The Reluctant Spouse, or “He keeps messing up my budget!”
If you are reading this, you are probably the money nerd of your family. You like to know where your money goes. You like to watch your nest egg grow each month (or cringe when the market is down). You know the value and power of budgeting. You probably even enjoy working in Excel (I know I do!).
Then there is your spouse.
- He won’t join you for your monthly Budget Committee Meeting
- She says, “Whatever you say, dear!” and then comes home with several bags from the mall.
- Believes that budgets are a punishment.
- Isn’t willing to give up her lattes or his green fees because she/he “works hard and deserves it.”
You’ve begged, pleaded, nagged, and maybe even raised your voice, but to no avail. You can’t seem to convince your spouse that you need to cut back, pay off the debt, and start putting money aside for “a rainy day.” You are tired of trying your best only to have your hard work wasted by the arrival of a large package from Amazon.
It would be hard to NOT to be frustrated with him or her for the lack of willingness to participate in this part of family responsibility. But may I risk pointing out that you may have some fault in this??
Hold on a minute! Put down the pitch forks & torches and give me a second to explain!!
I’m not excusing their behavior, but suggesting that your approach in bringing your spouse alongside needs some adjustment.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Am I nagging my spouse?
- Does my spouse see the budget as a restriction?
- Do I constantly talk about “what” she needs to do?
- Have I used the phrase, “Dave Ramsey says. . .”?
- Has my spouse ever been ‘abused’ by budgets in the past?
- What is it about budgeting that causes my spouse to disconnect?
I’ll give you a minute.
Your intentions were good and noble, there is no doubt! And since we can’t change the past, lets talk about today and your future. Lets look at an approach that will help your spouse truly come onboard; let’s help him understand and embrace the why!
You know the why; you instantly saw in your mind what life will be like when you have no debt, a huge emergency fund, and have a plan to accomplish your family goals.
Your spouse doesn’t.
You need to help her see and embrace a why of their own.
Here is one strategy that should work for just about any reluctant spouse.
Step 1: Forget the past, both their misbehavior and any nagging/mistakes you’ve made.
Step 2: If you were harsh on your spouse, ask for forgiveness for how you approached the subject. As hard as it is, it can be a crucial step in getting your spouse’s attention. You can say something like, “Honey, I need to ask your forgiveness. I’ve been harsh with you about our family’s spending habits and I’m sorry. I don’t want money to come between us. I want us to work together as a team in this marriage; not me as your boss. Will you forgive me?” Feel free to adapt that to your style, but be sincere!
Step 3: Dream Date. It’s not what you think; it’s better! Hire a sitter (or barter kid watching time w/ another parent), if you have kids, and have a nice dinner date. If you are staying in for this date, set the atmosphere by turing off all phones & the TV, put on some soft music, light candles, etc. With your spouse’s full attention, start dreaming together. Ask, “if money was no issue, where would you like to go/what would you like to do?” “What does the ideal retirement look like to you?” “Where would you want to live/work if money didn’t matter?” Get the idea? Make sure you share you own version, too! Once you have spend some time dreaming, and your spouse is sharing, express that these dreams are reachable, that you two can work together to get to a place, financially, to make them come true! He or she may not believe you at first, but the next step will help.
Step 4: Express to your spouse that as a team, you can do anything. You don’t expect him or her to handle the day-to-day finances or even craft the monthly budget; just that he give his input, come to an agreement (yes, your spouse gets an EQUAL say in the budget!), and stick to the agreement! Ask him or her to try it for a couple months; if budgeting ends up not helping to accomplish goals, then you can quit! (Hint, it’s a trick: budgeting always works!)
Step 5: Time for some work for you. Craft a workable budget, calculate how long it will take to reach some goals/dreams, and present it in a simple format. I would discourage you from using your 5 sheet, cross-linked spreadsheet for the next step; instead, use this form (or similar). But fill it out in pencil, not pen.
Step 6: Budget Committee Meeting. You sit down with your spouse, eliminate all distractions (put the kids to bed, turn off TV/phones, etc), and slide the budget, along with a pencil and eraser, across the table. Insist your spouse change at least one item! (Hint: this is how you get him/her to take ownership and not feel dictated to). Now be silent and let him look and make some changes. Once both of you agree on it, sign the bottom as a contract (if you feel inclined).
Step 7: Show lots of gratitude and respect for his/her participation (back rub, do the dishes, etc).
So, what are you waiting for? Start tonight!
Please let me know how this works for you, or how you handled your reluctant spouse in the comments below. Or, if you were the reluctant spouse, what did it take to get you onboard?