Can You Change Someone’s Financial Behavior?

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

finance behavior

Can you change someone’s financial behavior ? I gave a talk a few weeks ago and a woman asked me how to do this. Her financial situation was rocky. She had lost her job, her debts were climbing and she desperately needed to get out of debt. On top of this, her husband kept pretending nothing was wrong.

She told us they had been married for 18 years and he never acted responsibly when it came to the subject of money. He spent what he wanted to spend and, to make matters worse, barely made any income.

I was at a loss for words – a rare occurrence.

Outside of filing for divorce, what would you suggest she do? Have you ever been confronted by a situation like this? What worked? What didn’t?

After you’ve chimed in, check out the following articles and carnivals. I found quite a few thought-provoking ideas among them:

Carnivals worth checking out:

Money Hacks

Carnival of Personal Finance

Jim at Bargaineering wrote about what he learned about money from his dog.

Cash Money Life opened my eyes to a new rival to eBay

Five Cent Nickel has some ideas on how to pay off your mortgage early.

Free Money Finance asks what were the best financial moves you’ve ever made.

Frugal Dad wants to know how much cash you carry around – he’s asking for a good reason.

The Oblivious Investor takes on Yahoo Finance with a discussion about diversification. Guess who wins the argument?

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Photo by Silvain de Munch, Flikr



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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Neal June 5, 2009 at 12:52 PM

Wizard….wow……really well put. When I questioned the woman and found that he’s been behaving this way for all 18 years of their marriage, I had more sympathy for him than for her. My sense is that she is an enabler and she “digs” the payoff – whatever it is for her.

I would venture to say that if she did put her foot down, he’d straighten up. That’s just my guess.

Chuck, I love what you said but I do take exception to one point. I do not think it has to be emasculating to be honest about limited financial resources. I think the trick is to be comfortable knowing we did the best we can and we accept that which we can’t change. That is a great lesson our children can learn from.


Wow…what a story. I am just glad that you were able to say no to your father. Not many people have the strength to do that. As I said above, I blame the woman as much (if not more) than her husband. Regardless, she has got to lay down the law and be willing to follow through….whatever that means.

That is my 2 cents….

Amazing how each of you added so much to my understanding of the dynamics between the couple. Thanks….I mean it.


rgurien June 5, 2009 at 11:43 AM

He’s not going to change. She needs to accept that and figure out a way to protect her own assets. If this issue isn’t a big enough deal for her to end her marriage, then she should see a financial planner on her own and figure out how she can remain married under those conditions and protect herself financially and legally.

If it is a deal-breaker, then she should do what she needs to do to secure her assets and then leave the marriage.

I write this as a person with experience. In my case it was my father. He spent his way into bankruptcy and then just 3 years later asked me to loan him the money for a downpayment on a house he couldn’t afford. I refused to help him, sat him down for the “deal-breaker” conversation, blah blah blah. And do you know what? He found some other family member to give him the downpayment. Never paid it back and put himself and my mother back into serious debt. He died of a massive stroke that was very likely brought on by the stress of my father’s huge financial problems. And he left my mother with more than $25k in debt and not a single asset. My mother–who barely graduated high school and was never able to hold down a job for longer than six months–has to work to support herself and pay off the debt my father accrued (much of it was forgiven upon his death, but what remains is still more than my mother can afford.)

This woman’s husband knows he has a problem, but doesn’t care enough about the rest of his family to change it. The wife either has to decide it doesn’t matter and suck it up, or she needs to leave and cut her losses. He. Won’t. Change.


chuck June 5, 2009 at 9:24 AM

Sometimes “having faith” can be perverted into self-deception. In my younger days I also failed to plan for the future financially, believing too much in my ability to “hit it big” as an entrepreneur. Schools do nothing to educate us about money management. I’m sure the case you present is not unique. It can be emasculating to admit to your family that you cannot afford something, and that you must tighten the budget. (“Daddy can’t provide like your friends’ daddies can.”)

There is obviously one solution for this couple: subscribe to Each day, they should sit down at the computer together, take turns reading Neal’s commentary and supplemental links out loud, then discuss them with each other.

I am not kidding.

Thanks again for everything, Neal.



Wizard Prang June 5, 2009 at 7:32 AM

It depends on two things:

Firstly, whether he is a leader or a little boy; if he does not want to work, it looks like the latter. I hope I’m wrong.

The second factor is how well they communicate. In general, (donning asbestos underpants) women talk more than men. In some cases A LOT more. So there are many cases where the poor chap has to make sense of a deluge of words, most of which has no relevance to him; he may have difficulty filtering out what is really important.

Dave Ramsey advocates her sitting down face-to-face with him, looking straight into his eyes and explaining in short, loving, simple sentences that this is a deal-breaker. He needs to know that this is important enough for her to leave him over, without feeling threatened.

If he is a leader – or has an ounce of common sense – he will listen, and the problem will be half-solved. If he decided to be a little boy about it, she will have to decide how far she is willing to escalate the issue; more marriages end over money fights and worries than anything else.

But what the heck do I know; I’ve only been married for 22+ years..!


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