Each of us has natural financial tendencies — inherent strengths and weaknesses in how we think about and manage money. These tendencies come from many sources: our parents and other influential people in our life, significant early financial experiences, the culture we grew up in, and perhaps most significantly, our temperament.

If a husband and wife learn to understand each other's God-given temperament, it will yield insights into the way each handles money and will help them do a much better job of managing money as a team.

Jude and I rarely had disagreements during the six months we dated. Then we got engaged and registered for wedding gifts. The first true argument we had was about what pattern of dishes to register for.

I was all about modern design. Think clean lines, simple, minimalist. Jude was all about classic design. Think flowing patterns and intricate details.

I assumed we would have dishes similar to what I grew up using. Sturdy. Simple. Solid white. Jude assumed we would have dishes similar to what she grew up using. Delicate. Intricate. Floral. Floral!

We should have seen it coming. While we were dating, Jude had made some comments about my apartment. "Cold" and "Like a boardroom" were some of her more memorable descriptors. If I had been paying attention, I would have noticed a distinct lack of any modern design in her apartment.

I suddenly realized that making decisions about what to buy — what style of house, furniture, and car Jude and I would own — might require letting go of all that I found familiar. It wasn't just about what pattern would stare up at me from the bottom of my cereal bowl each morning. It was the possibility that something else, possibly lots of things, in our home would have a floral pattern. I felt queasy.

I also realized that if we were having such a tough time spending other people's money — after all, we were registering for the gifts we wanted our family and friends to buy for us — what about when it came time to spend our own money?

Guess who won the battle of the plates? Let's just say that even after 13 years of marriage, should one of our plates break, Jude will say, "Please at least try to look upset."

Over the years, we have learned to laugh about our differences and to compromise. I've become a bit less minimalist (is that redundant?). Jude has taken several steps toward the modern side of the spectrum. But it has taken time.

Difference perspectives = conflict

I'm sure it isn't news to you that money is one of the most common sources of disagreement among spouses. Research shows that it causes more fights than sex or household chores, and conflict over money predicts divorce better than other topics of dispute.

Turning down the financial heat between men and women is not easy because we come at money from such different perspectives. Consider the following:

Given the previous findings about investing, it's noteworthy that men make more investment mistakes than women, and they make them more often. For example, men are more likely than women to allocate too much of their portfolio to one investment, buy a hot investment without doing any research, and trade securities too often. There's even evidence that women hedge fund managers outperform their male counterparts, with one 10-year study showing average annualized returns of 9% for hedge funds managed by women versus less than 6% for those managed by men.

  • Men and women have different spending priorities.
    When asked about their indulgences, men are much more likely to say electronics; women are more likely to say travel.
     
  • Men and women view money through different emotional filters.
    When asked which terms best describe their feelings about money, men are more likely to choose confidence. Women are more likely to pick anxiety, apprehension, and confusion.
     
  • Men and women are interested in different financial topics.
    Men are more into investing and entrepreneurship. Of those who follow business and finance news, 65 percent are men. Women prefer savings, frugality, and shopping. More women than men feel they lack knowledge about investing, and fewer women say they enjoy investing.
     
  • Men tend to be more aggressive with money.
    When applying for a job, for example, men are four times more likely than women to ask for more money than what is offered to them initially. Men are typically more comfortable taking on higher levels of risk. According to one survey, 66 percent of husbands labeled themselves the couple's bigger risk taker with money versus 31 percent of wives.
     
  • Men and women differ in how they depict their current financial situation.
    Women tend to believe their situation to be worse than it actually is, sometimes overstating how much they have in debt. Men are just the opposite, tending to believe their situation to be better than it is, often overstating how much they earn.
     
  • Men and women differ in their charitable giving, with women somewhat more likely to donate time and money.

Financial opposites attract

As if these general differences in perspective don't make it difficult enough to manage money as husband and wife, researchers from Northwestern University and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania found that we tend to magnify the difficulty by choosing mates who are especially different than we are when it comes to spending money. The research, published in a paper titled "Fatal (Fiscal) Attraction," examined the mate selections of tightwads and spendthrifts. Tightwads were defined as people who find spending money to be painful yet regret not spending more. Spendthrifts were defined as people who feel little pain when they spend yet regret spending so much.

The researchers found that in moments of clear, rational thinking — before someone we're attracted to walks by — we are aware of the type of person who would be best for us: someone whose attitudes toward money are similar to ours. However, when it comes time to make a decision, we set aside rational thinking. Tightwads tend to marry spendthrifts, and vice versa. The more we dislike our own financial tendency, the more likely we are to marry our financial opposite.

At first glance, that makes sense and may even seem beneficial, or at least harmless. It can be fun to hang out with our financial opposite while dating. A guy who can't bring himself to spend much may enjoy receiving nice gifts from a woman with a loose hold on her purse strings. However, the researchers say that from "I do" forward, life with a mate who approaches spending and saving differently than we do often leads to more financial conflict and less marital satisfaction.

By the way, despite the stereotype, it isn't always the woman who's the spender. In about one-third of couples, the husband freely admits he's the one who parts with cash too easily.

Out of touch, out of synch

If couples don't discuss and come to terms with their financial differences, they may end up living separate, even secretive financial lives. Consider the following research findings:

  • Nearly two-thirds of married people do not know when their spouse plans to retire.
     
  • Some 44 percent say it's okay to keep financial secrets from their spouse. The most common secret is credit card or other debt.
     
  • Thirty-six percent of men and 40 percent of women confess to lying to their spouse at one time or another about how much they spent on something.
     
  • More than 20 percent of married people agree with this statement: "I don't discuss how much I make with anyone, including my spouse."
     
  • While women have a fairly good feel for what financial issues are important to their spouse, husbands not so much. Only 27 percent of men believe that having the right investments is very important to their wife, whereas nearly half of women say it's very important to them. Only 45 percent of men think having money set aside for emergencies is important to their spouse, whereas 68 percent of women say it's important to them.

But money does not have to be a source of conflict in your marriage, even if you married your financial opposite. You can learn to use money in a way that minimizes financial disputes and contributes greatly to your marital happiness. A key is understanding each other's temperament.

How God has wired you

When Jude and I met, I was working in the business world and Jude was working for Campus Crusade for Christ, a Christian ministry. I was earning almost three times as much as she was making. Plus, I am eight years older than she is. Still, despite my higher income and longer amount of time to earn money, Jude had more money in retirement savings, owned a paid-off car that was two years newer than mine, and gave away a higher percentage of her income.

In part, these differences were because I had gone through a dramatic financial crash and burn while I was in my mid-20s. In essence, I had stood still financially for about seven years while Jude was making steady upward progress.

Even though she didn't earn a high income, Jude excelled at living within her means while setting money aside for the future. I once asked her how she became so good at living within her means. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "Isn't that what you're supposed to do?" Her wise financial habits, and the fact that they come to her so naturally, can be explained, in part, by her temperament.

Knowing your temperament and that of your spouse will go a long way toward explaining why you both do what you do with money (and everything else, for that matter). It can also help you manage money as a team and minimize financial disagreements.

The simple insight that a person's temperament typically does not change should help. If you're having recurring disagreements, maybe it's because you're trying to change something about each other that won't ever change. That's not to say that temperament is an excuse to keep doing something that irritates your spouse. While you may not be able to change your temperament, you can learn to manage it. Becoming aware of how your temperament influences your attitudes and behavior is the first step toward being able to maximize your natural strengths while not being at the mercy of your natural weaknesses.

There are several different temperament classification systems, but they all have their roots in the one formulated by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, all the way back in 370 B.C. and then refined by the Roman physician Galen in 190 A.D. This system consists of four temperaments: choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholy. (These are not to be confused with SMI's four investment temperaments, which relate primarily to a person's risk tolerance.)

Here are a few characteristics that mark each one, along with the financial tendencies typically associated with it.

The choleric and money

General description:
Hard-charging, bottom-line, type-A.

Financial implications:
Cholerics are great at casting vision and barreling through any obstacles that stand between them and their goals. The only problem is, because of their aggressive, time-sensitive nature, cholerics often run ahead of their spouses, leaving them out of financial decisions, failing to share passwords to bank and investment accounts, and even making investments without talking about them beforehand.

Cholerics thrive on being productive, getting things done, and achieving results. They are often good providers but may be vulnerable to workaholism.

When planning a major purchase, especially if it's something they strongly desire, cholerics will do a good job at finding the best deal, as long as it doesn't take too long. Once cholerics know where to buy the item for the best-advertised price, their assertive negotiating skills can generate additional savings. Just make sure not to browbeat the salesperson in the process; cholerics value tasks over people.

Cholerics do a good job of setting up their household's bill-paying system. Because they are typically organized and hate being late, they'll make sure bills are paid on time.

If you are married to a choleric and want your spouse to go with you on a shopping trip, don't expect him or her to revel in a leisurely stroll through the mall. Cholerics want to find what is needed and get out of there. You may be better off shopping separately.

Cholerics can be demanding of their spouse, wanting to see what he or she bought at the store and checking to see how much was spent. If you are a choleric, make sure your budget has a category for your non-choleric spouse to manage — at least his or her own clothing budget, and perhaps a budgeted amount for a hobby or lunches with friends. As long as your spouse stays within that amount, you can avoid rifling through clothing purchases or asking to see receipts.

Cholerics may be too aggressive in investments and can fall for get-rich-quick schemes—all the more reason to consult your spouse before making that trade. Also, watch out for a tendency to hoard, as cholerics often find it easier to take their sense of security from their bank or investment accounts than from God.

Generosity may not come naturally to cholerics, unless they see the practical benefit. A choleric friend struggled with the decision to participate in his church's building campaign until the pastor specified the cost of each seat in the new sanctuary. Motivated by the tangible results of each dollar given, my friend ended up making a generous contribution.

Choleric pros/cons and what to do:
Your action orientation can help you accomplish challenging goals.

Your main watch-out is to not leave your spouse out of financial decision making. Add the following items to your ever-present to-do list: Give spouse access to the passwords, provide a summary of financial accounts owned, and schedule regular meetings to discuss investments and other financial decisions.

Bonus idea:
Want to buy a choleric spouse a great gift? Choose something practical, utilitarian. Even better, give a gift card so he or she can choose the gift.

The sanguine and money

General description:
Outgoing, colorful, life of the party.

Financial implications:
Sanguines are all about being with people, so they naturally gravitate toward and succeed in people-oriented jobs, such as sales. However, the combination of a variable income and a decided lack of interest in details can leave a sanguine's finances a mess. Budget? Who has time? Sanguines would rather be out socializing. If you are married to a sanguine, don't try to turn your spouse into the keeper of the budget. It isn't going to happen. Just get him or her to drop receipts in the vicinity of your budget, and then enter the data yourself.

Their focus on the present may also leave sanguines ill-prepared for future needs such as retirement or a child's college tuition. They are not the best at balancing their checkbook or paying bills on time.

Because they thrive on approval and like to be noticed, sanguines may overdo it on the latest fashions, technology, or vehicles. Let's face it: they are not likely to get a lot of compliments driving an old car — or even a new beige one, for that matter — or wearing practical shoes.

Because they are more driven by feelings than facts, sanguines may make purchases without researching the best options, especially if there's a likable salesperson involved. A tendency toward impulse purchases along with low sales resistance may make sanguines susceptible to coming home with big-ticket surprise gifts with all the extras, like a big-screen TV along with the priciest extended warranty.

When it comes to investing, sanguines are willing to take risks. However, because they usually don't take the time to create an investment plan, they can make bad investment decisions.

Sanguines are typically very generous, which can motivate a less generous spouse. However, their trusting nature can make them fall for fund-raising scams.

Sanguine pros/cons and what to do:
Your fun-loving nature can help a frugal spouse learn to enjoy more of the things and experiences money can buy.

Your main watch-out is a tendency to overspend. One of the most practical steps you can take is to use an envelope system for budgeting. Once you are out of money in a particular category, that's all you can spend for the month.

Bonus idea:
Want to buy a sanguine spouse a great gift? Throw a party in that person's honor and invite all of his or her favorite friends.

The phlegmatic and money

General description:
Reliable, dependable, predictable.

Financial implications:
Phlegmatics can be counted on to show up and methodically get the job done. However, a lack of motivation to reach for the next rung on the corporate ladder, combined with a preference to work behind the scenes, may leave them performing below their career potential.

Phlegmatics tend to be good planners; it's the follow-through that's the problem. They may do a fine job with hanging on to their receipts but never get around to developing a budget. They have all the details of their financial life; they just don't have a compelling vision for where they want to go.

They sometimes wait until the last minute to pay bills or file taxes. They're the ones you see on TV putting their tax returns in the mailbox on April 15.

Phlegmatics are good at living within their means. They are excellent bargain shoppers, content to drive older cars, eat in inexpensive restaurants, and stay in budget hotels when vacationing.

Because they don't like spending money, they might find tipping to be a challenge. You know you're a phlegmatic if you have a laminated tip card in your wallet that tells you exactly how much to tip and if you rarely leave more than 15 percent. This reluctance to spend may also make it a challenge to give money to charitable organizations. However, phlegmatics are also empathetic, so once they see a clear need, they can be generous.

They have a hard time throwing things away, even if clothing is out of fashion or the sofa is threadbare. If your closets, garage, or basement are packed with stuff, you may be phlegmatic.

Phlegmatics may agree to their need to start saving or investing but then put it off. Once they get started, though, they are good at sticking with the plan.

They are patient and persistent, although they can be overly conservative, especially with investments. They prefer bonds over stocks. However, because of their rational bent, they have the potential to choose well-researched investments. They may just need their spouse to help them pull the trigger on the investment once the research is done.

Because they avoid conflict, phlegmatics have a hard time contacting their creditors when in financial trouble. But once they solve their problem, they are unlikely to get into trouble again.

They are slow to make decisions, preferring to know all of their options. This can drive a choleric spouse crazy, but once a phlegmatic decides, they tend to make good decisions.

Phlegmatic pros/cons and what to do:
Your ability to live within your means will serve you and your spouse well.

Your main watch-out is to not let frugality turn into cheapness. A sign that you may have moved into the cheap camp is when your money-saving ways damage relationships.

Bonus idea:
Want to buy a phlegmatic spouse a great gift? Buy a high-quality version of something he or she enjoys. If your spouse likes to garden, for example, but uses rusty tools picked up at garage sales, buy him or her a nice new set of hand tools.

The melancholy and money

General description:
Disciplined, planner, lofty ideals.

Financial implications:
Of all the temperament types, melancholies are the most likely to enjoy using a budget. Their detail orientation makes them good at keeping records.

If anything, melancholies may be too detail-oriented, striving for the perfect budget and getting frustrated if the numbers are slightly off. They can also be a bit unrealistic, setting financial goals that are beyond the reach of most mortals.

Melancholies are good at controlling spending. Their sacrificial nature helps them delay gratification, keeping an old car until they have enough money saved to buy their next one with cash.

However, a perfectionist streak may cause melancholies to overspend on certain things, especially those related to their aesthetic nature: artwork, beautiful clothing, and such.

Fear can make melancholies under-perform in their work, as they are hesitant to ask for much of a salary when interviewing for a new job. Their self-doubt makes them fear missing out on the job if they ask for too much. Their sense of altruism may also impact career decisions. A martyr mindset, feeling the need to suffer for their cause, may lead them to low-paid work that is aligned with their values.

Melancholy pros/cons and what to do:
Your natural desire to use a budget gives you and your spouse a huge advantage.

Your main watch-out is a tendency to succumb to fear. It can hold you back in your career as you strive for too little, and it can lead you to be overly cautious as an investor.

Bonus idea:
Want to buy a melancholy spouse a great gift? Choose something that appeals to your mate's aesthetic sensibilities, such as tickets to a concert or play.

Your turn

See if you and your spouse can identify your temperaments and then talk about how you see them impacting your financial beliefs and behaviors. The goal is to put that knowledge to work so you can take full advantage of each other's natural money management strengths while minimizing your weaknesses.


From Money & Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples by Matt Bell, Copyright 2011 by Matt Bell, published by NavPress.