What do you do if your husband controls the money–and you don’t have any spending money at all?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. This week we’re going to be delving into marriage and finances, and we’re starting off with this question from a stay-at-home mom whose husband won’t give her an “allowance”:

Reader Question: My husband controls the money. What do I do? Some thoughts when your husband won't share finances.

Reader Question

I would love to read your thoughts on the working spouse giving the stay-at-home variety an allowance. I am a stay-at-home mom and I homeschool our 2 kids. I no longer have time to do freelance work, so I rely on my husband to provide financially 100%.

He works very hard, and though we don’t have a lot of disposable income, what we do have of it goes to his hobbies. I have asked in the past for an “allowance” so that I can pursue the things that I enjoy, but he has told me that we can’t budget for it. I understand it from a certain perspective because he is self-employed and our income varies from month to month; but on the other hand, when I have seen him put a certain amount towards his hobbies, I ask for a comparable amount, too, and he gets defensive.

Maybe that isn’t the best way to ask for some spending money, but every way I’ve tried seems a dead end. I think that if we are partners in life, money should be included in the partnership. We have been married just under 10 years, and I have tightened the belt on pursuing my own interests so that he can pursue his, and to avoid arguments. I know that, as a Christian, I am not entitled to anything, and anything I do have is by God’s generous provision, but I still feel our relationship is unbalanced in this area.

Oh, dear.

This question is one that instinctively sets off all kinds of alarm bells in my head. I’ve seen this dynamic too much in marriages around me of people that I love, and it is just plain wrong.

Let’s just look at a few things this reader has said:

  • I have asked for an allowance
  • He has told me we can’t budget for it
  • I ask for a comparable amount
  • Maybe this isn’t the best way to ask for some spending money

Do you see what the problem is here?

He controls the money, and she has to ask for it.

That is dangerous. That is wrong. That goes against the gospel.

If your husband controls the money, and gives you no access, it's wrong. | Finances in marriage should be shared--regardless of who earns the income!

When you are married, you become one flesh. Included in the old wedding vows were “all my worldly goods to thee I endow.” You’re now a single, economic entity. He does not own the money, and she does not own the money. The marriage covenant means that you own it together.

And yet in far too many marriages, he controls the finances and she doesn’t even have access to them.

If she has to ask for money, then I’m going to assume that she doesn’t have access to the bank accounts. I have seen so many couples where this is the case. He makes the money, so the money goes into a bank account that he controls, and that doesn’t even have her name on it. If she wants money, she has to ask for cash for groceries or for any other household needs.

Besides being very dangerous and foolhardy, since she would be in dire straits if anything ever happened to him, it sets up the marriage where he is above her. He makes the financial decisions, and then decides if he will listen to her input, and she has no way around it, because she does not have access to money.

Now, I believe that sometimes a spouse needs to be cut off from access to the main bank account if that spouse has broken trust and wracked up gambling debts or has credit card bills. Some spouses cannot be trusted with money, and need to take time to confront their addictions and prove that they are trustworthy to handle money.

But to set up a system from the beginning where they feel that the money is “his”, and he is doing her a favour by letting her have some of it, is just simply evil.

It is.

I know that sounds harsh. But we’re talking about a marriage here, where we are supposed to be one flesh. We aren’t talking about a master-servant relationship or a father-child relationship. We’re talking about a marriage. So what do we define as evil? Anything that goes against God’s plan. In this case, God’s plan is for two people to be one flesh–not for the one to be dependent on the other.

When the husband withholds finances, he becomes a “saviour” in a sense for the wife. She depends on him for everything. She has no money for food, transportation, clothes, or shelter without him. He becomes her benevolent dictator–he has all the power. That is against God’s plan. Therefore, I believe it is evil. For someone to believe that the money is more theirs than their spouse’s means that someone does not believe in the covenant of marriage as God intended. And that means that they are turning away from God. And when we do that–then, yes. It’s evil.

Denying your spouse access to money, and treating it like it’s “your” money instead of the family’s money, is just plain wrong.

I just want to say to this woman–you seem to feel guilty for wanting some money.

You said,

I know that, as a Christian, I am not entitled to anything, and anything I do have is by God’s generous provision, but I still feel our relationship is unbalanced in this area.

You sound like you’re trying to make excuses for feeling badly about this.

But it’s not that you’re being selfish. It’s that you’re sensing something is seriously off. That’s not selfishness. That’s good discernment!

(I just watched this Dave Ramsey video where he said something similar. It’s actually addressed to guys, but the point he makes is that marriages only do well when they set the finances TOGETHER. And in the very last minute of the video he calls the whole idea of a wife having an allowance ridiculous). 

What’s holding you back from a GREAT marriage?

Do you find yourselves taking each other for granted?

Has marriage lost that “spark”?

Learn how to feel connected again–and how changing the way you THINK about marriage can make all the difference.

So what would I do if my husband controlled the money?

I would first insist that I had a bank card and full access to the money. If he refused, then I would do what Matthew 18:15-17 says, and talk to someone in the church that we both respect and ask them to mediate. If he still refused, then I would take it to a pastor or elder (assuming that your pastor or elder does not believe that the husband should have full control over the money–which, again, is an evil doctrine).

After that, I would ask him, “can we sit down and make a budget together, because I want to make sure that we’re meeting our financial goals and that I’m being responsible with our money.” 

And then I would make a budget (Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar.com app is great for this!). And included in that budget would be spending money for both husband and wife. I’d suggest getting that money out in cash at the beginning of the month, so it’s understood that you each can do whatever you want with that amount of money. But if you want to spend more than that, then you have to consult the other, since it will have to come out of another item on the budget.

UPDATE: As Ashley pointed out so well in the comments, this may not always work because quite often a man controlling the money is simply financial abuse–and Matthew 18 does not work with abusive men. If you have tried to talk to him and tried this and he won’t budge, then you are in an abusive marriage. Please call an abuse hotline and talk to a lawyer and find out what your rights are. When you are married, all property is held in common. You have rights to that money. If he will not give any to you, then you really do need to treat it like abuse. I’m so sorry.

If she has no spending money, then every dollar that he spends will create a conflict.

It’s just such a huge imbalance of power, and it will get ugly. She’ll feel resentment, even if she tries not to, because she’s being treated like a child when she’s an adult.

His marriage will be so much better if he treats her as an equal financial partner–which is what she is. They are a team, working together towards common goals.

Denying your spouse access to money, and treating it like it’s “your” money instead of the family’s money, is just plain wrong. I knew a man who have refused to divulge their family’s finances or the debt load. The wife had to legally separate just to get a court order demanding that he reveal the finances (the wife didn’t want to separate; she just did that to get access to the information, so that she could make a plan to take care of the kids, since he was overspending so badly.) If he had just let her in in the first place, none of that would have needed to happen.

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about why it’s important that a couple share finances, whether they both work or not, but today I just wanted to address this slightly different issue when the husband controls the money. Not okay. Ever. And it needs to stop.

Have you ever been in a situation where you had no access to money? Or do you know friends in that situation? Let’s talk in the comments!

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