How do you get a reluctant spouse on board with budgeting? How does everyone convince their spouse to pay off debt? Why does it seem like everyone is working together on their finances except you?
If you’re like me and my husband, it wasn’t easy to get on the same page with money instantly. While I had big dreams of budgeting our money tightly and paying off debt my husband wasn’t ready to make the changes we needed. He wanted to keep spending money like he wanted, when he wanted, and every month I ended up in tears when what I had budgeted didn’t match what we had actually spent.
After 3 years of marriage and creating budgets for two years, we’ve finally recently gotten on the same page with money. It took A LOT of trial and error since my husband was reluctant to pay off debt or save heavily for goals.
Today I’m sharing many of the things I did to get my spouse on board with budgeting and paying off debt.
Have a positive money conversation… or two.
Having an honest conversation about why you need help and support with budgeting and why it matters to you is the first step to getting your spouse on board. For many couples this can be the first and last step because many supportive spouses immediately get on board once they realize how important it is to their partner.
However, not every spouse gets on board with budgeting and spending wisely with just one conversation. For many of us, there must be many conversations about this topic.
Unfortunately when you are having the same conversation over and over again with a partner it can often devolve into a negative experience full of blaming, shaming, nagging, and overall negativity. To really be effective with having these money conversations you have to do them without shaming or guilting or nagging.
If you can’t get through this type of financial conversation without defaulting to the negative habits of blaming and shaming, try writing a letter or email where you aren’t as emotionally charged. Sometimes you can get your thoughts out about why succeeding with money is so important when your brain has a chance to rational process your reasons without the impulsive desire to get defensive or angry.
Focus on your money wins together.
Focusing on the wins that you’ve made with budgeting already while including your spouse is a great way to slowly engage them and bring them on board.
Instead of constantly nagging or feeling like your conversation is at a standstill, focus on talking about the wins and things that went well. Instead of screaming at your partner that they went over budget or spent too much or whatever frustrates you, tell them about what went well. “Say honey, last month we managed to spend less on our utility bill! That money will really help us reach ___ financial goal. I’m so proud of us.”
You can praise your partner for the things that went right first and foremost even if the thing that went well really had nothing to to with them. Tell them how the wins will help you get other, even bigger wins with your money. Include them on the team to share in the successes not just put them in the place of the enemy doing all the wrong things until that is all you can see.
This is something I had to learn to do after many fights with my husband and analyzing my husband’s nature. He wanted to be my teammate but he kept falling into the role of my adversary because all I could see were the places he wasn’t on board. Once I started talking about that less and giving him more credit with out successes he got more and more on board.
Try separate spending money accounts.
One way to get your spouse on board is to give the more freedom with separate spending money. While I think it’s important to have your money together when you are married and you should NOT separate your money altogether, it can be very helpful to separate your spending money.
I firmly believe even when budgeting as a team, everyone needs a bit of freedom where they don’t have to account for each dollar they spend.
You may also want to increase your spouse’s spending money or budget categories where you constantly butt heads. Maybe you can spend $100 on groceries when you are the only one eating. As a single person that might work but as a pair, maybe it doesn’t and it makes your partner rebel even further. If your spouse needs more spending money than you do, try increasing what they get and don’t have to account for in order to win overall.
Adjust your timeline expectations.
You may also just need to adjust your expectations about how quickly your spouse will get on board. Sometimes getting your spouse on board with budgeting takes a couple months. Sometimes getting your spouse on board with paying off debt can take a long time. You may not be the couple that gets on the same page instantly.
If you are continually butting heads on money but your partner is amazing in every other way, maybe you need to adjust your expectations of how quickly you think they should get on board. Sometimes it takes people longer than others to grasp a concept or to change their habits. Financial habits can be very hard to change for some people after years or decades of doing things one way.
You might be expecting your spouse to change instantly because it makes so much sense to you, but ultimately you need to adjust those expectations to better fit the reality of your situation. Your expectations are probably making everything harder when they are not meeting your expectations about getting on board with budgeting or paying off debt.
Take your spouse to a financial class.
Taking your spouse to a financial class like Financial Peace University can be very helpful when you are trying to get them on board financially.
I add this last on the list because actually having the knowledge on what to do doesn’t mean certain people will do it. Sometimes going through a financial literacy class does not change habits. My husband and I went through FPU before we got married and that didn’t solve our money problem or prevent our money fights.
Knowing what to do doesn’t always mean someone is going to comply or change deep seated behaviors to change. For many people doing a class like FPU is the step that is needed in order to finally get on board and make handling money click.
Keep trying to make it work together!
Remember there is not a one size fits all answer here on how to get on the same page with your finances. Every person and every couple approaches money differently and getting on the same page needs an unique approach.
There are lots of behaviors and habits and emotions around money and those vary from person to person. Finding what works for your reluctant spouse and you as a couple can take a while but you should keep trying to find the right solution. You have to find the things that encourage and motivate your partner to get on board.
It may take a lot of work, tears, and trials but eventually getting a “reluctant spouse” on board is totally worth the effort! Working together on your financial picture with a spouse on the same page is amazing!
Mary is the founder of Pennies Not Perfection where she shares her journey to build wealth through online income. She quit her day job in 2021 after she paid off her debt and doubled her 9-5 salary.
Mary's favorite free financial tool is Personal Capital. She uses their free tools to track net worth and work toward to financial freedom.