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.
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
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!