Talking to spouses about their money habits, curbing impulse spending and budgeting are difficult topics to broach. This question, from Anonymous, hits a lot of notes others can relate to.
My biggest issues with my husband is mostly that we have two completely different thought processes when it comes to money. He is a spender, to his (and our) detriment; I’m a saver.
He has in the past hid very large debts from me ($US25k, $US10k, $US5k — at various times), which I’ve had to bail him out every time. Every attempt to get him to agree to a budget or communicate about money starts off well, but then fizzles off pretty quick and hard (he also has ADD and I’ve been on him for years to see someone about it).
We’ve been in marriage counselling, but I’m still left constantly feeling like I can’t enjoy the money I’ve spent years saving up because “what if” I need to bail us out again? A lot of the advice I get is that I should just manage everything — but one, that leaves me feeling like a mother to a 40 year old man; and two, if I keel over that leaves him and my daughter with a safety net that he’ll burn through because he doesn’t fundamentally understand the concept of living within your means and saving.
I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place: keep going, stressing myself out and hope that one day he’ll “get it,” or split and have to deal with the financial implications of divorce (will he get half my hard-earned retirement and savings?).
Keep in mind, this is what individual experts have to say generally about an issue that affects each person differently — if you want personalised advice you should see a financial planner.
Change Is Hard
This is a tough and unfortunate situation to be in, Anonymous, but kudos to you for taking initiative. It’s clear that you love your husband and daughter and that you’ve tried a variety of measures to help him get it together. No one should be forced to shoulder all of the financial burdens and clean up after their spouse — you’re in a partnership for a reason.
And no one should be lied to like you have been. That said, it’s a situation in which you’re not alone. But that doesn’t make it easier. “What you’ve been through is financial infidelity and just like the sexual infidelity we’re all familiar with, it can cause a lot of long-term damage as at its core, it’s a breach of trust”, says Brynn Conroy, who writes about personal finance for her Femme Frugality blog.
He should have to work to regain your trust. That could mean working with a financial coach in addition to a therapist, says Conroy. But more likely it means that you will need to take measures that seem paternalistic.
You’ve said that other people have told you to manage everything and you’d rather not, but when it comes to something as important as your financial life, you have to do what’s right for you and your daughter, says Alayna Pehrson, a financial writer for manages Best Company’s credit repair and identity theft blogs.
Your finances can’t be easily fixed if destroyed.
“Your husband seems to be treating money in an immature way, which calls for you to take control. As much as you don’t want the financial responsibility pressing down on your shoulders, it may be necessary if you want to salvage your marriage and have a bright [and] stable financial future”, she says.
Sarah Bird, senior wealth advisor at Albion Financial Group, suggests sitting down with your husband, again, but approaching the conversation from the point of view of his “money script”.
“Our money scripts shape our thinking regarding personal finances and are based upon our lifetime experiences with money, from early childhood through adulthood”, says Bird. “Try starting conversations with questions such as ‘tell me about your earliest memory with money or ‘when you were given money as a child what did you do with it.’ While potentially uncomfortable, communication about money is key”.
What do you tell yourself about money? Are you a saver, or a spendthrift, or do you avoid thinking about it at all costs?Read more
Then, Bird suggests working through a month of paying bills together. After that, each of you should take a turn paying the bills independently. “This exercise will allow your husband to see where the household income is spent and to share in the responsibility of making household financial decisions”, she says. You can set monthly money check-ins and communicate with your husband that this is not up for negotiation — it’s really that important to you.
If none of that works, you may have to take more extreme measures. This could mean giving him a cash allowance or setting up text notifications with your joint credit card so you can confront him if his spending starts to get out of hand. You could also try to take a finance course together, where you can work through your goals. But this is up to you — no one should have to treat their husband like a spoiled teen to get them to take some responsibility.
Take Money Out of the Equation
You’re absolutely right — you shouldn’t have to act like his mother and giving him and allowance or tracking his spending is exactly that. It sucks that you’d have to go to such lengths, with all of the stress and worry to go along with it, when it seems like he’s coasting along without a money care in the world.
That can breed resentment and honestly, it’s not sustainable — nor should it be. If he doesn’t change, “a legal separation may be an option”, says Pehrson, “although I would highly recommend you consult a marriage professional before doing so”.
As you’ve said, you don’t want to leave your daughter vulnerable if something happens. So consider what’s best for her; maybe that’s a separate savings account your husband doesn’t know about, or you may want to meet with a financial advisor or your bank on your own to set up some other type of arrangement.
But while money appears to be at the root of your issues, you’ll want to take finances out of it when thinking about a divorce. Think about your wants and needs and how his behaviour affects those things. “Not all decisions should be made financially. If leaving is what you want to do, allow yourself to do it even if it’s the more expensive option”, says Conroy. “If you can’t live in the same house as someone who has lied to you repeatedly, the most important decision lies within your heart — not your wallet”.
And if you haven’t yet, see a therapist on your own. ” They will be able to help you figure out what you want”, says Conroy. “Not what the two of you want together”. Your therapist could help you work through what it would take for you to stay with your husband, if that’s what you want, or how to address the situation with your daughter.
Ultimately, it’s not up to you if your husband decides to take your finances seriously or not. We cannot change other people. Your husband needs to want to change and he’s going to have to put in the work. If he doesn’t, know that that’s not your fault, Anonymous. You’re doing the best you can and being a positive role model for your daughter. Hopefully your husband will want to be the same.