What to do when your spouse is bad with money and finances
Community Education and Marketing Manager
American Consumer Credit Counseling
Marriage often means the communion of two salaries, and it can also mean the compacting of two debts, and—to an extent—an oil-and-water mix of spending habits. What do you do when your spouse is bad with money?
Whether you are both in debt and one of isn’t working to pay it off, or one has terrible spending habits, or consistently lies about where their money is going—you need to act to prevent the problem from worsening. Neither spouse needs to be an accountant, but rather, both need to be accountable to the other in terms of money and the household finances. Be upfront about debt and expenses, and always communicate about big money decisions and the current state of your accounts. Follow this advice if your spouse is bad with money, and how to help improve your financial affairs.
- be a team
- develop a budget together
- hold weekly budget review meetings
- establish an emergency fund
- deal with debt
- avoid the issue
- keep money secrets
- forget to review progress
- ignore help
- give up on the issue
Do be a team
Create your financial plan together; do the bills together; review your net worth together. If you do anything related to your finances, make sure your spouse is involved and has a voice in the decision process.
Do develop a budget together
A major cause of arguments comes from one spouse spending an amount that the other spouse considers to be too much money. To resolve this issue, sit down and create a budget together. Decide how much money you'll allocate to daily life expenses, and how much to save for the big purchases.
Do hold weekly budget review meetings
If one spouse is doing all of the finances, it’s very difficult for the other spouse to know the current financial state. Even with a budget, a lack of communication can make it difficult to know how much is left in the “Grocery” category or the “Entertainment” category. To solve this problem, pick one night of the week to review your finances. Pick a time when you and your spouse can devote 15-30 minutes without interruption.
Do establish an emergency fund
The most important thing you can do to keep your finances under control—and avoid using credit cards and going into debt—is to establish an emergency fund. Within your budget planning, allocate a portion for emergencies, savings, and retirement. Nothing stresses a couple more than running out of money before all the bills are paid. Establish a $1000–$2000 emergency fund to cover those unexpected expenses. The key is that each spouse must agree to not touch these funds without the other’s agreement.
Do deal with debt
Like it or not, once you're married, your spouse's debts can become your problem. Granted, you're not legally responsible for the credit card balances that added up before you got married, or for any loans opened in your spouse's name alone—provided you keep your finances completely separate. But even with separate finances, your spouse's credit score will affect your ability to get joint credit. For those couples not yet married, it may be worthwhile to think about a prenup, just to make sure that assets that one spouse brings into a marriage will always be protected from the other spouse's creditors. But those who've already tied the knot should find a way to pay down the debts as quickly as possible, and without any late payments.
Do not avoid the issue
If you sense a problem, open the dialog up immediately before the problem gets bigger. Lay the cards on the table and explain how making the wrong money decisions will impact your current situation and any future financial situations short- and longterm.
Do not keep money secrets
While secret trading or gambling may not be that common, men and women alike, at one time or another, lie to their spouse about the price of something they bought. Whether it’s clothes, a dinner out, or entertainment—it’s tempting to lie about the cost of something or to not say anything at all, hoping your spouse won’t notice. Such secrets are never worth it.
Do not forget to review progress
If your spouse has taken responsibility for a lack of control or misuse of funds, support them throughout their attempts to better manage their money. Whether that is through weekly or monthly updates or progress reports, or just supporting their decisions to save, you play a crucial role in facilitating their path to a better handling of money.
Do not ignore help
If the problem is serious, do not try and help your spouse alone. Sometimes marriage counseling or a financial advisor’s counseling is needed to address the issue in order for your spouse to see its severity. While you should try to respect your spouse’s privacy, if the issue is worsening, you may not be able to handle it on your own.
Do not give up on the issue
If the situation is severe and worsening, provide an allowance for your spouse. Creating an allowance will stop the issue from deteriorating further because when the allowance runs out—it’s gone. This form of tough love may be just what your spouse needs to get back on track.
Oftentimes, money troubles go unchecked for too long. If your spouse is bad with money, it can become a serious issue and source of strife between the two of you. Knowing how to help your spouse identify the source of their problems is crucial in helping them become better with their money. Developing a plan and following through with it by keeping up with your budget will help relieve the stress of having a spouse that is bad with money.