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How to Deal with an Overspending Spouse in Marriage

By Casey Slide

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?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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  • http://onlinerookies.com 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!

  • http://www.moneycrashers.com 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!

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com 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..

  • 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.

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