Dear Dollar Stretcher,
My husband’s spending is starting to drive a wedge between us. I want to put money away for a vacation and our son’s college fund. But there’s never any money left at the end of the month. My husband does outside sales so he’s in a car all day. By the end of the day he’s spent $8 or $9 on Starbucks, candybars, sodas, etc. That’s nearly $200 per month! When I ask him about it we quickly get into a fight. I know that he wants to save for college, etc, but he doesn’t seem to be able to stop or even cut back on the spending. What can I do that won’t destroy my marriage?
You face a common problem. In most couples, one is more concerned with the finances than the other. And, it’s also common to find that married people have very different spending styles. So disputes over money are all too common.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are some things that you can do to help you reach your financial goals and strengthen your marriage at the same time.
Begin by recongizing that you might not be the best person to talk to your husband about his spending habits. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the truth when it comes from someone close to us. We’re more likely to see it if we read it in a book or hear it from an expert. You might have more success if he hears it from an investment advisor or reads it in a book like “Your Money or Your Life”.
Next recognize that most of us like to achieve goals. Some are driven by the need to achive. If you can connect a goal (say a vacation that hubby wants) to the behavior needed (one less Starbucks each day) you can cause a change in habits. If Hubby buys into the goal and method for achieving it you’ll have a powerful ally.
Make sure that you have reminders in strategic places. Ideally in spots that will remind you of your goal just as you’re about ready to make a buying decision that could pull you further from your goal. For instance, Hubby might find it helpful to keep a vacation travel brochure or two in the car.
You may find that your husband is spending money without thinking about it. Studies show that people spend more money when they use plastic. It might be helpful to set up a cash allowance during the week. Ask hubby to agree to put away the cards and switch to cash. He’ll be more aware of his expenses when he handles greenbacks.
Allow for some flexibility. Don’t say that he can never stop at a 7-11 for a candy bar. Rather ask him to limit it to once or twice a week. Or perhaps as a reward for sales calls that end up in a commission for him.
Don’t badger your partner. No one wants to be married to a nag. No matter how well-intentioned they are. And, don’t threaten him. You’re trying to pull towards a common goal. Not win a power struggle. Fighting with him only undermines your marriage. The exact opposite of what you want to do.
Not nagging your partner doesn’t mean that you’re unwilling to help. If he enjoys a candy bar in the afternoon, buy some at the grocery store and make sure that one is sitting by his car keys in the morning. It may take a bit of a sacrifice on your part. But making coffee in the morning might be enough to prevent him from buying it later.
Have specific dollar amounts and dates in mind. “We’ll save $1,500 by next June.” Planning on ‘saving some money’ by some time in the future is a hope, it’s not a goal. Without specifics you can’t say whether you’ve achieved your goal or not. And, you’re not very likely to accomplish anything.
Keep track of your success and celebrate it. Ideally you’ll be able to move the money saved to a separate account(s) meant for your vacation or college fund. You’ll find that each time you make a deposit you’ll be re-energized to save even more. Make sure that you talk about your progress. The victory is best shared.
And, be willing to listen to his comments about your spending. He may well see places that you should consider cutting back. You owe it to him to give it some thought. You owe it to yourself, too.
Don’t let his success (or lack of success) keep you from saving. It’s easy to get discouraged when you feel like you’re pulling the whole load alone. But it’s even more important for you to save when your partner isn’t.
Ultimately it’s important to recognize that you cannot change your husband’s behavior. Only he can do that. And, he’s much more likely to want to make changes if he sees how he will personally benefit from the different outcomes. You may find it helpful to occasionally remind him how he’ll benefit when you achieve your goal. But, don’t overdo it.
Things like spending and saving can be a minefield for marriages. False moves can do serious damage. At the same time those challenges can be overcome and actually build up the marriage.
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner with over 30 years experience in getting value for a dollar. He currently writes on personal finance and edits The Dollar Stretcher website. You can follow Gary on Twitter.