Jul 11 2008

Reader question: What to do about spendthrift spouse?


A reader e-mailed me a question, and I’m not really sure how to answer her. I’m hoping you can provide some insight in the comments. Thanks!

I’m having a hard time getting my husband to get on my level of frugality. He’s very into materials and I’m more into simple living. I’ve tried handing over the bills, I’ve tried saying No to him, it seems I’ve tried everything and I’m just worried because we have $0 in our savings account and it seems that if there’s any money left from a check, he’s needing to spend it, even if it’s not on himself. We tithe, we try to pay all of our bills, but sometimes we stiff Peter to pay Paul, you know?
What can I do? He was this way when I married him, so it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into. But I’ve changed and I want a more simple, secure, savings in life. Any ideas would be helpful.

It’s a tough situation. I’m not sure exactly what the best advice would be, but it seems as if somehow you’ve got to get the lines of communication open with your husband.

Do you know why he doesn’t want to save? Perhaps he would be open to have money set aside for emergencies, but it’s hard for him to give up his spending habits.

If that’s the case, maybe you could try automatically sending an agreed-upon amount of money first thing from each paycheck to a savings account. This should be a joint account, but preferably something that can’t be as readily accessed as your main checking account. Maybe an online bank such as ING Direct could be a good option for you to explore.

If you aren’t familiar with Dave Ramsey, I’d like for you and your husband to check him out. If there’s a live event in your area, absolutely go and take hubby with you. If that’s not an option, see if you can find a Financial Peace University class in your area for the both of you to join. Or, both of you can read his books (you can probably find them at your library).

Have him be an active part of the solution. It would be harder for someone to accept, “This is what you’re going to do with our money from now on” versus, “What can we both do to have an outcome that works for both of us?”

Maybe he has some ideas of his own.

If he’s unwilling to discuss money and unwilling to start saving, then I guess there are two options: You can drop the matter, or seek professional counseling to explore what’s going on.

I wish you the best of luck, and I hope that readers can chime in and offer suggestions.

Posted under Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Reader question: What to do about spendthrift spouse?”

  1. I’ve been lucky–my husband was like this reader’s when we first got together but he’s changed a lot in the last 10 years. It’s taken time, however! My tip is to try to figure out what causes his spendthrift ways and see if you can solve that particular issue. For example, over the years, I’ve learned that my husband’s family lived hand to mouth a lot (a family favorite dish, I learned only just last year, was because they couldn’t afford to buy spaghetti sauce, not because it was initially beloved). When they had money, they spent it. So now, when he has money, he spends it! It makes him feel good to be the guy with the money, able to spend it on himself, his family, his friends.

    Our primary answer to this is to have personal spending money, aka an allowance (note: he HATED the term allowance when we started, but over the years, doesn’t care anymore). We each get $X each week or month and we are beholden to NO ONE as to how it gets spent. As our income as gone up, so has our allowance. But, also, as some savings goals went up, our allowance also went up even though income didn’t. DH explained that it was easier for him to commit to larger savings if he also got more money in his pocket. In conjunction then, some stuff came out of the regular budget (such as eating out, junk food, or getting movies).

    Relatedly, we usually split extra money (like tax refunds, extra work, joint gift money, etc.)–either 3 ways (me, him, house) or 2 ways (25% for each of us and 50% to house). Having a little extra in his own pocket makes it easy for him to say “Put the rest towards budget Y.”

  2. What I would do is pay the bills, tithes, etc first. Then whatever is left over is split 50/50 between you, so you can both do what you want with it. He gets to spend his half, you get to save yours or do whatever with it.

    Solomon’s last blog post..The “Things I’m Grateful For” July contest – Starts July 1st!

  3. Amy of Tightwad Gazette Book fame addressed this subject in one of her volumes. It would be worth reading this section again.

    Debbie J.’s last blog post..Mid-Year Financial Checkup

  4. My man is the same. He’s a spendthrift but my patience and persistence is slowly changing him. Like AnneMarie, we have an allowance system. He can spend his allowance on whatever and he won’t hear a peep from me.

    It also helps that I write down our financial goals and stick it on the fridge for him to see everyday. Everytime we make progress, I will excitedly tell him and somehow my enthusiasm rubs off on him.

    He’s still a work in progress but he’s now understaning the importance of taking control of our finances.

    Good luck!

  5. What great suggestions- and I think that the best part is that these wives are RESPECTING their husbands and in turn, the men are seeing how they can love their wives and help them feel a bit more secure. It may be wise to seek a pastor’s counsel or some other Christian counselor (Crown Financial has some great resources)now, too, and not wait until something “big” happens. God Bless.

  6. When you’re dating someone, at what point do you start talking about money? My boyfriend and I know each other’s habits, but I don’t feel right talking to him about what I think he should do with his money. For example, he was looking at laptops until he found out that he wont be getting a stimulus check. He said “maybe they have a lay a way program”. I said “or you could put it into savings and see if you can find a better deal later on?” and he stuck his tongue out on me. Oy, money and drinking are probably our only challenges (right now). When do you take that next step?

    Kimberly’s last blog post..Lacking updates – sorry

  7. My husband was similar when we were first together. What helped him was some cold hard facts. I used an online calculator, titled “How much will my savings be worth?” from bankrate.com, put in the amount I expected we could reasonably save if spending habits changed, and project what that account would be worth in a year, 5 years, 10 years, etc. My husband said that before seeing those numbers, it was hard for him to see the point in saving – any amount we saved seemed so small to him that he couldn’t imagine it amounting to anything worthwhile. Now he totally gets it, and we have saved a lot of money without any more arguments or frustration on my part about it.

  8. The only advice I have is this: If he is a spendthrift, DO NOT let him take over the job of paying the bills every month. Because you might find him using that money to buy something you guys don’t even need instead of paying the bills. I learned that lesson the hard way.

    My husband and I have been married for 12 years, and we started out in a very similar situation to yours. He liked to spend money…and eventually it rubbed off on me and we were on a downward spiral. Things started to get better after I changed my ways and took over paying the bills. He likes the fact that I pay everything on time, and he spends much less in order to keep it that way. Give him an allowance…he will “get it” eventually. Don’t give up!

  9. The advice I’m thinking of is similar to teaching kids to save. If he’s a spendthrift, could you perhaps encourage him to have a certain amount of discipline and save up for some of his purchases? Just getting into the habit is a good start. Seeing the benefits.

    Then work from there?

  10. How long have you been trying to persuade him to start saving? It might just be taking him a while to catch up wth your way of thinking.

  11. I’d suggest doing a zero-based budget – much like Dave Ramsey suggests – where ALL of your money is spent and/or allocated before the month even begins. Within that budget you could have a category for “blow money” or money that your husband can just blow on whatever he wants – on himself, on others etc. That way he isn’t feeling like he’s being controlled or not allowed to “enjoy himself”. At the same time you’ll have budget categories for saving/investing/etc – so that you can save money and feel more secure.

    I would strongly suggest Dave Ramsey as well.

    Peter’s last blog post..Money Matters

  12. I was reading an article from The Simple Dollar called Undermining Your Frugality and he had touched on a few points that might help. Here’s the link. http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2008/07/14/undermining-your-frugality/

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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