How To Have “The” Money Talk. Getting Your Financially Negligent Spouse On The Money Wagon!


From the song “Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul:

I take–2 steps forward
I take–2 steps back
We come together
Cuz opposites attract
And you know–it ain’t fiction
Just a natural fact
We come together
Cuz opposites attract

Who’d a thought we could be lovers
She makes the bed
And he steals the covers
She likes it neat
And he makes a mess
I take it easy
Baby I get obsessed
She’s got the money
And he’s always broke

Now you’re going to have this song stuck in your head all day. 🙂

I’m sure Paula Abdul’s focus for her hit 80’s song “Opposites Attract” wasn’t financial freedom, but she couldn’t have been more correct in her lyrics, especially when it comes to money. Along money lines, opposites do seem to attract. And there’s also something else true about opposites – they can attack.

I often speak to couples about their money problems and one pattern seems to emerge over and over again:

-One is a spender and one is a saver
-One lives for the moment and one wants to prepare for the future
-One couldn’t care less about getting ahead financially and one couldn’t care more

It doesn’t take a chemical engineer to know that this contradiction in financial mindsets sets-up a battle royale between couples that’s more intense than a championship cage fighting match!

MontyCampbell-BlogQuote312In fact, a recent survey completed by the American Consumer Credit Counseling found that, of all topics, money is most likely to prompt a fight in a relationship. An overwhelming 54 percent of survey respondents stated that financial issues are the leading cause of stress in their relationships, while only 5 percent of respondents indicated fidelity and trust were an issue and oddly enough, 9 percent cited in-laws as the biggest stress trigger! That reminds me of what one happy woman said of her in-laws: “I get along perfectly with my in-laws because they’re considerate enough to live very far away.”

Given that money is such a large contributor to relationship issues, you would think that couples would get things figured out with their finances so that they could get on with the very serious business of being each other’s honey snookums. Yet, many married couples fight about money. Constantly.

And the reason for this?

The one who is good with money typically doesn’t know how to talk with the financially negligent spouse about finances. They reason that a conversation about money will just start World War III (and it usually does) and so they avoid it. Or, if they do have “the” talk, they do it all wrong, pushing the non-money spouse even further away from financial togetherness.

If you find that financial conversations with your spouse have been as fun as a colonoscopy, here are three tips you can use to have a better money talk:

Don’t condemn

This is probably the biggest mistake I see spouses make. The play the blame game and it usually starts like this: “If you would just change your ways, we would be better off financially!” This approach makes your spouse the scapegoat for the entire problem and the conversation stalls out. Remember, your spouse most likely got his/her money “blueprint” from their parents. In other words, their money problems are probably deep rooted and the symptom of something larger. The more you focus on correcting the symptom instead of the root problem, the greater your frustration and possible damage to your relationship.

So what is the root problem of our spouse’s issue with money? Most likely fear. Money is used in a limitless number of ways to calm fears we have and faced with the prospect of limits to money (i.e. budgets), some behave very irrationally. So, instead of condemning your spouse, seek first to understand why they behave a certain way with money. Ask them this question – “What is your general philosophy towards money?”. You’ll probably discover a lot about your spouse that you didn’t know. Seek to understand first, then to be understood. A little bit of sympathy could go a long way with healing the money problems in your relationship and set the stage for later discussions about better money principles.

Get on the same team

Many couples, especially newlyweds, struggle financially because they are so used to making financial decisions independently. Overnight, they may merge their bank accounts together but fail to ever merge their financial behaviors. This sets up an oft-repeated, yet financially wrong, way to approach finances where one spouse is “in control” of the finances and the other spouse is totally oblivious to how money is made, and spent, in the relationship. I see many couples adopt this arrangement and they do so primarily to keep the peace. But it’s wrong. Dead wrong. You see, couples don’t tend to fight about the mortgage because that’s a choice you make together. Couples typically fight about the money decisions made separately.

The best marriages financially are where everyone gets a vote, and everyone votes. If you’re spouse is on the “outside” of your finances, tell them that starting today you want to work together to get out of debt and build wealth. Two horses pulling a wagon can pull a huge load up a hill if they work together. But pulling in opposite directions will simply turn the apple cart over. Do a budget together. Pay bills together. Plan for the financial future together. It may be difficult at first, but doing these things together will create better communication in your marriage.

Don’t Corral, Coach Instead

One of the most frequent mistakes that I see married people make when trying to get their spouse’s spending under control, is to corral. By corral, I mean that they put limits on their spouse’s credit cards or give them a monthly stipend to keep their spending from stampeding away like a herd of wild horses. While this may stop the spend hemorrhaging, it’s a terrible long-term solution because it doesn’t teach the financially negligent spouse anything about money. In fact, it reinforces the belief in them that money is something that they cannot handle. That only you can handle it. And no surprise, they never learn to manage money. The analogy would be trying to teach a teenager how to drive by forcing them into the passenger seat. They’ll never learn to be a responsible driver that way.

The better way, is to teach your spouse how to be responsible with money by explaining the concepts of budgeting, paying credit card bills off each month, delayed gratification and spending limits. Yes, this will be a much more difficult conversation than simply putting a limit on their credit card (which is why most spouses elect not to do it), but in the end you’ll gain a financially saavy spouse who will have learned how to handle money on their own.

Expect the conversation to go slow and have a lot of setbacks, as they will most likely recoil to new money ideas like a kid does to taking medicine. Hang in there, go slow and most importantly make the conversation about rewards. Instead of telling them what they can’t do, tell them what they can do as a result of better managing your money. For example, show them that budgeting now will allow you both to take that European vacation you’ve always wanted to take next year. Before they know it, you’ll be soaking in the sun and good times in Monte Carlo!

Money is a tough topic to talk about. Especially if you and your spouse have different financial mindsets, it won’t be easy to have the conversation. But “the talk” does not have to be something that tears the two of you apart. If done correctly, it will be something that brings the two of you closer together as you: communicate honestly and sensitively, solve problems as a team and most importantly, plan for your financial future!

Be free. Nothing else is worth it.

Financial Freedom Monty Campbell

Want even more information about talking and walking the financially free life? Check-out these other articles from the blog archives:

How To Make Each Other Hot Between The Sheets: A Valentines Day Special Post

47 Timelesss Wealth Building Principles

Do You Have An Elephant Mindset?

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  • sarah feltzer

    Communication is key between couples. Any plan or arrangement can work if both parties agree to work in unison. You summed it up when you said to approach it as a team. This entails communicating with each other. Which is a whole other can of worms. There is no magic to finances. But, there can be mysteries to communication.

    • steph

      I fully agree. I was totally in charge of our finances and they were totally under control. So my ex’s perception that we were were in huge debt was a lie. She loved being in debt so she fought me all the way. And it was just a ruse for whatever her real issues were.

  • Ron Conti

    Key word…. team. Otherwise don’t get married.

  • nypeach

    Me and hubby just brought another house. Paid 42% less than we could afford on his income alone. He’s 10 years younger, I will retire in 3 years and we do not want to have a mortgage when he retires. We pay extra on this one as well and plan to have it paid off in 12 years. Again the trick is in buying less house than one can afford.

  • belo55

    It seems that more of our friends split the expenses than not and I’ve never understood it. If you’re in a marriage and operate as a team there shouldn’t be any “mine and yours” about the way things are done. This was the intent in my first marriage but my wife had horrible money management skills and just spent with abandon. When we split after 8 years she was still paying off debts she incurred from the first month after we married, THAT we split. Money disputes were probably 60% of our problems.

  • homebuilding

    Separate accounts means that the one with more resources and income gets ‘more votes.’

    So much for unity and vows to “forsake all others.”

    I’m the only one important here.

  • Gary87

    I really don’t get the idea of having separate finances either. Seems to me like that’s a recipe for disaster. Aside from the lack of transparency and the potential for keeping secrets about money, having multiple accounts just spreads your resources.

  • drew

    I have never had separate accounts with my wife. Everything is joint. We sit down and set aside the money needed for living expenses (food, utilities, school, lunch money for the kids) and then with the rest, we put some in a savings account and the rest we work on improving our house. We rarely use credit cards as they are the bane of every marriage. When we do use a credit card, it is out of necessity and paid on the next month.

    Then again, there is this issue of trust and devotion which goes into the mix too. You have to be just as faithful to your marriage as you must be in handling finances. I think it makes for a better and lasting relationship.

    • RCole

      We are just like you….but for the credit card. We DO use it for everything…and the credit card company must hate us for it, because we pay it off every month…and rack up points for free hotel nights on the order 3-4 per year. If you can use a credit card linked to a loyalty program wisely, paying it off every month, it’s a great way to earn free stuff!

      • Paul

        This is precisely what my wife and I do, and have done since before we were married back in 1982. 😉

  • Mike Bisutti

    You got me on this one Monty. I am guilty of setting a monthly limit on my wife’s credit card as a way to manage her spending problem. I see what you are getting at. I’m not helping her become better with money by doing it that way. I’ll heed your advice and talk to her tonight about our finances. I really like articles like these as they help the layperson a lot.