How to Deal with an Overspending Spouse in Marriage

couple overspending wifeYou drive a beat up ’95 Honda Civic and your spouse drives a shiny new BMW. You go to the mall and buy what you intended to buy, but your spouse comes home with a few of the latest gadgets and a new pair of shoes. You are working hard to save your pennies, but your spouse is spending cash as if it grew on trees. Does this sound familiar to you? Do you have an overspending spouse?

So how do you deal with a spouse who seems to blow money at the slightest whim? Be as gentle and as loving as possible, but assertive in your mission. Here are steps you can take to deal with an overspending spouse and improve your situation.

How to Deal with an Overspending Spouse

Changing your spouse’s spending habits may seem like jumping a giant hurdle, so it is best to take the process in baby steps. Follow the procedure below in order to minimize the stress of taking on this large and often intimidating task.

1. Approach Your Spouse Lovingly
Do not begin by accusing your spouse of wrongdoing or by pointing out faults. Deserved or not, this sort of treatment will only drive a wedge between the two of you and make it harder to communicate. Instead, approach the subject in a loving manner.

For example, explain that you want to start monitoring spending habits as a couple, and then start a discussion from there. Another tactic is to discuss ways to save up for something really important like retirement. Drive home the point that you are a team in your financial efforts. Otherwise, your spouse may resort to lying about spending money to you.

2. Set Up a Budget
If you have yet to make a budget, take this opportunity to set one up together. If you do have one, this may be a good time to revisit it and possibly revise it. Work together with your overspending spouse to figure out what your total income is and what all of your expenses are. If you can show your spouse that money spent on frivolous items is causing you to go into debt or preventing you from saving, you are on the right track. However, it’s ideal if through the creation (or revision) of your budget, your spouse can come to this conclusion without you having to point it out.

3. Decide on How to Control Spending
If you were able to get your spouse to see the error of his or her ways, that was at least half of the battle. Now, you need to help control the spending. One way to do this is by allowing the both of you to only spend a certain amount of money each pay period. I recommend using the envelope budgeting system because it utilizes cash to hold you accountable to staying on budget. Once you have spent your cash, you are out of money.

4. Set Realistic Goals
Once you have talked to your spouse, set up a budget, and decided on a method for controlling spending, it’s time to look at your long-term financial goals. You both need a reason for sticking to your budget and need something to work towards. Do you need to get out of debt? Make that your first goal. Do you need to save up an emergency fund or start working towards saving for retirement? Those are also very important goals.

Tip: While you create financial goals, it’s also a good idea to make goals to strengthen your marriage, such as planning frequent date nights.

5. Hold Regular Financial Meetings
Reaching your goals will be an ongoing process, and if your spouse has a habit of overspending, it may take some time to break. Hold regular financial meetings to monitor and discuss your progress. You may find that some months you regress, but most likely, you will see an emerging trend of improving finances. Use this information and the meeting time as a chance to praise your spouse and encourage each other to keep working towards your collective goals.

couple fight money

What If You Need More Help?

If you have gone through the steps above and haven’t seen much improvement, don’t lose hope. You and your spouse may need to take extra steps or get more help. Here are five things to try first:

1. Cut Up Your Credit Cards
If you tried the envelope system for budgeting, but kept your credit cards just in case, the power of plastic may be too much to resist for compulsive shopaholics. If you suspect this is the case, then get rid of them. Spending money can be addictive, especially if you can’t actually see the money leaving your hands. Cut up the credit cards, and if you must, close the accounts to take the temptation out of the picture altogether.

2. Use a Piggy Bank
Did you make a piggy bank when you were little? Well, I still have one and I use it to this day. I regularly deposit change in my piggy bank and after a while, I am rewarded for my efforts. It’s a great way to practice patience and discipline, which may be exactly what your spouse needs to lose the overspending habit. Don’t use the piggy bank method alone, however. Do it in conjunction with cutting up the credit cards and the process described above. Reinforce to your spouse that this is not a punishment, but a way of rewarding hard work and self-control.

3. Motivational Reading
Like many people, I get really fired up and excited after reading a book. If your spouse is this way too, try picking up some inspirational reading like Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover or Thomas Stanley’s The Millionaire Next Door for starters. Once you’ve read these, there are other great personal finance books out there as well. Reading about how others managed their spending can inspire both of you to work towards the changes you need to make.

4. Seek Counseling
If all else fails, or perhaps you are feeling resistance from your spouse, you may need to seek help from an outside source. Counseling can uncover deeper issues that your spouse is trying to cope with by overspending. Consider joint sessions, at least to begin with, to make sure your spouse’s overspending isn’t a response to underlying dynamics in your marriage.

5. Get Support
Organizations like Debtors Anonymous (DA), can give you and your spouse the tools you need to handle your situation effectively. Debtors Anonymous offers a 12-step program to control overspending and provides support from others who have been in the same place you’re in now.

Final Word

These suggestions will only work if you do not overspend yourself. Make sure you set a good example and that you are working towards financial goals just as hard as you expect your spouse to. Most importantly, support your spouse through the process and only use loving words so that the issue doesn’t drive a wedge in your relationship. Change and healing are most likely to occur if you demonstrate that you are in this together.

Are you in the process of dealing with an overspending spouse? What are some of the issues and biggest challenges that you needed to work through?

  • Kalen

    After seeing my mother’s budgeting issues, I think I know why I will never get married. If I do I will have to keep this in mind. Thanks Casey! Always happy to read the posts of a fellow Money Crasher writer!

    • Casey Slide

      Thanks, Kalen!

  • Kalen Smith

    Awesome piece here Casey on a really difficult topic when it comes to overspending spouses…this guide is going in my back pocket!

    • Casey Slide

      Thanks, Kalen!

  • Magenta

    Emotionally this can be really hard to deal with, it’s hard to get your spouse to understand the discipline when they try to make you feel guilty even when the money is never spent on yourself, saying things like your a bad husband/wife to not take care of me, even when they are often spoiled, I don’t understand how someone can be so careless of others financial burden, especially when they claim to love you.

    • FedUpwithSpending

      I couldn’t agree more – and I’m dealing with a similar situation. No matter how lovingly you speak, or what you do, they don’t understand and keep spending. With a 7 month old it scares me daily, and makes me realize this person is not the person that I thought I married. I’m sorry to hear of your struggles as well.

      • koyyop

        I got same situation here, been married for 8 years now and at first I’ve been nicely talking to my wife about her spending but she doesn’t listen. I’m afraid that we go bankrupt. I even showed her our almost negative savings and racked up credit card of her own doing. It seems she doesn’t get it to the point that I started yelling at her. I know this is not healthy but I can not help it. Probably we need some serious counseling. I tried to hold on and avoid divorce because we have 2 little kids.

    • cattlewrangler .

      You just described my wife in that comment.

  • Tired

    Having the same issues here… have tried and tried…but in the end there is so much I can do and so much patience I have left… the rest is up to the other half. It’s hurtful because even though you try and work as a team, it feels the other half is letting the team down. I then have a battle with myself to try and be patient while the other side of me is so frustrated I feel like going on a spending spree just out of spite!!! But I know in the end that would only make things worse..

    • kelsey

      I so relate. I love my Guy and he is a wonderful partner in so many ways.
      I put myself through school and have a professional career. Paying off my school loan, paying off credit cards in full every month and saving the max I can has been my motto. He advises others, friends and family members, that credit card use should be minimized, yet he has a large balance north of 15k. AND he is giving $500/mo to his son-in-law for the 2 years he is at grad school. That’s hard for me to stomach while carrying this much dept. We have always kept our money completely separate, but this situation keeps me stressed.

  • Armando

    This Article is Helpful for Understanding Individuals. With my Girlfriend’s Extremely Terrible Spending Habits and with my Constant Patience on Educating her on Finances. I feel like I’m Talking to a Wall. If this Keeps Up. I have NO other choice but to Find a Spouse with Similar Financial Goals. My Last Option is Couples Counseling. After that. There’s No Hope. Only to Move on. Well Wish me Luck! Hope Everyone on here Finds their Happiness with a Mutual Goal Oriented Partner.

  • Tired

    I just found out for the 10th?? time my wife has hidden credit card debt and bank loans. Every 3 years we go through this cycle of her secretly financially destroying us. We have been married 21 years and have went through numerous counseling sessions. Every 2-3 years I have to run a credit report on her to see what she is hiding. I just found out she has another $14,000 in debt that I didn’t know about. We have 3 kids and am sick of refinancing our house. I am lost on what to do.

  • Anonymous (Agree with Tired)

    My big spender is “the male”. Frustrating because he wants what he wants when he wants it. I am exhausted being in debt for over 35 years. I should have seen this when young but I was foolish. Very exhausting, every time I turn around he is bored and buying, buying, buying – big things such as a 60k vehicle and small wasteful $5.00 here and there every other day. I am tired. Still have stupid furniture. His solution: For me to work. I have many times but then he spends my money so I won’t double the debt anymore. My passive aggressive anger.

  • fed up

    I have been married for almost 5 years now and my wife is killing us finacially. She opened her own bank account and deposits 100% of her check into it. I foolishly left her on the joint bank account that 80% of my check goes into. We have opposite pay periods and she will run her account into the negative and then withdraw from mine as soon as i get paid. For months straight the joint account would be in the negative 2 days after my check went in, meaning I was scraping pennies together for a $1 Mcd’s sandwhiches for food for the next 2 weeks. Her check would be deposited into her account and I was still left with no money. Worse yet, she would run the joint account into the negative (usually in the hundreds of dollar range) so that when my check was deposited, most of it just went to get me back to zero! The final straw for me was this christmas, she used up all of the money I had allocated for my kids christmas presents (i have 2 from a prior marriage as does she). I had to return gifts that I had gotten for myself and float checks between 3 banks just to make sure I could shop on christmas eve for my kids. When I confronted her about all this…. it was my fault. i am so ready to walk away but i really love her and dont know what to do.

    • ForeverInDebt

      Be happy your wife didn’t buy a 2015 Chevy Camaro as an impulse buy after having our bank account garnished because she racked up a credit card and couldn’t be bothered to pay the $20 a month minimum due. We just got her “old” car paid off too and were finally going to be able to make large payments on 2 joint credit cards. She felt a new car was more important than taking care of 7+ years debt.

      • ForeverInDebt

        Not to mention the overdrafts weekly and constant pissing money to the wind.

    • Monte K

      I (as a married female) also have a separate bank account that my husband does not have access to; however it is strictly to pay off his student loans!! All the money into that account is not to be touched except for that purpose. So there is good – and obviously some bad – for keeping a separate account. As for her putting you into the negative, I suggest going to your bank and removing her from the account. It will stabilize you and possibly wake her up. Separate accounts can often lead to a healthy life since no one cares where the other spends money and if they can’t meet their 50% obligation, then it will be clear to BOTH parties who is guilty of financial disaster.

  • Enough is Enough

    I feel like I am being the bad guy when I asked my husband to sell guitars that he went into 30K debt for. He has been unemployed/underemployed for a good deal of our marriage and I have been paying the rent for the majority of it. I co-signed on a student loan and although he is paying it off, everytime I turned around there was a new guitar. I finally confronted him the week of my birthday because I was tired of seeing guitars come into the house when he still had a financial obligation to me. Everytime I have tried to talk about money and our budget he accused me of prying, being nosy and keeps telling me all of the bills he is responsible for have never been late.

    He finally got tired of me telling him I wanted the loan paid off that he went behind my back and consolidated all of his credit cards into a loan payment, but refused to let me see any of the bank statements from the cards.

    I told him that we need to have an emergency fund in case anything happens to us. I have been responsible and am about to pay off my car, and credit cards and have about $15,000 in bank. About $50,000 401K and about $25,000 in investments. I do not wish to touch this money because this is money invested in our future.

    I asked him to get rid of the guitars to start to take a dent out of the debt he owes. I told him that I would take on the rest of the utility bills so that he could pay more than the $900 a month loan payment to pay it off early.

    He told me he needs all of the guitars because it’s like asking an artist to paint with only one color. He has refused to acknowledge what this has done to me and I have not yet received a sincere apology. He needs to take responsibility for his actions. I would have had NO problem with him purchasing guitars if he had gone about it responsibility and told me about it.

    He is bi-polar and has been addicted to drugs in the past. The spending is just another addiction. He is very unhappy in the marriage and wants to move back to California. He thinks I am be unreasonable in asking him to sell the guitars. They are source of pain and angry to me and I want to see them gone. I told him he could keep on guitar, one amp and some effects pedals so that he could have some solice.

    I think divorce is the answer because he is unhappy and wants to move back to CA, but I think the ironic thing is that he will probably have to sell them anyway since he only has about $2000 in savings.

    There is no trust and I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life without him taking any responsibility. I understand he has a disease but I can’t continue to be an enabler.

  • momosity

    I feel bad for everyone who’s posting on here. My situation is a little less serious, because my husband doesn’t overspend chronically, just on occasion irrationally ($900 for a pair of Billy Joel tickets?). We’re working on getting him to live like a regular person on a day-to-day basis, taking lunch to work instead of spending too much at the captive-audience cafeteria, but by far the hardest to deal with are the unexpected splurges that currently include adding a recliner for about $850 to a sectional couch.

  • frosty

    Well, here’s another story to the world of denial and lies. I have two adopted kids and married for 21 years. Our asset match our debts, this mean that we are at zero, if we sell the house. We already refinanced our house a couple of times. It seem that way because we moved. The excess funds from the sales of the house would go toward the debt. She is a wonderful person, but she can’t work 80 hours at 21 dollar a hour and spend 31 an hour. I have talked, showed, talked to friends, broth her to credit counselling. She read all the these financial books, but she will not understand until she is faced on the street unable to buy food for our hungry kids. I am afraid that the only thing left is for her to go through the full cycle and land in low income housing and have the kids go through the lesson with her. I failed as a parent to my kids, not my wife, but I have no choice when we lose the house. This financial crisis to me is the same as someone that has a fear of hights and you place them on a ladder 10 feet up for days. The worst is that I am in Financial sector. You can’t expect for companies to trust there finance, if you can’t deal with your own. PS. I am lucky, no substance abuse, no abuse, good hearted person, unable to hear her spouse fears of debts.

  • TSloane

    I have tried everything I can to stop my wife’s spending for over 24 years but it is to no avail. I am a very financially conservative and disciplined person who saved up for his first house at 24. I married my wife at 27 and my finances have been a mess ever since. I have taken away credit cards and she gets new ones. I cut expenses to give her a budget of $700 a week ($200 for groceries and $500 for everything else) and it is still not enough. At the end of every month I find $600-$800 in credit card charges. She hides purchases in her car so I won’t see them. She refuses to talk about any aspect or go for counseling. She gets mad if I even bring it up. I have had to borrow from retirement savings, get home equity loans, and refinance our house many times to pay off her credit card debts. I have had to take on a second job. I now owe more on my house than when I bought it 15 years ago. This is all while I am paying for my kids college education. We are at the point where if I don’t stop her, I won’t be able to pay for my son’s junior year in college.

  • Gini

    I have taken away my husband’s credit cards, refinanced debt on 0% cards, sold my car and he still keeps spending – £500 in the last week alone!. He is retired and I work full time. I have savings but am really worried because last time when I redid the debt I put £17,000 on my card but he keeps spending even though he agrees with me that this can’t go on. I bought my house years before we met and am worried that I am going to loose everything because of his spending. How on earth am I going to get through to him that this has to stop? Do I need to make him leave and put us both in serious financial debt? Any advice?

    • Monte K

      Separate bank accounts. Neither one has access to the other UNLESS one person does all the bill payments. Each pay 50% of house mortgage (or rent) and 50% utilities. If it’s too annoying to divide the bills in half each month, one person pays in A month, and spouse pays in B month. He’s not going to break his habit until he has no money left, not in credit and not in bank. You will have to not lend him a dime. Sad but true.