I’ve been married to my partner for 10 years, and we have a great life together, but there’s one big issue that seems to affect everything else. She’s an over-spender. I am the main breadwinner, and she works part-time to contribute to our expenses. Between both of our student loans, mortgage payments, and credit cards, we are in quite a bit of debt. Despite this, she often seems fairly unaware of our financial situation. She’s always the first to suggest eating out instead of cooking at home, expensive weekends away, and new things for the home that we simply don’t need. I try to talk to her about this, but whenever I do she gets upset and I feel guilty for mentioning it. We have no kids, so there is potential for her to work full time, but I get the same reaction when I bring this up. I feel like I’ve tried everything – how can I approach this in a different way and work together for a better financial future with my partner?
Dear loving partner,
Differences in finances are the second most common cause of marital strife, so I’m glad you’re taking the initiative to get this right!
On paper the issue might appear to be a partner’s over-spending, mounting debt, or a lack of saving.
But the deeper cause usually has nothing to do with money.
This is about the art of great relationship. Your last question is the key; how can you work together as partners?
Changing this situation requires heartfelt communication and forging a rock-solid commitment to shared long term goals.
Here’s how to unite you and your spouse in financial bliss and harmony!
Set up a meeting to talk about finances, but approach her as a respected equal
I know you’re coming from a great place and I understand your frustration, but how does your spouse feel?
If we set aside your feelings for now and focus on her, is it possible that she experiences your concern as judgmental or critical? If there’s even the slightest chance this is how she feels, it’s going to create defensiveness.
What’s needed here is to start over in a completely neutral place.
First, ask your spouse when it’s a good time to sit down and talk openly about finances – without judgement.
I’d suggest framing the conversation by saying something like:
Honey, I love you and I know we haven’t seen finances eye to eye in the past. I really want us to hear and understand each other so we can both feel like our needs are met. It’s more important to me that we come up with a solution that works for both of us than I am right.
She’s bound to be receptive because you’ve disarmed her defenses with vulnerability. And what woman doesn’t want to hear those magical words?!
Set some ground rules
Before sharing, reassure her that you want her full honesty. And follow through on that by allowing her to express how she really feels.
Agree to take turns listening to each other without interrupting or correcting. This creates the safety and trust that’s needed to repair your divide.
Find out what each person wants, and why they do it
As a coach, I’ve come to appreciate that people always have good reasons for doing what they do. Your spouse’s spending may actually be her way of dealing with stress or trauma, and that needs to be met with curiosity and compassion.
That’s not to say the behaviour should continue, but if you seek to understand why she’s doing the things she does and what need she’s attempting to meet, you’ll uncover the truth. Then you can come up with alternatives together. And vice versa for you.
Perhaps the issue isn’t that she’s an over-spender. Could it be that you don’t have meaningful joint long-term goals that directly impact her day to day behaviours?
When we don’t have more important goals, we are easily led into spending temptation. It’s critical to engage your spouse’s input and ensure ownership of a shared long-term vision that excites her as well as you.
Paint the vision you want to create for your lives
Remind your spouse of all the awesome things you’ve loved doing together, and what else you still want to experience. Allow your emotions and excitement to build so that you rekindle the importance of true partnership!
Once you both agree on what you really want long-term, it becomes much easier to prioritize what needs to be done. How much do you need to save, invest and pay towards debt in order to reach your goal?
This should leave you with an amount available for spending, but now your spouse will understand how her choices directly impact the future.
It’s also a good idea to set smaller joint goals that require both of you to contribute money. Then both people are actively working towards their goal together.
Examine the numbers
Your spouse should feel more receptive to look at the details now. I recommend creating a simple spreadsheet to show her the most important numbers. You’ll want to list each debt along with the interest rate, your total savings, joint income, any investments, and average monthly spending.
You might also use universal financial guidelines to support your new plan.
spending no more than 30% on rent and 50% on all necessities
10% towards savings
10% on debt repayment
10% towards investing
20% for enjoyment spending
This way your concern isn’t coming from you personally; you’re simply relaying expert guidance.
Meet in the middle
Even if you both agree on the amount of money available for spending, no doubt some compromise will be required! So what are you willing to negotiate, and what is a firm no for you? For her?
If you’d like to make higher debt repayments or increase savings, where are you willing to compromise?
If your spouse wants to eat out 4 x a week, are you willing to go twice?
Further, can you agree to take advantage of happy hours or cheaper places most of the time, and visit expensive restaurants less often?
Agreeing to value both people’s desires and finding creative ways to meet them ensures you’re in this together as true equals.
I’m also a believer in healthy financial independence – not all activities need to be shared. Can you agree on having a portion of money that you are each free to spend as you wish?
Finally, you might agree to meet regularly – say monthly or quarterly, to check in and honestly share how things are going. It’s an opportunity to adjust what’s not working and review your progress together. How exciting will it be to celebrate your long-term vision coming closer to fruition?! Now that’s got to be one of the best parts of relationship.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of Equitable Bank. Any information provided is for information purposes only and Equitable Bank makes no representations as to the validity, accuracy, completeness or suitability of any content. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional or undertake your own research before making financial decisions.