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How to Deal with an Overspending Spouse in Marriage

You 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.

Pro tip: Are you and your spouse struggling with debt due to overspending? Companies like Freedom Debt Relief can help you eliminate debt for good. They’ll customize a plan for you and negotiate with your creditors. When it’s all done, you’ll be debt-free and on a better path to financial happiness.

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. Sign up for an account with Personal Capital. The tools they have will make it really simple to start having productive conversations about where the money is being spent. 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.

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.

Seek Counseling Joint Session

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?

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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