Marriage and Money, Spending and Saving
Money can be a really difficult thing to discuss and manage with your spouse, especially if one is irresponsible. You want to make sure that the bills are getting paid and also, maybe saving for the future. There are many things you can do to handle a financially irresponsible spouse.
The first course of action you need to take is make yourself in charge of all the bills. Make sure that you see them when they come, and be responsible to pay them right away. As simple as this may seem, it is extremely important to keep yourself out of trouble.
Talk to your spouse about their spending habits. Do not accuse them of their bad spending habits, but make it more of an open conversation. Talk about saving money and planning for the future. You can get a lot more accomplished when you have an open discussion rather than an argument.
Set everyone in the household on a budget. Take a look at the big picture to see what everyone can afford. If you are trying to pay down some bad debt it may be low at first, but look at the long term future. It would be better to pay off the debt now, as you will be paying a lot less interest in the long run.
Categorize all of your spending to see where your money is going. You may feel like your spouse is spending way too much money, but where is it really going. It may be things they are buying that you all actually need, but you do not realize it. If that’s the case, you need to back off before they get upset.
You may want to consider opening another bank account. Have a primary bank account that you use for all of your bills, as well as one that is used for just spending money. If there is something that you are saving for, open a savings account as well. The last bank account you should deposit into is the spending money, after everything else is taken care of.
It can be very frustrating when your spouse is irresponsible with their money, but you need to be the one to take action. It may not be fun to do, but it is better off for your future. It can be quite a battle, and spending habits won’t change overnight. Learning how to manage their money will only make them a better person.
Talking to a Spouse about Spending
Talking to a spouse about spending can be one of the most uncomfortable conversations you will ever have to have. Money is a touchy subject in many households, and people have the right to look at their money as their hard earned ticket to what they want. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for one spouse to bleed the family budget dry while the other spouse desperately tries to cover the bills that were left behind.
Approaching the subject is usually best done in calm moments they aren’t on either end of an important event. Bringing up the subject in the car on the way over to see the in laws might not create the best response. There may be some arguing, however you both have a valid right to help determine where money is spent.
The first suggested rule is to discuss the issue in a manner that doesn’t accuse and doesn’t place the other one the defensive. Saying things like “you’re drowning us,” or “We’re going to end up bankrupt because of you,” is really opening the door to a wicked argument. Suggesting that the two of you begin to implement a budget simply because you’re obviously not on the same financial page can be received well in most cases. Explaining that the bills aren’t getting paid on time or that you’re having to scrimp in other areas should bring home at the very least the idea that perhaps too much money is being spent and it should be discussed. On the other hand, money that is siphoning out of the checking account and being poured into a passionate hobby is not going to be easily forfeited.
Presenting an honest but firm assessment of the situation is important. Understanding that money is typically a shared arrangement in most marriages it is not uncommon for one spouse to be a little more responsible with money than the other spouse. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the irresponsible spouse has a free ticket to destroy the household finances, either. Starting from the beginning, some form of basic agreement should be in place to help ease these conversations into a familiar place. If a basic agreement was never put into place, then it is time to ask for one, something you can both live with. Some couples open a separate checking account that allows extra money to be deposited into it when appropriate for the frivolous spending of a spouse. Other couples can simply come up with a monthly “frivolous budget” in order to protect the family bills from late notices and shut off dates.
How well the conversation goes depends in part on how well the two of you communicate as well as the level of respect you both have for each other. If the spending spouse doesn’t respect the other spouse’s opinion, little can be said outside of pointing out the lack of respect, and in severe cases, suggesting therapy.
Once the topic has been approached, it is up to the two of you to determine how to agreeably solve the problem. In many cases it is vital that you come to the table of discussion with an alternative plan already in mind, but remain open to possible ideas the spending spouse may offer. Negotiation and reasonable respect of the other’s feelings is part of the conversation, even when the spending habits are significantly out of control. Naturally, a financial crisis is going to take an immediate plan with immediate implementation.
Sometimes a spouse simply is unaware of the amount of money they have been spending and simply bringing up the topic for open conversation can clue them into the fact that the money tree stopped growing when they weren’t looking. In these cases, the conversation will be easy and smooth and the problem will resolve quickly and in some cases it will even improve your communication habits. In other cases, a spouse may actually be handling serious emotional stress with the joy of whipping out the credit card and not be overly concerned with what it is doing to the monthly bank statement. These conversations are going to be much more difficult and lead to rocky agreements and probably a few hurt feeling. While money is not the most argued about subject between American couples, it is certainly up on the top five portion of the list.
Talking to a spouse about spending should not have to be a tragic event for either of you. Sometimes opening up the conversation can lead to a previously unrecognized problem, such as a spouse’s feelings of inadequacy when compared with the neighbors or the fear of not providing well enough for the family’s needs. In other cases it may be a brewing addiction.
It’s not necessary to leap straight to the extreme of addiction, however for some people spending is an addiction. The introduction of the internet and the ability to spend large amounts of money within a short period of time has led to an increase in spending addictions. However, this is not the first stop on the list of possibilities and jumping the gun can be offensive to a significant other. Addiction becomes a possibility when the issue has been addressed numerous times and there is no change in the behavior, or the behavior increases during times of stress which can naturally be created by overspending.
When talking to a spouse about spending the main ingredient is keeping calm. No matter how or when you approach it, remaining calm and factual can take a lot of the emotional stress related to money right out of the picture, or at least encourage it to leave the picture.
Dealing With A Financially Irresponsible Spouse
When you're trying to manage the family finances, you need the full support and cooperation of your spouse. When your spouse is bad with money, it's up to you to take the steps to protect your family financially.
- Assess the situation. Is your spouse bad with money because they were never taught any better or do their financial problems stem from something deeper? Is their problem chronic shopping and spending or do they have a more serious problem, such as a drug or gambling addiction? Before you can begin to fix the situation, you have to look at what the real problem is and whether or not you can or even want to try to fix it.
- Once you've identified the problem, you need to decide what can be done to try to fix it and if you even want to try. Ultimately, it's going to be up to your spouse to make the necessary changes to their behavior so you have to know going in what you can tolerate and what's a dealbreaker for you.
- If you're willing to try to fix the problem, the first thing you need to do is sit with your spouse and try to talk to them about your concerns. Talking about money is very likely going to be uncomfortable, and your spouse may react defensively and be unresponsive at first. Resist the urge to blame all of your money problems on your spouse alone. Unless you've only recently discovered the depth of your joint money troubles, then you have some responsibility in this too.
- Once you've got a dialogue going, then the two of you together need to sit down and make a plan for repairing your finances. The key in this is to make sure that you are participating equally. Your spouse does not want to be treated like a child any more than you want to be a parent figure. You need to have a plan for budgeting, saving, getting rid of debt, and setting longterm goals. Together, decide on how you will reward yourselves for accomplishing your goals.
- If your spouse is unresponsive, then you may want to suggest counseling. Having a third-party take a look at the situation may make it easier for him or her to voice their opinions without feeling attacked. If they are still unwilling to talk about your marital money problems, then you need to decide if the marriage is worth saving.
- If you can't reach your spouse but can't leave the marriage, take steps to prevent them from accessing money that is to be set aside for bills, groceries, savings, etc. If they are responsible for paying a portion of the bills, set up an auto-draft each money to move the money automatically out of their account. Do not give them access to your credit cards or open joint credit or cosign a loan for them.
Financially Ever After: The Couples' Guide to Managing Money ~ Jeff D. Opdyke
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