Get Your Spouse to Stick to a Budget (without a fight)

My wife often used to spend money without talking to me, leading to overdraft fees. We struggled for years until I made 1 change. So if you’ve wondered, here’s how to get your spouse to stick to a budget:

To get your spouse to stick to a budget, don’t blame or hurl accusations. A couple has to be united on financial goals & choices. It is normal for 1 spouse to be more math-nerd than the other, but you have to be in communication & agreement. Make a budget, discuss expenses & check in until the budget becomes a habit.

But there’s a lot more about budgeting, married couple finances, and getting your spouse on the same financial page, so let’s keep going.

When money fights and money problems are behind you, you’ve not only dodged one of the top 3 Reasons for Divorce (click to read my article) you’re also going to significantly improve the harmony in the relationship.

So in this article, we’re looking at the world of budgeting when you’re married.

We’ll explore how to craft a budget together, and why it’s OK for 1 to be more the math nerd than another. But specifically, we’re getting into the challenges when you can’t get your spouse to stick to a budget.

Trust me, yelling and hurling accusations ISN’T the way to fix that. So let’s dive in!

How do you talk to your spouse about your budget?

Talking to your spouse about money often feels harder than it should be.

After all, if we are a team, don’t team members share common goals, talk about challenges, and come up with solutions together?

The answer, of course, is yes. But many couples don’t do that. For some reason, we tend to sweep issues under the rug hoping they go away, or that we win the lottery and it becomes a non-issue.

Unfortunately, that is not a good long-term solution.

If you have never had a serious talk about money, and if you don’t budget, the first place to start is with a meeting about money.

Anytime you bring up a serious topic with your spouse, make sure to:

  • Avoid accusations
  • Focus on the solution, not the problem
  • Share how the issues make you feel, but avoid blaming them
  • Accept your shared responsibility so they don’t feel like it’s all their fault

Whether or not your spouse is “to blame” is irrelevant. You can be “right” or you can be happy and fix the problem, but you can’t always have it all.

This is especially true if you’re the wife as guys can get their egos bruised easily.

It’s also true if your husband is the primary breadwinner as some guys somehow feel like it’s “their” money instead of “our” money, and thus are resistant to anyone telling them what to do with “their” money.

You may find your marriage slowly eroding. If your marriage is failing, then check out this quick video on the 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage that will help get yours back on track.

The real reason some guys don’t want to talk to their spouse about money

We guys are a little pig-headed and stubborn sometimes.

Sometimes we let ego, machismo, or plain stupidity get in the way of doing what’s right, and giving our spouse an equal say in how we run our collective household.

If you have a husband who won’t talk about money, or doesn’t think money is a problem, you have to get to the root of his insecurity (which is ultimately what the issue is).

His real issue may be:

  • He’s embarrassed about his poor handling of money
  • He may be afraid of seeing how big of a mess the two of you have created (and thus prefers to hide his head in the sand)
  • Or he might genuinely believe in the old-school view that men are the “king of the castle” and that he has some innate right to do as he pleases with no oversight

So you have to figure out what his underlying issue is, and appeal to that.

How do I talk to my husband about money problems?

It’s not fair to you but we want to get this fixed, right? If he’s embarrassed, he needs to understand that failure and mistakes are OK and that they are your mistakes too (after all, you married him knowing how he was and allowed things to get to this level).

The only bad mistake is one you keep making. Every other mistake is simply an opportunity to learn something and get better at it.

If he’s afraid to look at the mess, then make sure he knows you have his back and that you’re in this together and that collectively you’ll clean it up.

If he’s got old-school attitudes about men and women and how a household should be run, that can be a bigger challenge and it probably shows up in other areas of your marriage too.

Simply talk to him about how not having a say in the finances makes you feel. Avoid accusations or blame, and let him know how important it is to feel like he values you and your opinion.

Ultimately we’re talking about him respecting you and it really isn’t a money problem. If you feel like you can’t get through to him, it may be time to consider marriage counseling.

If you aren’t sure it will help, don’t think you can afford it, or aren’t sure you can even get him to go, take a moment and review my linked post about Can Marriage Counseling Help (click to read my article) and see exactly how it CAN help you.

My article is the ultimate guide to marriage counseling which breaks down what they do, how much it costs, and even whether most insurance covers it.

Just click the link to read it now on my site.

What do you do when your husband has a spending problem?

Above we got into why guys sometimes shut their wives out of the financial conversation and some tips to get them to open up.

Sometimes guys just don’t want to look at a financial mess or get on a budget out of embarrassment or fear of losing control. But sometimes, guys have a spending problem. And by spending, I really mean over-spending.

Ultimately, though, it’s all the same issue; ego, pride, being a control freak, and fear of those things being compromised.

A budget, however, is the BEST and arguably only way to curb an over-spending spouse. When you do a monthly budget, and allocate a set amount of spending money for each of you, the other spouse doesn’t get a say or get to be critical of how the other uses that money.

That assumes, of course, they aren’t doing anything illegal like drugs, prostitution, or driving while intoxicated.

When the spending money is gone for that pay-period, it’s gone until the next one. It teaches us to be much more mindful of our spending and teaches us impulse control. Ultimately the best way to do that is by using the Cash Envelope System (click to read my article).

That system has us withdrawing cash for all spending outside of bill paying and dividing into envelopes for each category (each spouse’s spending money, food, gas, eating out, etc.).

Not sure if that will work or how to set it up? Just click the link to check out my highly shared post which walks you through step by step!

Should married couples have separate bank accounts?

The short answer here is NO.

Married couples should combine everything:

  • Income
  • Bills
  • Credit card debt
  • Old Student loans
  • Car loans

When a couple says “I do”, by definition, it’s a joining, a combining, a union.

The only way that works is with complete honesty, transparency, and just dumping everything into a collective “we” bucket.

Whether one spouse makes more than another or if one stays home with the kids is irrelevant. Both spouses should be contributing effort to the family in their own way. As long as they ARE contributing, how that shows up shouldn’t matter.

If they aren’t contributing, then you don’t have a money problem, you have a lazy spouse and need to just deal with the real issue.

I dive much deeper into the question of Should Couples Share Bank Accounts (click to read on my site) is a newer post that has gotten a lot of views on Pinterest.

Check that out if you, or your spouse, isn’t convinced yet. But also see some of the overwhelming statistics that show what happens to couples who DON’T share bank accounts.

How do you stop spending habits?

Ultimately many of us spend the way we do because of:

  • It’s our way of dealing with stress
  • It is just how we’ve always done it (and we don’t know any other way)
  • It’s what we saw our parents do

So the first step is to figure out why we spend the way we do.

Once we understand why we do what we do, we can set about trying to change the habit. The good news is that just by asking this question, that means you’re halfway through the process.

Repetition compulsion (click to read my article) is the technical term for when we repeatedly do things we know are bad.

So whether we’re talking about smoking, yelling at our kids, or being financially irresponsible, that is still essentially the underlying issue.

Here are the steps to change bad habits:

  1. Identify the bad habit you want to break
  2. Acknowledge how that pattern was created
  3. Accept where you’re at in the process of trying to change the habit (don’t waste time feeling bad about yourself)
  4. Identify specifically what your goal is (you will never hit a goal if you don’t know what it is)
  5. Break down your goal into small easy to follow baby steps
  6. Track your progress for each baby step
  7. Understand since you aren’t perfect, you may have slip-ups (but don’t let setbacks hurt your motivation)

Breaking bad habits takes time.

You have to understand that it often takes years to create and build bad habits. Thus, they won’t go away overnight.

Anything worth doing requires effort, focus, determination, and hard work, and forging new and better habits is no different.

You may find your marriage slowly eroding. If your marriage is failing, then check out this quick video on the 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage that will help get yours back on track.

What is a financially irresponsible spouse?

A financially irresponsible spouse is one who is reckless with their spending habits.

They spend money you don’t have on things they don’t really need. More importantly, they do it without feeling like they have to let you know or answer for the mess they made.

In essence, we’re talking about a child.

Kids want what they want. They throw a tantrum when they don’t get it. They also don’t understand mature communication or the consequences of poor choices. But eventually, those kids grow up.

In the case of the irresponsible spouse, they never left that entitled mindset.

Maybe they had a parent who bailed them out of every mess they made. Thus, they never learned true consequences for bad choices. Now, as an adult (often with an enabling spouse), they continue to make bad choices, and often, their spouses allow them to get away with it.

One of the easiest ways couples can budget together more successfully is with a budget app.

That allows you to each keep track on your smartphones, and any changes either of you make show up in real-time; no more waiting for the bills to arrive to see if there are any surprises!

I have a recent article that breaks down all the best budget apps for couples, and almost all of them are free or have a free level! Just click the link to read that now on my site.

How do you deal with a financially irresponsible spouse?

To fix it, we first have to let them know that this is serious.

We don’t want to belittle them, criticize them, name call, or otherwise show contempt. After all, it’s the behavior we don’t like, not them personally.

So it’s crucial that they know that their actions are no longer acceptable. But they also need to know that you want to work together to find a solution.

Generally speaking, tough conversations always work best when you share how you feel, rather than criticizing the other person. Its also better to ask questions than make blanket statements.

If they can’t, or won’t engage in an adult conversation, then you may want to find a good Financial Marriage Counselor near you.

Your spouse needs to understand that this is a serious, potentially marriage-destroying behavior (but avoid making threats or ultimatums). If you continue to tolerate the behavior, that makes it acceptable in their eyes.

Remember, no one can take advantage of you more than once without your permission.

So start by saying:

“I love you but when you make big purchases without talking to me or charge up a lot of credit card debt without my knowledge, it makes me feel disrespected because I’m being kept out of the loop. Since we are married, I believe that we have separate but equal roles in our family and relationship and it’s crucial that we work together and talk to each other about big financial decisions before we make them. Can we agree to do that?”

The best way to move forward on that is with a monthly budget.

It’s OK if one of you is more the math nerd or spreadsheet lover, but every known expense needs to be on it as does all known income. Then you simply calculate how much is left at the end of the month.

How to make a budget for the first time

Getting started using a budget, remembering to stick to it, and trying to stay on the same page with a spouse is tough!

It often takes 2-3 months of doing it before it starts to feel natural and clicks into place. So don’t despair if it doesn’t work immediately. Be patient with yourself and your spouse and just keep going.

You can use an app, a piece of paper or an Excel spreadsheet. But no matter what, the main reason a budget works to save you money and save your marriage is:

  • It gets you and your spouse talking about expenses & purchases before they happen
  • You and your spouse get INTENTIONAL with your money
  • You know at the start of the month how much money will be left over (instead of just hoping that you haven’t overspent)
  • When you scrutinize each purchase, you naturally spend less (especially if using the cash envelope system I talked about above)

I do think it makes budgeting a whole lot easier when you have more than just a checking and savings account.

My family has 5 bank accounts.

It helps us keep our money and our budget on track. Not sure why you might need Multiple Bank Accounts for Budgeting (click to read my article)? Check out my 2nd most popular budgeting post to find out!

I have a copy of my Budgeting Spreadsheet available at no charge.

It’s a simple, highly customizable, Excel spreadsheet and you can download it quickly and easily FOR FREE!

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Final thoughts

In this post, we took an in-depth look into the world of budgeting. We looked at a couple’s finances, and what to do when your spouse isn’t on the same page as you with spending.

Specifically, we explored how to get your spouse to stick to a budget. What do you and your spouse argue about the most?

If you like this post, please follow my Budgeting board on Pinterest for more great tips from myself and top financial experts!

While I know marriage well, and have years of successful financial & budgeting experience, and run several million-dollar businesses and handled the accounting, P&L, and have been responsible for their financial assets, I am not an accountant, CPA, or a marriage counselor. Like all my posts, my posts are opinions based on experience, observations, research, and mistakes. While I believe all my personal finance and relationship posts to be thorough, accurate, and well-researched, if you need financial or marital advice, you should seek out a qualified professional in your area.

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