Home » Money and Marriage: Paying off Debt When Your Spouse Isn’t on Board

Money & Marriage: How to Manage When You're Managing it Alone

Money and Marriage: Paying off Debt When Your Spouse Isn’t on Board

Money & Marriage: How to Manage When You're Managing it Alone
Money & Marriage: How to Manage When You’re Managing it Alone

Hannah over at Unplanned Finance wrote a great post last week about how it was tough when her and her husband first started to work on finances together. Those initial budget meetings were anything but fun. They often led to frustration and arguments. Now though, with some practice, Hannah and her hubby enjoy their budget meetings. They’ve got a system in place that’s working, and they’re enjoying seeing their financial picture get better each month.

Hannah and her hubby’s success in this area happened because they were both willing to work through the tough times and stick it out until they found a plan that worked for the both of them. However, that’s not the case with every couple. Many times money and marriage don’t work together: one spouse digs their feet in staunchly, absolutely refusing to be involved with any kind of a financial plan.

The reasons vary: sometimes the spouse has no desire to reign in spending. Sometimes it’s a fear thing. Sometimes they simply don’t want to be bored with mundane things like money management. Whatever the reason, there are some steps you can take if you’re the spouse who wants to create a financial plan to better your family’s finances and your spouse isn’t on board.

Financial Improvement Without Your Spouse’s Involvement

Step #1: Open your own savings and checking accounts. Often, when a person desires to better their financial life and their spouse refuses to participate, fear can set in big time. The spouse who desires financial stability gets scared of what the future holds, which results often in fights as the other spouse continues their “que, sera sera” attitude about personal finances.

If this is you, I’d highly recommend opening your own checking and savings accounts. Be open about this with your spouse, and explain to them that you’d feel more secure knowing that somebody in the family is saving money. Then, take extra cash whenever you have it and put it away as a buffer between your family and Murphy’s law. This will quell your anxiety level big time and reduce the amount of stress you feel when your spouse spends unabashedly.

Step #2: Work to implement little changes. If your spouse likes to go out to eat too often, for instance, make him or her their favorite restaurant meal at home (there’s loads of copycat recipes online for almost all restaurant meals). If they like to go to the movies, suggest cuddling up on the couch for a movie at home. By working to implement small changes in how he or she likes to spend when you can, you’ll slowly but surely make an impact.

Step #3: Keep them abreast of your financial picture. Have a spread sheet that you update each month that shows your debt numbers and your asset numbers so that they see what your financial picture looks like. Show that spreadsheet to them each month so that they can see if the numbers are getting worse or better. Some knowledge may eventually turn into a wake-up call for them.

Step #4: Talk about dreams and goals. Share your dreams and goals and how practicing value-based spending can help you achieve those goals. Encourage your spouse to share their dreams and goals too, and then put together a plan that you can show them that will result in those goals being achieved. When they see a way for their dreams to be realized, they may catch the PF bug themselves.

Step #5: Put your foot down hard when a big financial spend is looming. If your “que, sera sera” spouse is contemplating a big purchase such as a boat or a car without your permission, stand strong. You may not want to invoke a fight about the little spends, but when a big spend is looming, it’s time to stand strong, especially if that spend is going on credit.

Step #6: Know when things have reached an unhealthy level. If you’re in a situation where the spouse is controlling the money and you have no say in how things are managed, this is not healthy, and it’s not safe. If your spouse is abusing you in the area of money management, seek help from a trusted professional.

Very rarely have I seen a “hopeless” situation when it comes to money and marriage with spouses who are opposites in terms of personal finance views. Most always, a compromise can be reached that will allow the unwilling spouse to go through life blindly while the financially responsible spouse is allowed to work on his or her financial goals. The goals may take longer to reach when one spouse is not on board, but every step of progress is a step in the right direction.


  1. Change for some people can be a scary thing and can take time to get over that fear. It’s important to communicate and keep an open dialog going to work through a financial situation when you are not on the same page with your spouse. You are much more powerful as a team. If overtime comprise can not be reach this might indicate bigger issues.

  2. Hannah says:

    Derek and Carrie Olson had an interesting podcast called, “Let the numbers sit.” They recommend that when you’re on the verge of a financial argument to get to the point where each partner agrees (this is our income, this is how we want to spend money), and then let the numbers sit for a day or two.

    Hopefully, having this cool off period will help both spouses become better equipped to compromise.

    I love your tips and I hope I never have to use them.

  3. I agree that dreaming together is a big deal for lots of aspects of a healthy marriage. I know listening to podcasts and reading books helped me husband change his mind about a few financial ideas when I couldn’t. So it’s worth asking your spouse to learn more without having to hear it from you!

    • Laurie says:

      Great tip, Kalie! Often times people won’t listen to their spouse, but they will listen to someone else when it comes to ideas and advice.

  4. kay ~ the barefoot minimalist says:

    I don’t know how anyone manages their finances with a spouse without constant check-ins. If hubby and I didn’t continually communicate about it, there would be overdrafts aplenty! This is such a helpful, practical, and educational post. PF gold, Laurie! 🙂

  5. Laura Harris says:

    I love the copy-cat restaurant recipe idea! That would be inspiring to anyone trying to cut back. That’s why we keep a regular stock of Costco pizzas in our freezer because we lived on delivery pizzas for waaaaay too long (instead of getting out of debt) when we were single.

  6. My hubs is definitely more of a spender than I am, but we usually tend to come to an agreement over what we should (and shouldn’t) spend money on. We both have to compromise sometimes to make it work.

    • Laurie says:

      Compromise is key, isn’t it? It’s unrealistic I think to expect married people to think exactly alike, but if they’re willing to compromise then the battle is all but won.

  7. Lance@HealthyWealthyIncome says:

    This topic has been on my mind quite a bit. I am amazed how few people talk about their finances until they are in trouble. By that point it is sure hard to fix. It’s almost like starting the relationship over and dating again to talk through the issues. Often times I find there are deeper, more serious issues beyond money as well. Everyone needs to know where income and spending are at or nothing ever works out for the long term. Your family and money are basically a small company and you are co-CEO’s at home. You can build it or ignore it at the end of the day. Invest in your relationship just like you do your money and it will pay off.

  8. I don’t have a spouse to worry about when it comes to making financial decisions, but sometimes I have to fight very hard against myself. I really want something but I know I don’t NEED it. It’s hard to not give in and buy it sometimes.

  9. It’s hard enough to stick to the plan when both people are on board. How much more difficult when only one person is committed! To be faced with the challenges, not only of creating and tracking a budget on your own, but also of dealing with the drain and negative impact of a spouse who is not on board . . . VERY tough!
    Most of these tips are good for couples who are on the same page too. I like that copycat recipe idea. Maybe it will help keep me out of restaurants for my no-restaurant-October.

  10. It would be really hard to get serious about your finances if your spouse wasn’t on board! I guess you would have to figure out a way to show them why what you’re doing is important.

  11. Kara @ The Daily Whisk says:

    When I first got serious about budgeting my husband said something along the lines of not wanting to have to pinch pennies or something. It became clear to me he had zero idea of what a budget was, and it was an immediate fear that things would be taken away from him. Now he’s on board and willing participant, but it took some time!

  12. My husband and I are on the same page in the big-picture ways, but he much more relaxed about setting specific goals, budgeting, etc. He’s not a spender,thankfully, and we’ve made great strides in our communication about money topics over the last year. We not exactly where I’d like us to be, yet, though.

  13. anna says:

    Thankfully our financial goals are aligned (though I tend to be the ‘spendy’ one still), but I agree with your ideas, especially with implementing little changes. We used to love going out to the movies, and while we occasionally still do, we prefer just going to Red Box more these days (probably because of baby, too, since we (okay I) don’t like being apart from him that often). 🙂

  14. Vonnie and I have always been on the same page as wanting to manage our money the same…..but I have seen families around me go through this sort of thing. My observation is that those that don’t want to jump in and manage the finances are more than happy to follow the lead of their significant other. They’re just rudderless, and once someone tells them how to row, they start rowing. 🙂

  15. Pingback: Weekly Roundup #1 |
  16. Cava says:

    I loved this article! But I must say the pic is worth a thousand words for sure. Totally reflects what my hubby and I went thru when we first started on our debt free journey. My hubby want no part of it. Now he’s the one seeking out time for us to go over the budget. Thank God we pressed in and started working together.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s an awesome success story – thank you SO much for sharing! I hear you on the pic – I found it and knew it was “the one” to perfectly describe what so many couples go through when one gets an urge to get out of debt. God is good!

  17. Harmony says:

    My husband really got on board once we decided on goals that inspired both of us to change, namely, early financial semi-independence and a cross-country road trip with the family.

  18. This is one area that I don’t have to worry about right now. MaxE doesn’t really care how I spend my money, provided he gets feed and has fresh litter! 🙂 The flip side, of course, is that it would be nice to have someone help me stay the course, because when I’m having a bad day, there is no one but myself to tell me no when I want to go out to eat or buy myself something. Sadly, I don’t always have the willpower to do it myself!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, funny. 🙂 Yes, it’s definitely harder to say “no” when there’s no one to balance you, but I know you’re a strong woman, Tanya. 🙂

  19. I am not yet married, but I’d like my wife to partake in every financial decision we’d make. This is ideal. But, as I have background in accounting, I think that I should take control of most decisions just in case my wife wouldn’t be that serious in financial decision.

  20. This would be a tough situation to be in, but I think you shared some great advice. My wife and I are almost 100% aligned when it comes to finances, and it makes it much easier to pursue big financial goals when your spouse is on your side. I hope other couples who are not aligned are able to take your advice (and others) and make some progress on getting their spouse on board.

  21. Michelle says:

    I just wish that my future husband would be seriously on board because one that I look for is someone who has financial goals and is concerned with financial matters, which I think are signs of a responsible husband.

  22. fehmeen @ Debt Free Lifestyle says:

    hi Laurie,

    These are some very practical steps, I must say and I agree that one has to be very proactive about this sort of money management. It is a pity that couples fight over finances, but really, you can’t have one party dragging down everyone because everyone loses in the end!

Comments are closed.