My risk-taker needs to spend some money to make some money, and let's talk about that, let's see what that looks like,' and he could have tapped into her security seeker that needs a plan," Bethany said. She remembers sitting in the back seat thinking "not this again" when recurring money-related bickering would come out (should we stay in, or eat out?).

"This is what's happening around the world and around the country—and kids seeing it. And kids aren't modeled good money relationships," she said.

In fact, your children likely won't see eye to eye with you on money either, and that relationship can also benefit from understanding the personalities.

"Most of the times, we want our children to think the way we think about money, but they often don't," Bethany said. You can spot this in interesting ways, like seeing how your children handle their Halloween candy. (Do they store and ration it? Gorge immediately? Try to trade?) It's telling enough to predict their future spending habits.
After realizing how beneficial it was to talk to their sons about their money personalities, Scott and Bethany wrote a book, "The 5 Money Conversations to Have With Your Kids at Every Age and Stage," on how to talk about money with your kids depending on their age. The personality assessment has different age-range versions as well.

"The way you think about money is often taken to other areas of your life," Bethany said. Their older son is a risk-taker/security seeker, and one day came home announcing he was going to run for class president. A few days later he decided he was no longer running, and Bethany pointed out it was his opposite dynamic personalities at play. It was just a matter of helping him process and be aware of his decision making so that he could use that to his advantage (he ended up running, and winning).

"Imagine if we could have a whole generation of kids modeled good money communication, and not just modeled a good budget," Bethany said. "You have to understand the differences and work that into the conversations."

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