The old relationship adage goes, “Opposites attract.” This generally isn’t a problem unless you and your spouse or partner are on completely opposite sides of the financial savvy spectrum. But, do you know how to help a spouse or partner that is terrible with money?
Money is a major cause of stress in relationships, and if you are always on top of your finances while your spouse is more forgetful or lax about money, then you might hit some bumps on the road to financial stability as a couple.
If you want to maintain a good relationship and reduce frustration with a spouse who may not share your values when it comes to financial responsibility, then here are a few ways you can help them with money management. (To keep it simple, we’ll refer to boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives as simply “partners” from here on out.)
How to Help Your Spouse Who’s Terrible with Money
Lay Out Your Financial Situation
Are you the one controlling the finances in your relationship? If so, then it’s time that both sides get up to speed with your shared finances. Because oftentimes, financial irresponsibility stems from an ignorance of the reality of your situation, rather than a malicious desire to squander your family’s hard-earned money.
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Take an hour or two and lay out your finances on a table – budget records, utility bills, credit card payments, mortgage or rent and car payments, receipts, etc. And, go over everything with your partner. If they’re not particularly excited to talk about something as seemingly dull as finances, then make some coffee or drinks or snacks and take it slowly to make it a more bearable experience.
Keep it straightforward and objective. They’re less likely to feel defensive and want to leave if you avoid blaming them for a budget misstep or bad impulse purchase they made recently. And, at the end, you might assign them small tasks to help you manage your collective finances together.
No matter what – you have to be on the same page when it comes to your family’s finances. That’s how you help a spouse who is terrible with money. My wife and I go over our budget and net worth once a quarter. We sit down and have a family meeting to discuss the finances of our family.
Use the “Criticism Sandwich” Technique
Once you and your partner are on the same page about where you’re at financially and what your personal financial goals are, the next step is realizing that your partner won’t magically become a moneywise wizard overnight. They might feel overwhelmed at first and will likely make a couple mistakes – impulse purchase, almost miss a payment, go over budget in a category or two, etc. Until they get into the routine of having more self-restraint when it comes to money, you can expect your partner to make some mistakes with money.
To improve communication between each other during this learning process, practice using the “criticism sandwich” technique. This is where you start of with praise (“Hey, you’re doing a great job staying within our budget for groceries this month”), followed by criticism (“But spending $80 when you went out drinking with your friends the other night put us behind in our entertainment category”) and finishing it up with another layer of praise (“I’m sure we can cut back on buying music and movies this month to make up for the shortfall”).
This praise-criticism-praise model prevents making the other person feel defensive right off the bat, and the injection of praise makes it more likely that they’ll be receptive to what you have to say. Money shouldn’t be a constant negative experience between couples, and using this communication technique as well as practicing forgiveness will help you and your partner engage over money matters in a constructive, positive way.
Go on a Credit Diet
If frivolous credit card usage from one or both people in the relationship is causing strain between you two, then perhaps it’s time to go on a credit diet. This is where both of you set aside your credit cards – except for emergencies or recurring payments – and resort to using cash for a while. Using cash instead of credit requires more financial accountability because you only have access to the bills and coins in your wallet, not a plastic card with a four figures-limit and high interest rates attached.
Even if you personally don’t struggle with responsible credit usage, the number one way to cause resentment from your partner is by taking away their credit card while you still have full access to your credit card. Avoid the conflict and set a timeframe for your credit diet together – one month? Three months? A year? Then experiment with light credit card usage after the “diet” concludes.
Commit to a Savings Plan
Now that you’re both on the same page of where you’re at financially and you’ve taken different measures to smoothen out the road to prosperity and stability, your final step as a couple is committing to a savings plan. By encouraging each other to meet savings targets each month, you’re staying accountable while also cushioning the blow if one of you accidentally overspends one month.
Having a growing savings account will reduce stress and anxiety when it comes to your money situation and lead to fewer outbursts if someone goes over budget because you’ll have the backup funds needed to cover the unexpected expense. Whether you both commit to trimming down $40 or $400 of your personal expenses, every dollar saved counts.
You may want to consider looking into Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps in his best-selling book, The Total Money Makeover. Baby Step 1 is building an initial emergency fund of $1,000. Eventually, you’ll need to build your fully funded emergency fund into three to six months of living expenses. But, that is Baby Step 3 after you have paid off all of your debts beside your home mortgage.
With these ideas in mind, managing money with your partner will no longer be a frustrating, stressful process. But, it will rather be a cooperative experience in which you’re both committed to similar goals, despite your personal differences over how you think money should function in your relationship.
If you stay patient and objective, you and your partner will be able to successfully overcome one of the number one causes of friction in many relationships and be well on the road to financial stability.
Are you a spender and your spouse or partner a saver in your relationship? How did you overcome your differences? How do you help a spouse who is terrible with money?