Reader’s Question: Handling Finances In Marriage With A Reluctant Spouse

by Hank Coleman

Here is the next installment in our the Reader’s Questions Series which highlight questions emailed to me by you, the readers of Money Q&A. Be sure to find out at the end of this article how you can receive a free copy of Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover if your money question is chosen to be featured on next week’s blog post. If you’re not familiar with Dave Ramsey’s book, you should run right out and get it. It is one  of my top ten best personal finance books that everyone should read. Now….on to our reader’s question. Kathleen emailed me a question about handling finances in marriage…

How do you convince a reluctant spouse to talk about finances, savings, and investing when you are up to your eyeballs in debt? What is the best way of handling finances in marriage with a reluctant spouse?

A Little Bit Of The Back Story

Couple worried about handling finances in marriageHere are a few more details from Kathleen’s email to me. She has been married 2.5 year, and she can’t get him to start a joint savings account. He keeps saying they do not have enough money at the end of each month to start saving. Kathleen also said that the couple also has no sort of savings, no emergency fund, etc. Nothing!

And, every time she brings it up, her husband says that they have student loans and car loans to pay back, and they can’t afford to start a savings account, open a credit union account, or even get a secured credit card. She ends her email by saying that she knows that the couple needs a savings plan and an emergency fund, but she does not know how to convince her husband. So, what is the best way of handling finances in marriage with a reluctant spouse?

Saving, Investing, AND Paying Off Debt

There are many different schools of thought about paying off debt and investing at the same time. Many people like Dave Ramsey says that you should focus on debt repayment immediately after you have an initial emergency fund of $1,000 set up and before any investing takes places. So, my number one piece of advice for Kathleen is to get her emergency fund set up as soon as possible before anything else. You will never be able to get out of the cycle of debt without a backstop of savings that you can go to when the car breaks down or the kids are sick. It is imperative that you have that initial emergency fund. Dave Ramsey has found that $1,000 handles 99% of most true emergencies that people have.

Five Ways To Get Your Spouse Involved Handling Finances In Marriage

Monthly Budgeting And Goals Meetings. One great way to get your reluctant spouse involved with the family’s finances is to hold meetings. Monthly meetings where you discuss the family’s budget, your financial goals, or the family’s financial plan is a great starting point. Maybe a good exercise is to list out both of your short and long-term financial goals. I also use monthly or quarterly meetings to show my wife our net worth calculations as well.

Heart To Heart Talk. The biggest thing with handling finances in marriage with your spouse is communication. Like all issues in marriage, it often comes down to communicating. So, you have to have that heart to heart talk without fighting and yelling. You have to let your spouse know just how important his or her involvement in the family’s finances is to you. You also have to keep trying to get through to them so that they understand the family’s financial plan and have buy in of that plan.

It is okay if one spouse is more in love with spreadsheets and managing the money of the family. It is okay for one to take the reins on setting up investment accounts and opening savings accounts, but you both should know how you are investing, what you are investing in, and which direction your family is going financially.

Seeking Counseling. If you still do not have the support of your spouse in the family finances, you may want to seek out counseling. This can take the form of marriage counseling or can be as simple as having a talk with your church pastor. You may even have success with initial counseling from a certified financial planner. Most offer free initial consultations, and it may be well worth your time. The CFP can lay out where your family is financially and may also be able to give a little dire warning to the reluctant spouse of the dangers of your present course of direction.

Acknowledge Your Differences. It is okay that one of you is the saver of the family. It is okay that one of you loves investing and spreadsheets. It really is okay that you are different when it comes to money matters. The hard part is understanding that, seeing it, and accepting it. That doesn’t mean that both spouses are not involved, but it does mean that one can be more involved. The spouse that handles the finances just must make a little more effort in involving the reluctant spouse in the family’s financial affairs.

Seek A Compromise And Common Ground. Believe it or not, but that is common ground that you can find. At the end of the day, it is the family’s financial wellbeing that we are talking about, and both spouses have a vested interest to see the family succeed. We all want the same things in life deep down. We all want a better and easier life than our parents had when we were growing up as kids. We also want to provide a better life for our children than what we had growing up. That is the American Dream. It does not mean that our parents did it wrong. It simply means that we all want to do better. There is common ground and room to compromise if we look for it.

Wrapping It All Up

It is not easy by a long shot to be in a relationship where only one spouse seems to be pulling the financial planning weight of the family. There is common ground that can be found though. There are ways that of handling finances in marriage that can bring a reluctant spouse back into the fold and get the family back together on the same financial page.

Like most family issues, it all revolves around having an open communication with each other. Honest, frank, and often discussions about money and the family’s finances are the way to bring both spouses into the business of managing the family’s finances with a clear vision and goal of where the family is going in the future with its money.

Past Readers’ Questions:

Do you have a money question that you would like to ask? Email me your money, investing, retirement, savings, or other question to Questions[at]MoneyQandA.com. If I pick your question for the next article in the series, I’ll send you a free copy of Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover, or you can pick from any of these other free books instead.

Thank you all so much for all of the questions! Please keep them coming!

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About Hank Coleman

Hank Coleman is the founder of Money Q&A, an Iraq combat veteran, a Dr. Pepper addict, and a self-proclaimed investing junkie. He has written extensively for many nationally known financial websites and publications. Hank holds a Master’s Degree in Finance and is currently pursuing his Certified Financial Planner credentials. Email him directly at Hank[at]MoneyQandA.com.


Hank Coleman has written 535 articles on Money Q&A. Learn more about Money Q&A on Twitter @MoneyQandA and @HankColeman.


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