What do you do when your spouse is hopeless with money?
I get this question in some form or another all the time. Here are a few examples:
“I love my partner, he is completely hopeless with money, though. When we met he had a great corporate job and I was aware he had a little debt. He was a single guy, no kids, no responsibilities and clearly liked the finer things in life. I am frugal, had kids before we met, live debt free, save for what I want and while my job doesn’t pay anywhere near what he does, he never seems to have money. How can we get on the same page with finances?”
“My partner and I have been together a few years now and are talking about having a baby. I’m a casual worker, so not eligible for maternity leave. I have been trying to get fulltime employment, no luck so far, though. I got him to sit down and list out our expenses, how much debt he has etc. Turns out he is in more debt than when we first got together. He has always been secretive about his money and we haven’t combined finances. What should I do?”
“My partner and I are doing Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, but it feels like it’s all on me. He doesn’t stick to what we agree then it’s up to me to fix it all. How do I get him to change?”
Finances break up many relationships. Living with a spouse or partner who has different spending habits and income to you can be extremely difficult, especially when you find out there are debts and other expenses involved you were unaware of. Firstly, you probably need some counselling together and separately, both couples counselling and financial counselling. I can only give you generalised “What I might do” type tips here, and without knowing all the details, I can’t give specifics, however, there is a lot I can offer that might help.
This post may contain affiliate links for products and services I personally use. You can find the full disclosure here.
1.) Get real with your money
Whether your finances are combined or separate, it’s time to get real with it. Read The Barefoot Investor or The Total Money Makeover to help you. Personally, I will never combine finances fully again and haven’t with anyone I have dated since I left my marriage in 2012. It is up to you if you do or don’t.
If you do have combined finances, you need to go over it together, agree on a plan and then implement strategies to stick to the plan. With separate finances, you need to decide how you want to manage it all, who is responsible for what or how it is split. Some couples split it 50/50, others do a percentage of wages to make it fairer if there are large differences in income.
Go over bank statements, receipts, everything and see where all the money is going. Decide where to cut back and what sort of lifestyle you want. Read this post to help you work out and stick to a budget. Also check out how you can be a millionaire even as a single mum (not because I am telling you to be single! It clearly outlines compound interest, automating your finances and how to make things easier.)
2.) Let go of what you cannot control
This might sound counterproductive, but ultimately, you cannot control another person or their actions. Stop trying to. Instead, look for ways to either make it work, make more money or seek professional help. You both need to be on the same page and you can’t force your partner to do it. You can lead by example, discuss things in a positive manner (not nagging), set goals together and have something to work towards.
Some couples have found one person is better at managing money than the other so they set it up where one takes care of the finances while the other has a card with a limit. Personally, I prefer each person to be responsible and aware.
Discuss it properly, decide on a plan of action and go for it. As bad as it sounds, if your partner isn’t on board, you probably need to separate your finances and do your own thing. Stop cleaning up their mess and let them sort it out. For many women, this is hard. Read Women Who Love Too Much to help you change your mindset. Also, read Get Rich, Lucky Bitch. Be the example and they might follow.
3.) Make more money
This is especially important for stay at home mums and casual workers. There are so many ways to make money now. Find ones which work for you and your family. 51 ways to make money from home, 18 ways to make money in 2018, 43 ways to make money as a single mother (again, not because I am saying you should be single! These ideas are things anyone can do on the side. They’re simply flexible ideas).
You might want to try the best Australian online survey sites which generate our readers $2,000+ per year. Start a business for under $100 or try your hand at blogging (read here how to set one up and make money from it).
In my experience, you need to have a budget, tell your money where to go, but ultimately, also create multiple income streams. You can only save so much of your income, you can always make more money though!
4.) Set goals
What goals do you have for your future, both financial and personal? Do you have similar goals? What are they and how will you make them happen?
While you might be motivated to put all your money on debt to clear it or pay off your mortgage sooner, your partner might want to live life now. Find a balance. Check out how this couple cleared $90,000 worth of debt in 12 months and this post on how to make your home pay for itself for a few ideas.
When you’re not on the same page and not motivated by the same things, it can be really hard to get your finances to work. Find out what your partner is motivated by, set goals together and plan accordingly. It might mean your current income goes to regular expenses then any extra income either of you earns is split between the bigger goal (e.g. debt or your mortgage), having some fun now or a short-term goal (e.g. a holiday). For example, the split could be 50/25/25. This way, you both get what you want and both of you feel listened to.
5.) Stick to your guns
On weeks your partner is short, don’t pay the difference. It is enabling them to continue to spend the way they do. It is not your responsibility to ‘rescue’ them financially. I see this happen too much, where people end up ruining their own financial situation helping their partner, then their partner leaves or gets a great job and doesn’t repay or help the spouse back. This can be tricky when you’re married and there are kids involved. Try to work out how you can do it where it doesn’t impact the kids. For me, that meant I had to do everything when it came to the kids, but I stopped paying for others things for him.
Be clear on your goals. Set your budget and let your partner/spouse know in no uncertain terms that you won’t be covering their expenses. You have financial and life goals you need to stick to.
Be careful though, because if your name is on any of the debts and they stop paying them, you’ll be in strife.
6.) Get legal advice
This is something all couples should do anyway for your will, power of attorney and other matters. If you plan any big financial moves like buying a property, get legal advice to protect you and your financial assets.
I know this sounds callous. What would you do if you saved your whole life, got investment properties then your spouse cheated and took you to the cleaners, then you end up having to sell everything while they and their ‘new partner’ live in the property you worked your butt off for? Protect yourself legally, know your rights and be aware that de facto relationships have as much legal standing when it comes to finances as marriages.
7.) Hold off on the baby
While you might want one, I think you need to sort your finances first before having a baby or at the least, be on the same page financially. Figure out how much you would need for you to take maternity leave. Work out how much you’d need to have the baby – medical expenses, baby gear, larger car if necessary etc. All those expenses add up and if they can’t contribute half, you need to decide if you are willing to cover it all, put yourself back financially and take that time away from work. It is not something I can answer, but I’d urge you to get this sorted before having a baby.
Also, consider what you will do if the baby comes early, there are complications, you have medical issues. All sorts of things can happen which have financial, medical, mental and other implications. Plan accordingly.
How I do finances?
I might sound a little harsh in some of the above advice. I left an abusive marriage and was a single mother for a few years. When I did start the relationship with a new partner, within months I was paralysed and relied on him as my carer. We moved interstate, nearly lost everything financially because of my health issues and struggled with debt, job and business issues etc. We were on again/off again for a few years and split fully this year (though we remain friends). As a result, I have learnt a lot from being in a marriage, single later and partnering again as well as facing medical issues and splitting from another partner. I am quite practical and non-apologetic when it comes to finances now.
Because of my experiences, I will not leave myself in a financially vulnerable position. My finances and my life are my responsibility. Though no one plans to break up when they start seeing someone, the reality is over 50% of marriages end in divorce, health issues, death and a whole host of other things mean you should be making your finances a priority.
Honestly, when I started the second relationship, I pretty much paid for everything because he was unemployed and my carer. My business income, the child support my ex paid and a few other things covered what we needed. When we moved to Melbourne it was a hot mess and I didn’t push to change things. Ultimately, I wish I had been more confident and clear when it came to money in that relationship. Lesson learnt!
Now, I have a few accounts I split my money into for savings, everyday expenses and direct debits set up to invest and pay all my bills. This is a system that works for me. I have clear goals and set myself up for success with them. While I am likely to date again, I will manage finances quite differently.
You can find out more on how I manage finances by checking out this post.
How do you do finances with your partner or spouse?