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Your Money

Saving & Spending

Ho ho … Oh no: When couples clash over holiday spending

The following Chase article is designed to help you stay smart about holiday spending.

Make more of what’s yours.

Try this over dinner with your significant other: Write down the number of holiday gifts you think you'll need to buy this season, or the amount you think you should spend. Then compare figures and see if you come up with very different answers.

Tiffany Mason experienced a money shock her very first December as a newlywed.

"My husband and I both grew up from different backgrounds, especially with holiday traditions," says the New York City resident. "I grew up having a big family get-together with tons of Filipino food and presents. My husband John grew up going to a local restaurant with only his immediate family, and there were no gifts. This caused some friction in our marriage. I wanted to spend money to buy gifts for our family. John didn't even want to send Christmas cards!"

Whether this holiday season is your first or your 15th together, what do you do when your partner wants to spend a lot more—or a lot less—on holiday gifts than you? Consider these strategies to prevent gift-giving stalemates:

Focus on the Three Cs

Kate Roberts, a licensed clinical psychologist in Hamilton, Mass., recommends couples focus on the "three Cs: communication, compromise and connection."

"Communication is key to success in relationships, and nowhere is it more necessary than when it comes to spending habits," says Roberts. Connecting with your significant other will ensure you're both willing to work together to find a solution, she says, with compromise helping couples meet in the middle.

Create a Budget for Gift Spending, and Do It Early

Don't wait until your online shopping cart is full to have a conversation about holiday spending. The sooner you talk, says Roberts, the better. Keeping financial plans in the forefront of your relationship helps you forego impulsive buying and helps you remain committed to a longer-term plan, she says.

Nick Foy, a certified financial planner professional and adviser with CAVU Wealth Advisors in Charlotte, N.C., agrees. "The better and more automated your plan going into the holidays, the more likely you are to avoid making emotional decisions around gifts," he says. In other words, if you prioritize and automate your savings plans, you'll have an easier time refraining from spending money on items left off the plan, Foy says.

Find Common Ground

The easiest solution for those with spending differences is compromise. "Couples who are far apart in the amounts of money they want to spend can agree to a middle figure," says Roberts. But compromise can take many other forms as well. Maybe you decide to give one gift to a family in lieu of gifts to each family member. Maybe you stop giving presents to kids over a certain age. Be open to new ideas and creative solutions.

Get To the Root of the Issue

The holidays can be an emotion-filled time, and a spouse's desire to spend or save may have a source well beyond the checkbook. "People with deep-rooted insecurities may feel they need to prove themselves by overspending to impress," says Roberts, adding that, if this is the case, talking together as a couple or with a marriage therapist may help.

Focus On the Positive

When you're forced to spend less on holiday gifts, it's easy to feel you're giving something up. Instead, re-frame the situation to think about it as an opportunity to gain something—namely, your sanity.

"Spending too much money can be a stressor unto itself," says Dr. Daniel Crosby, a psychologist who focuses on how people behave with respect to their finances. Making the decision as a couple to spend less signifies a dual choice to avoid future stress by staying focused on your financial goals, he says. Coming up with meaningful and inexpensive gift ideas together can be fun—and you'll feel a lot less worried when those January bills arrive.

Ultimately, Mason and her husband worked through their first-year holiday spending and decided to forego gifts. They instead spent money on the travel expenses that would allow them to celebrate in person with their families.

"Before Thanksgiving, we had a serious discussion about our family finances and how we wanted to move forward," she says. "Since we were young and just starting out in our careers, we didn't have a lot of money to spend for gifts so we compromised and traveled to his family's for Thanksgiving, and to mine for Christmas. I was glad we were able to spend quality time."

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