Reader Question: My Husband Won’t Stick to a Budget

Reader Question of the Week

It’s time for our Reader Question of the Week feature! I post a question that a reader has sent in and give some broad ideas of how I’d tackle it. Since we’re at the beginning of the New Year, and so many of you are trying to get new starts in all kinds of different areas, I thought I’d tackle a budgeting question: what do you do when your husband spends too much money? We had a great guest post last week on how to make Money Resolutions you can keep, and so I thought this question fit right in:

My husband is a natural spender and I am a natural saver. We both work and we make enough to pay for the basics that our household needs. We have no savings, and we have a lot of medical debt, student loans, and some past bill debts from when we weren’t making enough to live off of. He brings home about double what I do. His spending habits have improved since we got married. When he wants something I hate telling him no because I know how hard he works, but often times the things he feels are needs really aren’t needs and as a result he buys things for himself throughout the year. He also has a video game addiction that he puts of his extra money into.

I put things I really need on the back burner and I am starting to feel resentful toward him and I want to change that. I feel resentment when the soles of my work shoes are coming undone yet he just bought a new game. I feel resentful when my child’s school uniforms look horrible and I have to take the money from our $60 a week grocery budget to go to the thrift store to find him a pair of pants. I beat myself up right now because I am pregnant and extremely high risk and the medication I need costs $140. I cry every time thinking about what debt I could have paid off or what need I could meet with our house when I buy the medication or travel to the 2 hours one way to the doctor. Then when his cell phone (which he does need for work) goes out on him, instead of finding an affordable replacement he is insisting on spending 150 for a nicer one. While the cost of the nicer one is actually a good deal, He took the extra money from what we had budgeted out of the money set aside for us to use while we were at the hospital delivering our second child.

How do I open up our financial lines of communication and find a middle ground for us? How can I meet his need to spend with my need to feel like we aren’t drowning in debt and meet all of our household needs as well. How do I get him to understand the importance of a having a savings, and why we should pay off these medical bills, and past debts?

That’s a really big problem, and one that I know many readers have. So I thought today I’d give some broad thoughts on how to get on the same page financially.

When your husband spends too much money: How to Stick to a Budget Together

There’s several negative dynamics going on here, and so I’d like to give some general guidelines and some ideas for going forward.

Don’t Focus on the Small Things

When we start having disagreements like this, we tend to focus on the most recent infraction. This rarely works.

The issue is not that he bought a game and she didn’t have money for children’s clothes; the issue is that they don’t have a budget that works.

Arguing about the game is completely fruitless. You will end up frustrated and he will end up frustrated. Yet when someone doesn’t stick to a budget and makes a purchase that we think is frivolous and irresponsible, that tends to be what we do. “How could you have spent $75 on a game when we’re in debt?” He ends up defending the game, you fight the game, and you’re missing the bigger picture.

Often there’s a “straw that breaks the camel’s back”, something that he buys that sends you over the edge. Resist the impulse to blow up at that one thing. Take a step back and discuss the REAL issue, which is the budget.

Get the Big Financial Picture in Mind–Together

The real issue is that they do not have a shared plan for getting out of debt or a shared understanding and vision of where their family is going. She is trying to rein everything in while he feels no need to at all. And because of that they’re going to be constantly at loggerheads. She will feel like he’s undermining her, and he will feel like she is a spoilsport and is disrespecting him.

So you have to have a conversation where you focus on the big picture, not on the little things. If you know WHY you have a budget–ie. you sit down and say, “we need to have $x saved up for our retirement by this particular year in the future, and that means that we need to be working towards clearing debts and saving $X a year”, then it’s easier to stick to it.

When you’re not upset, sit down with a calculator, a pen and paper, and a list of your bills and assets, and ask if you can talk through things.

1. Ask him, where would you like to be in 10 years? In 15 years? Would you like to own a house? Would you like to be able to take vacations? Make a list of what you would like.

2. Now talk about where you are right now. What is your net worth? Add up what you own, and then add up what you owe, and subtract what you owe from what you own.

3. Now plot where you will be if you do nothing differently for the next five years. If you keep going like this, what will happen? Will your credit cards max out? Will you be unable to pay for anything? Compare that to your goals in #1.


4. Talk together about how to move forward differently. A great resource is Dave Ramsey’s program Financial Peace, which so many of my Facebook fans recommended. If you make a plan to read through that together over the next few weeks, he’ll help you, step by step, figure out a budget and a savings plan and a debt repayment plan.

One other step that a few Facebook commenters suggested is to show the difference between paying things off and not paying things off. How much money are you spending in interest every month? Every year? Now, how many video games would that money buy? What kind of vacations would that buy? If you can be diligent for a few years, then you won’t be throwing that money away anymore and you can have more room for fun purchases.

Beware of the Over-Compensating Downward Spiral–Your husband spends too much money, so you become a miser

Overcompensating when your husband spends too much money--stop the downward spiral!
A few other tips. Quite often when we’re approaching a problem differently we tend to overcompensate. We do this in parenting, too; if he’s a strict disciplinarian, and you like to hug and kiss and build relationship, then you’re going to think he’s an ogre. And whenever he comes down hard on the kids, you’ll let them have things easy for a while. When he sees you letting them off the hook, he’ll become even firmer. In the end, you both don’t even resemble what you want to be. You’re far too lax for your own liking, and he’s far too strict, but that’s what you’ve become as you’ve compensated for one another.

The same thing happens with money. When your husband spends too much, you feel like you can’t spend anything. So you stop spending entirely. You become a miser. When he sees you not spending anything, he feels like you both need more fun in your life, so he spends even more. You become even more a saver than you naturally are, and he becomes even more a spender.

I see that happening here. She’s afraid to even spend money on medicine which she needs for her child. When you feel yourself over-compensating, talk about it. Don’t let this spiral start.

Give Yourselves Disposable Income

For a budget to work, you have to have disposable income. The goal is not to spend $0. The goal is to slowly but surely get out of debt and build your net worth. Make sure, then, that when you do budget, you budget in some money for him to spend on himself, and some for you to spend on yourself. And then do spend it! It’s not a good example to your children if you deprive yourself of absolutely everything and lose yourself because you want to give them a better life. You need balance.

How do you stick to only spending what you’ve budgeted? If impulse spending is a problem, then the best way is to set up a cash system. At the beginning of the week, give each of you your disposable income, in cash. Leave the credit cards at home. Tell your husband he can spend that money on anything, but if he wants something big, he’ll have to save it up over the course of several weeks. If you make a habit of only spending cash, those rash purchases don’t tend to happen.

Consider Setting Up Separate Finances

Finally, I don’t recommend this very often, but there are times when it’s best to separate finances. I’m a huge believer in couples having one bank account, and having it be “our” money, not “his” and “hers”. My husband and I have always shared finances, and we never label any money as belonging to him or belonging to me. What’s ours is ours, no matter who earned it. That, I think, should be the model for marriage.

However, if your husband is consistently driving you into debt, and is endangering the family’s financial health, then talking to a third party about it and asking to sit down and talk about altogether is likely warranted. And then setting up a separate bank account is probably a good idea. When the pay is deposited, you take out the money that you need for the family and you put it in a separate account so that you can pay off debt and buy groceries. With the help of a counselor or pastor, cancel credit cards if you need to. Let him keep some disposable income, but don’t give him access to the grocery money.

Again, I don’t think this step should be taken unless you first talk to a third party, and unless things are really desperate. I don’t think this is a healthy model for marriage. But there are times when a guy is gambling money away, or when he’s spending so frivolously that you’re in danger of losing your house, and in that case you have little choice.


I don’t think you can fix a money issue like this without talking about the big picture, and without agreeing on a plan going forward. And I have found that the best way to agree on a plan is to read some of the financial planning books that are available. Dave Ramsey is really easy to read and really easily accessible, and he lays out a step-by-step system for developing a plan. Here are a few of his resources:

The Financial Peace Planner: A Step-by-Step Guide to Restoring your Family’s Financial Health ($11.90)
The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness ($16.48)
Total Money Makeover Workbook ($15.99)
Deluxe Executive Envelope System ($16.47) To help you move to a cash system!

That’s my advice for today! Have you ever had to get out of debt? How did you and your husband get on the same page? Let me know in the comments!

Comments

  1. What a tough situation. But I do believe us telling our husbands to do anything in not only not biblical, it will probably do more harm to our marriages than having to go through a bankruptcy.

    I do think we need to pray with out ceasing. I do think we need to have a serious conversation, several times possibly. I do think we need to have our husbands talk to our church elders if it’s gotten really bad (hopefully in a let’s go talk to somebody at church about this and only an “intervention” if it has gotten really serious). And I do think we need to continue to be frugal. And most importantly we need to continue to follow our husbands leadership. We choose him and agreed to follow when we said “I do.” Sometimes our husbands will make wrong decisions, even ones that bring us pain. But in the end they will grow from that. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to head off the pain/wrong decision when we see it coming with prayer and sharing our concerns. But in the end it is not my job to tell my husband what to do or how much money he can spend. He is the head of our household, for better or worse.

  2. I don’t see how you can do anything Biblically other than pray without ceasing. God in His divine power will be able to do a lot more convincing than a wife can. Pray that first and foremost, your heart as a wife will be gentle and submissive, being selfless. Then pray that God would change his heart, and the circumstances.

    One question to check your heart about, is there resentment about the money or about the time spent on video games? I’ve known more than one friend of mine who has been so upset about the money her husband spends on video games, but the heart issues was really that she was envious of the time spent with games rather than her.

  3. happywife says:

    I have to agree with Julie and Amy here that there is really nothing a wife can do other than pray and release her husband to God to work. Yes, you can sit down and have a serious conversation and request to work on a budget together, but if he isn’t ready to be submitted to a budget, he isn’t going to stick to it, and it isn’t a wife’s job to control her husband’s spending. You can also voice your opinion about a potential purchase, but you can’t make the choice for him. He’s his own person and when we make demands or tell him what he can or can’t do, we aren’t respecting him as a person. He has a right to choose to live his live the way he chooses… yes, even at the expense of his family. .That is his choice.

    The wife mentioned in her question that there is a video game addiction. My experience with my addicted husband (alcohol) taught me that my best efforts to control the situation were no match over the control the addiction had over my husband. I had to wait and allow my husband to hit bottom and decide for himself that he wanted to be free. It wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t easy, but surrendering the situation to God was the best move I made. When we try to intervene, we actually prolong the addiction. That isn’t to say that a wife doesn’t set boundaries for herself. One of those boundaries in this situation could be to put her own income into an account to manage on her own. But we must always remember that the only person we have any control over is ourselves.

    I’m also not quite sure about the idea of getting elders or pastors involved. Yes, I realize it is biblical to confront believers in their sin, but you really need to pray through this and make sure that God is leading this. You could end up humiliating your husband and pushing him further into his irresponsibility. Not to mention he may quit going to church. I just keep envisioning dragging a naughty little boy to the principal’s office. That is very likely how he will feel. Please seek God’s leading before doing this.

    • happywife says:

      I want to come back and clarify that I think your advice in creating a financial plan, how to communicate, and allowing for disposable income is all very sound advice. But he has to be willing to move forward toward a financial plan or the they will both be frustrated. And the fact that she is writing to ask this advice (as well as her scenario about the phone) makes me suspect that he isn’t on board which is why I focused on the fact that you can’ t control or change your husband, but have to allow God to work.

      • God works most often through Ordinary Means. By that I mean, that while we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” we also understand that we must go and earn it. When we pray for God to work in the man’s heart (and hers as well) that doesn’t preclude taking other Biblical steps toward accountability.

        Sometimes, rather than waiting for him to hit bottom (potentially a very, very long fall), it’s better by far to bring the bottom up to him.
        Julie recently posted…Grasshopper DaysMy Profile

  4. Kind of late to shut the barn door after the cows have gotten out, but really this is an issue that should’ve been addressed BEFORE marriage. My husband and I could fit that scenario nearly perfectly (without the video game component) were it not for pre-marriage financial counseling. I firmly believe that has saved our marriage many times over! We’re still now 100% on the same page, but a lot closer than we would’ve been.

    But where they are now, there is a LOT she can do. First and foremost pray about the situation – for God to be glorified in their handling of money and their marriage.

    Along with Sheila’s wonderful suggestions, there are other avenues this woman can pursue. I whole-heartedly disagree with the “all you can do Biblically is pray”. The man is sinning. There is a Biblical process available to the wife, found in Matthew 18.

    Further, she could quit her job. If it’s completely his prerogative how the money is spent, then it’s his job to earn it. Stop working and let him bear the full responsibility of his decisions.
    Julie recently posted…Grasshopper DaysMy Profile

    • Oops, typo. That should say “still noT 100%…”
      Julie recently posted…Grasshopper DaysMy Profile

    • Julie,
      I’m not sure if he is sinning. There is a difference between sinning and not making wise decisions. Also, God does not tell us to submit to the perfect husband only. He tells us to submit to the husband we have, unless he is asking us to sin. I don’t see how this husband is asking his wife to sin, so therefore by quitting her job she would therefore be the one in sin. I do believe prayer and being obedient to God are the most useful things she can do. God’s wisdom is different than man’s wisdom. I know it’s hard for me to understand and it definetly goes against the culture.

      • He’s sinning by not loving his wife as Christ loves the church – sacrificially. He’s not protecting her or providing for her, and I’m not talking about a lavish lifestyle. This is a couple who already has a kid (or kids), she is experiencing a igh risk pregnancy, and she’s out in the workforce? And that’s not even touching the video game addiction, the bad stewardship (history of debt), and the lack of leadership and discernment.

        Since when did it become unsubmissive to confront your spouse? Love speaks the truth. Love tells a friend that he’s about to go over a cliff.
        Julie recently posted…Grasshopper DaysMy Profile

        • Julie,
          I didn’t say she should confront him in the manner of discussing it with him. I think we as helpmates without a doubt as the Pam says, have a discussion with him. But ultimately, it is his call. Our command to submit is seperate of his his command to love his wife as Christ loves the church. That is to say, we are to submit regardless. We don’t just submit when he is loving us as Christ loves the church. In fact scripture teaches us that even the wife of the unbeliever is to submit and that we are to submit in all things. I agree that that goes against our human nature and even seems downright unfair and maybe even dumb or dangerous. But God often calls his children to do things that go against human nature and even to be faithful in situations that are way less than ideal. He didn’t say we wouldn’t have situations that are scary, or that we wouldn’t have to walk thru the valley of the shadow of death but that we need not fear because He is with us in that valley of the shadow of death.

          I agree that this husband has lots of growing up to do. But remember we are getting one half of the story. It’s quite possible she does to. They seem to be a young couple and I know I sure had lots of growing to do at that age. I don’t believe we get to choose when to be faithful to the vows we made and if we are christians and wives, that does mean submitting (unless of course he is asking us to sin or truly sinning against us). I know the high risk pregnancy thing gives me a great deal of pause also. I know how clueless even to this day my husband is about pregnancy’s though and he is a great man who looks out for me. It’s quite possible he just doesn’t get this. Also, I’m not trying to say this woman is dishonest, but I hear way to many women talking about video game addictions. This man isn’t missing work and even though there are financial difficulties she doesn’t say there is anything else wrong with the marriage. Some guys play golf, some watch TV, some play video games. Addiction is a strong word and I’m sure he likes his video games but if he’s truly addicted he’d be missing work or having more troubles I’d think.

          Lastly, I agree that wives should be at home (especially when pregnant) but not all husbands and a whole lot of women don’t agree with that. If a husband asks a wife to work, I don’t agree with it but again I believe it to be his call. I know that is radical in this day and age.

          I’m sorry this is so long but I wanted to address all of your points!

          • I’m married too, and I understand well that each of our callings in marriage (the husband’s to love, and the wife’s to respect) stand independent of the other’s obedience. Where we disagree, and will undoubtedly continue to, is in defining Biblical submission.

            You’re right – we only have one side of the story, and I’m taking it at face value. I’m sure neither party is completely innocent, and good counseling should get to the bottom of that. But I in no way agree that her only Biblical recourse is to pray.

            If her discussion with him yields no fruit she can follow Matthew 18, and involve the church elders. Probably they could both benefit from an impartial counselor and some accountability, and he may be much MORE willing to listen to someone else when he won’t listen to his wife.

            Submission doesn’t mean overlooking sin. Submission doesn’t mean you can only bring something up once. Submission doesn’t mean he’s always right. That does NOT make for a healthy relationship, nor one that glorifies God. God gave us to each other to complement each other. His strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. She can be a great benefit and blessing to him by NOT continuing to ennable his bad habits.
            Julie recently posted…Grasshopper DaysMy Profile

          • Julie,
            I agree with you that if it gets serious enough that Mat 18 needs to be be acted upon. I just think of that as the big guns! That’s when he’s gambling away the mortgage or not going to work (as far as finiancial things go). I just did not see this rising to that level. I didn’t believe him to be sinning, just young and making some immature decisions.

            I think God wired men to react to submissiveness and “without a word” spirit. Of course not all, there are bad men in this world but this man doesn’t seem to be bad, just young.

  5. Sheila, I think you have given excellent advice for this situation. The husband and wife need to be on the same page with the budget, and if there isn’t a budget, they need to have one.

    Yes, a wife should pray that God changes her husband’s heart in this matter and the wife should pray for guidance when dealing with this situation. However, I don’t think a wife’s only course of action should be to pray, just because the wife should submit to her husband.

    I have seen the husband/wife relationship compared to the relationship between a boss/employee because the husband is the head of the household, like a boss would be the head of a company. While I don’t like this comparison, I think it can help to explain my thinking in this situation. If an employee sees a problem coming in a business, shouldn’t the employee alert the boss to the situation? That way, the employee can help to make suggestions on how to fix the problem? Rarely do bosses see every problem coming at the business. Bosses rely on their employees to help alert them to any potential problems in the business. In the same way, if a wife sees a problem with her family’s finances (ie, not being able to pay bills, going further into debt), shouldn’t the wife alert her husband to the problem so the 2 of them can work on a solution (ie, a budget)? Why is it not Biblical for the wife to have a discussion with her husband regarding this issue? A husband and wife should be a team and tackle the budgeting and family finances together.

  6. It’s not being a helpmeet to watch your husband “lead” his whole family into debt and deprivation. There is nothing more unhelpful in fact. If this woman is having trouble affording money for medicine then he needs to hear about this in no uncertain terms. Sit down and show him the numbers. Ask him what he thinks about the situation. Share your fears with him. If he responds with a plan to deal with it then get behind it joyfully. If he doesn’t see a problem and refuses to deal with it then you need to get your pastor/elders/his father/etc. Bankruptcy might not be the end of the world, but before you resign yourself to watching your family hit bottom make sure your husband has a very clear warning as to the dangers that lie ahead.
    Natalie recently posted…And the diagnosis was….My Profile

  7. This is so similar to an issue brought up in a recent post by Jolene Engle (3 Aspects to consider re: your future spouse) concerning a health conscious girl and her (opposite) potential husband. Some commentors (this post) were debating the role of the wife in addressing the issue, but the sad fact is that even if/when she tries to communicate and promote change, he won’t comply anyway.
    He is being selfish, immature, inconsiderate, irresponsible. Teamwork and communication have disappeared and a battle of wits ensues. It is so wrong. And the fact that there is an absence of communication over serious health needs is terrible and it shows much deeper relational problems than a video game purchase. They should be talking and praying it over together, but unfortunately, he doesn’t know how to talk something over with his wife! He only knows how to be selfish and irresponsible.
    She needs to be completely honest with him and she also needs help from people in authority over him, i.e. church leaders. Is that instead of her role as a praying wife? Not at all. Even with the counsel of a pastor it will still take God’s miracle for him to change! And he needs to change, no doubt about it.
    So, in retrospect, these issues need to be way out in the open and proven before a couple gets married. My wife and I approach money, health, lifestyle, cleanliness in the same way and yet we still need to keep great communication over those issues. Right now we are working out our diet and we know we have to be in it together, one flesh.
    Thank you Sheila for another great post and advice, especially the word ‘together’! Which, with a Godly focus, is really the answer to so many problems in marriage.

  8. I had almost the same exact situation. I only had $60 cash to live on the day I went into labor with my first child. I’m still digging us out of debt and my kid is 5 now. I’m natural better at managing money than my husband is, he’s better at maintaining the yard, vehicles, ect. Marriage is a partnership. You wouldn’t let the business partner who failed Economics 101 be CFO would you? So I became our family CFO. We have two checking accounts, one together where he puts his money, but I have access to if I need it, and mine alone, where the money I make goes, a percentage of his pay check, and I pay all of the bills out of it. I made us a budget, along with a debt snowball worksheet. I always make him aware what I’m doing and he usually agrees with me. He has a limited amount of money he can spend each week (the same I get for personal non-family stuff) and if he wants a video game, he has to save up for it, just like I do when I want something. He can lead the family spiritually without running you into debt. We are a family of believers and we do much better with me managing our finances. We wouldn’t still be married now if I hadn’t taken over our finances. I hated him for a long time, but once I got a handle on things it’s like we fell in love all over again. If saving your sanity means having a separate checking account, as long as he agrees, it’s worth it.

  9. This subject hits close to home since I found out last month that my husband has been lying, sneeking behi.g my back and spent our life savings in less than a year. And let me tell you, it was a lot of money.
    We have 4 children, 2 under 3, no insurance, no savings, no prospects for the future right now. It has taken a lot of prayer and searching deeply within myself to hold on and not let this be tbe last straw in our much less than stellar marriage.
    I have had to ask very hard questions of my husband but as he has lied to me over and over again there is not much trust there. None really. And i don’t believe a word he says right now.
    I know this is an extreme version of this subject but i also know that this happens a lot and prayer just isn’t enough for those of us hurting from these wounds. Spouses are not always willing to do what is right and we must step uo and do what is right to take vare of our families.
    There is no way I would let my kids go without food, shelter, etc. for the sake of “for better or for worse”. Unfortunately, my husband has shown that he would. It astonisbes me that people would think that this is okay… ever.

    • Tina, I’m so sorry. You’re right–this isn’t acceptable. I’d point you to this post about how to get help when your spouse is really doing something wrong. It sounds like you need it! I pray that you will get someone to help you and to guide both of you through this.

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