How to Get Your Spouse To Stick To A Budget

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

If you struggle with getting your spouse to stick to a budget you’re not alone. I received a very nice e-mail from “R” recently. She wondered how to make sure she and her new husband could become financially secure and someday have enough money to retire. She wasn’t specifically worried about getting her husband to stick to a budget when we first spoke – but we quickly got there.

Her initial email asked about YNAB – You Need a Budget (budgeting software). I explained that the software is great if you want to create and stick to a budget. But I told her that it would be of limited value if she and her new husband weren’t on the same page when it came to spending. While “R” didn’t specifically say that her husband is “budget challenged” she asked what steps she needed to take in order to get her husband on the “budget bandwagon”. She needs to convince her spouse they need a budget before she can get him to stick to one. Here’s what I shared with “R”.

Become one with your budget

The first idea to embrace is that everyone has lots of wants and needs. Usually, it takes money to provide these things but the most important things in life (like health, security and peace of mind) don’t have a price tag attached to them. In order to end up with some agreement about a spending plan, you have to determine what each of your needs and wants are. Once you identity those things, you need to prioritize them as we’ll see.

In “R’s” case, I suggested that she ask her husband what is important about money to him. What does he want his life to look like? “R” should ask lots of questions like these. Once “R’s” husband answers, I encouraged “R” to ask, “Is there anything else?”

“R”, ask open ended questions until you get a clear sense of where your husband is coming from. Then, share your own answers to these questions.

You can use this same technique. Get your significant other to describe in great detail what he or she wants their life to look like. Where do they want to live? Where do they want to send the children to school? How much do they want to travel? What kind of car do they want to drive? What kind of house do they want to live in? How do they want to feel about money?

This last question may seem strange but it’s actually one of the most important questions you could ask. I met a very smart and pleasant gentleman who happened to be a Pilgrim reader. He told me that he just doesn’t want to have to think about money. That makes sense to me. A lot of sense. Who wants to waste time thinking about money when there are so many more important things to do and think about?

Once you and your lovey dovey list all the things that are most important to you, you need to prioritize them. This step is super critical because you are looking for a primary objective. Your primary objective, whatever that is, will dictate how you budget, spend, invest and save. Since we’re talking about sticking to a budget, let’s focus on how the primary objective relates back to budgeting.

You can see that once you and your partner understand and agree on your life priorities, it is very easy to budget and stay on task. For example, if you identify that peace of mind is your highest priority, you can easily recognize that spending too much or having credit card debt is contrary to your primary objective.

If traveling to South America is your prime motivator, you can see that going to Vegas and dropping $1,000 at the tables is also not a smart move.

Bottom line? Get very clear on all your objectives then prioritize them. Once you do that and come to agreement, track your spending and run every decision you make through that filter.

There will be times when you or your spouse will fall off the wagon. You are only human and that’s fine. But dust off the “primary objective” discussion once a month. Review your spending through this prism. Overtime you’ll see that both you and your spouse will actually want to stay within your budget and track it. Why? Because you will both recognize that it is your own best interests to do so.

Are you and your spouse on the same page when it comes to budgeting? How did you get there?

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