How to Convince Your Spouse You Need a Budget

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

You might realize that you need a budget …but how do you convince your spouse that you need a budget? And once you convince him, how do you get him to stick to it? This is the foundation of family financial planning.

I could be wrong (it happens once in a while) but in my opinion, this is the number one issue facing couples with financial problems.

I recently wrote a post for the Consumerist where I detailed how to get on the same page with your partner. In case you missed that post, I’m going to summarize the steps here and go a bit further.

 

you need a budget

 

Why is your budget the epicenter of your relationship?

Because your budget is the manifestation of all you value. Words are cheap, but your budget is really your values in action. Where you spend your money demonstrates what you hold most dear in life. Period.

Let’s say you spend your money paying off debt, saving for retirement and putting something away for your kids. Additionally, let’s say you track your spending and budget for the future. That tells me something about your values.

If, on the other hand, your spouse doesn’t track spending but somehow blows it all at the track or on fancy vacations and other toys, that tells us something about his values too.

If you can’t agree on how to spend money, your relationship is probably in jeopardy. That’s why your budget is the epicenter of your relationship and that’s why I keep hammering away at this subject.

So now the question is, how do you get your spouse to take part in the process and implement the budget? How do you have The Money Talk? In my piece over at Consumerism Commentary, I detailed a step-by-step method to have an open honest conversation about money.

In it, I suggest that you:

a. Talk about your motives and fears.

b. Be honest about what money means to you both.

c. Admit the mistakes you’ve made and where you have to clean up your financial act.

d. Work out a plan.

e. Appoint a third-party accountability partner.

I think you have to take these steps in the order presented if you want your spouse to embrace the idea of working on and sticking to a budget.

But I have two more very important steps to add to the list above:

1. Provide the tools.

I recently wrote an extensive piece on a software package called You Need A Budget. I like that software because it’s very easy to use and intuitive. It doesn’t matter if you use YNAB or another product, but make sure your spouse takes on the responsibility of keeping your budget up to date. You can’t do it…he’s got to.

This will give him ownership of the process as well as insights into the meaning and power of a budget. This is actually another reason why I love the YNAB program – it’s so easy for a non-interested spouse to use and have fun using. So, I want you to set it up and then get your spouse to commit to keeping it up to date each week.

2. Schedule time.

It’s not enough to hand over the responsibility – you’ve got to be part of the process too. Set aside some time each week where you go through the reports. If your spouse needs you to spend that time with him helping him download the data…that’s fine. If he needs you to spend that time updating budgets or analyzing what needs to change…fine too. Over time, he’ll take on more as his comfort levels grows.

The important thing is that it’s a scheduled time where you both are together working on the budget. While he may be ultimately responsible, it doesn’t mean he can’t get your help with the process.

I believe these two extra steps are crucial.

What was your experience? How did you get your spouse involved with the budget? Or did you try everything and find that nothing worked?

 

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Near the end of patience November 27, 2012 at 1:51 AM

I stay home and He works. Every time I have suggested I could help with paying bills and budgeting he gets testy and defensive. I have sat down with him and had him write out all the bills he pays outside of the household bills, I asked him to keep his receipts and write down what he spends everyday – he can’t do it, or won’t do it. He just pays the bills sporadically, late and then spends until there is no more.

I know how to budget and live within that budget and save at the time and it DOES take some sacrifice, but it’s not hard. He doesn’t save, doesn’t restrict himself to a daily amount of non essential money, pays the bills late because he overspent yet again without keeping track and bounces our bank account routinely. Instead of taking out cash ONCE he takes out cash repeatedly, paying ever more in ATM fees upwards of $6 each time, several times a month. Wasteful! He has bad credit and is on my bank account. Are all these overdrafts and late bill pays damaging me? I think so, but he doesn’t believe it. All but the car insurance is in my name because he had bad credit – and he’s done nothing to fix it!. He takes out payday loans to avoid overdrafts but that makes it even worse because they take it directly out of our account and with his over spending, the account bounces again. I have tried repeatedly to get him on board with a budget and I am at the end of my patience!! I am seconds away from given him a prepaid debit card that is his to use for the week, cancelling his debit/credit and just taking control of the money. Better yet, I’ll give him a chunk of cash each week for his daily spending. No cards at all. That way there are no extra fees and no doubt about how much he has.

We have a child and NO savings but for the paltry amount I’ve managed to put aside in Paypal – at which he moans every other week when it comes out. I have tried cajolling, being sweet, I’ve laid out a budget I thought was good and tolerable for his end. I’ve tried getting angry, appealing to the future of us and our son, but he only ever thinks about now, never tomorrow. He dreams of winning the lottery,meanwhile, I’m having panic attacks!!!
HELP!

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Neal Frankle November 27, 2012 at 2:43 AM

JS – I am really sorry you are going thru this one. OK….if you ask me…this is the time for a marriage counselor. He doesn’t seem to be interested in even considering your thoughts or feelings. This seems to go beyond money……and it’s super important that you get on the same page. If you email me I will send you a copy of my book “Money Academy for Couples”. If he is willing to go thru that, it could turn things around. If not, it’s straight to the marriage counselor if you ask me.

Let me know how it goes…..

neal@wealthpilgrim.com

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Exasperated Wife October 25, 2011 at 2:16 PM

I’ve been married 30 years and still can’t get my husband to use budgets. “They aren’t real” he says. He only looks at the cash flow – if we have enough cash coming in to pay what’s gone out he’s happy – he ignores the fact that our credit card debt keeps increasing. He won’t contribute to the 401k at work because they don’t do a match. He must be going thru some mid-life crisis because this past year he bought a 3D plasma TV (already have a perfectly good flat screen at home), a 22′ sail boat, a new car (just because our others were old). We have $100,000 in college loans from our oldest 2 and our youngest starts next year. And, no, we never saved money in college funds. He gets upset when I say “no” to vacations, eating out or buying one more new thing. I’m tired of being the heavy. Any way to get thru to him?

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Neal Frankle October 25, 2011 at 2:34 PM

I am sorry to hear that. Would he be willing to work on this with you? Is he hearing how upset you are?

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Ronald Dodge December 2, 2010 at 6:52 PM

Getting the unwilling spouse on board. I have battled this a lot over the years. All I can say, I have had some success, not not complete success as of yet.

First, I did get her to do price comparison. Though she never knew it before, this was something fairly easy to do even though she still use the excuse she’s not good at math.

Second, I had to have her help in not overspending or doing things that would cause us to spend more than what was really needed to be spent. One such area I had to hit hard on with this particular issue was transportation expenses. The common mistake most people make isn’t so much the gas or oil, but they don’t take in the rest of the expenses such as depreciation on the vehicle. So in their eyes, they may be thinking that car is only costing them about $0.10 per mile but in reality, that care is really costing them about $0.30 per mile. Same with a van, they may think it’s only costing $0.25/mile but yet, it’s really more like $0.75/mile. As I found, what you are basically paying for gas and oil changes, you can expect to pay doubled that amount for repairs and/or replacement of the vehicle, once such costs are prorated over the course of their respective useful time period.

It was only when I got her to take the FPU course (I like the concept, but I found the numbers to be outdated, don’t agree with the method as it’s a cash flow method that is too risk adversed, and it doesn’t take into account using online tools that’s currently available so as one can primarily use the rate method instead of the principle method while still not having to think about finances every single day, as you can use such tools to address human behavior. My wife got on board so much as realizing this was the real deal and not just some made up thing in my mind.

Now only if I can get her to do this tracking bit within Excel with her own account, but she still refuse to do it as she is still a spend thrifter in that regard. If I can only get her to stay within her own limits and use Excel for tracking, then will I make the claim I got her a lot further along for her to be able to handle the finances should something happen to me.

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SailboatFamily July 8, 2010 at 1:53 AM

This is a tricky topic as demonstrated by the volumes written on the topic of convincing anyone of anything.

There are 3 parts to getting someone on board with an action, especially one that is new. You must provide purpose, direction, and motivation. The what, how, and why that is tailored to the person you are trying to get to do the new thing. For some, it is about analogies (e.g. if someone is a car nut, budgets are like a tachometers.) For some, it is about feelings. For some, it is about goals. Still others, it is something else. You must know what gets your spouse going, invest the time in crafting the approach within an area they get, then try. It isn’t about what makes you tick, you are already on board with budgets … it is about getting them on board so speak their language.

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Neal@Pilgrim July 7, 2010 at 5:04 AM

Everyday Tips,

Thanks for bringing this up. It’s a crucial point I didn’t mention.

It’s crucial to pick your battles well. Some aren’t worth the fight.

Sounds like Everyday Tips has done a great job in that area.

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Everyday Tips July 7, 2010 at 3:57 AM

Fortunately, my husband and I see eye-to-eye on finances. However, one area he refuses to address is lunches for work. He won’t pack one, period. He does got out to lunch quite a bit with clients, so he doesn’t have to pay for lunch everyday, but it is still an impact.

However, since we don’t really spend much on discretionary items, I just let this battle go.

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