What do you do When Your Spouse or Partner 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
Also, The Ultimate Guide to Make and Save Money shares loads of tips specific to Aussies that will help your finances.
Personally, I will never combine finances fully again and haven’t with anyone I have dated since I left my marriage in 2012.
Although I have been open with them about income, goals etc.
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.
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.
When it comes to goals, check out the tips in this post.
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.
This stems from my mother passing away when I was 15 and realising if it had been Dad to pass, it would have been harder as he was the main income earner.
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.
**Note: while I don’t normally push people to divorce or break up, look closely at your situation because financial abuse is a form of domestic violence and finances are a leading cause of relationship breakdown. Sometimes, as hard as it is, it is best to leave. **
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 that work for you and your family.
These ideas are things anyone can do on the side. They’re simply flexible ideas).
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.
It happened to me.
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 other things for him.
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 do I do Finances?
I have experience in a few situations: as a young, single adult; married; a divorced single mother and partnering again. In my first relationship after leaving my abusive ex, I learnt a lot.
I lost almost everything in that relationship and would never put myself in a financially vulnerable position like that again.
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, I wish I had been more confident and clear when it came to money in the first relationship after my divorce.
It was an expensive lesson.
Take care of your finances.
Get your partner on board but if they aren’t, make sure you are protected so you can still achieve your goals.
How We Manage Finances
My partner, Justin, and I met in December 2018.
When we realised this relationship might be something, we got serious about money.
We discuss how much we each earn, our goals and our potential regarding money, as well as everything else.
Here is what we did:
Acknowledge and Plan Around Cultural Differences
He grew up in Vanuatu and there are numerous expectations due to his culture.
We had to navigate that while also blending a family.
You can find out more about managing cultural differences with money on Aspiring Millionaire.
Weekly Abundance Meetings
Every Sunday we sit down and go over our investments, debts, accounts, budget, all of it.
Knowing exactly where we are and how close we are to specific goals, seeing our progress every week has been extremely motivating for both of us.
I shared how we do our abundance meetings and other goals here.
We have a joint account most things go into and are paid from, a joint savings account and the same goals for our life.
As such, we do everything we can to ensure we are on track and supportive of each other.
Being on the same page financially makes it much easier to manage our money.
Up has been great for this, easy to set up, share details, save etc. Plus you get $8 when you sign up.
They’re fee free and for our travels (we got to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands a lot for family matters) they had the best rates.
ING Is another great option.
Get a $100 Bonus from ING
Here’s what you need to do:
- Open an everyday account and put the promo code CNW116 in the promo box (you must use the code to get the $100 bonus) and complete all the steps below in the first month.
- Deposit $1,000 into the account such as your income or Centrelink payments
- Make 5 settled transactions
- Open a Savings Maximiser (current interest rate is 5.5%)
- Make a deposit into the Savings Maximiser
Then you get your $100 the following month when the promotion is running. Promotion periods vary. The current promotion runs until October 31, 2023.
Along with our joint accounts, we also have our own bank accounts for personal expenses and savings.
There are numerous fee-free banking options such as Up which offer $8 instantly.
ubank which offers $20 if you use the code S7VL6WF after you’ve completed 3 transactions on your card within the first month.
ING as mentioned above offers $100.
Each week we get a set amount to spend on whatever we want.
We discussed what this money would cover, how much we each needed then everything else goes through the family budget.
This money is automatically transferred to our own bank account and no questions asked about how it is spent.
That said, we always tell each other everything anyway as we are usually excited about it.
If a bill, investment or savings can be automated, we’ve done it.
Set amounts are transferred where they need to go each week without us thinking about it.
Each month our other bills get deducted and rarely do we need to actually think about paying for something.
It relieves a lot of the mental load for me as it has simplified everything.
You can find out more about how I manage finances by checking out this post.
How do you do finances with your partner or spouse?
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