How to deal with a financially irresponsible spouse–gently and a little at a time. The dance of marriage takes time to develop the right steps. There will be lots of stumbling over each other and starting again.
Finances are the Biggest Reported Cause of Divorce
The best time to work out financial details is before you get married–nice sentiment but unrealistic for the long-term marriage. People change and the income and outgo changes. One system is not going to work for the lifetime of a marriage.
Instead of working out financial details, try working on a financial planning system. Use one that has a framework that grows as you do as a family. Just like it is almost impossible to understand how much care a real live baby of your own will take until you hold that sweet newborn treasure in your arms. It is impossible to foresee all the ups and downs of a family finances.
Have a System In Place for Spending and Earning
Have a heart to heart with your spouse about your dreams and hopes for your marriage and how you want to manage the money that drives the family. It is helpful to select a system or style of management you both can follow and refer to as you meet life’s changes over the next 50+ years.
Financial Peace University is Dave Ramsey’s, in-depth, direct study on where your money goes and how to make it work for you.
Prosperous Soul , Stephen De Silva’s, Prosperous Soul looks deeply into God’s Plan for your spending and how to seek healing for wounds you are trying to fix by overspending.
Financial Reboot Course, Tracie Forbes’s, Ready To Run course with a couples worksheets and flexible framework will get you started quickly.
Even if you did not start out with a system, it is not too late. All of these courses, and many more will take you from right where you are to right where you want to be, a financially healthy family.
Get the Numbers and Have a Heart to Heart with Your Spouse
If both spouses agree that there is a financial irresponsibility, then getting help by investing in a new system of bill paying is a snap. If one spouse continues to believe that everything is alright, even though bills are going unpaid and you are living paycheck to paycheck, it is time to get the numbers.
Use a spending planning sheet like the one from Penny Pinchin’ Mom to track the last 3 months spending. Three months of bills and wages will provide you with an average of your spending. Plan a time to meet when neither of you is rushed and talk through where the money is going. Start with areas that are non-negotiable and work through the disposable areas at the end. Be patient and kind; it may not happen all at once.
It is a good time to choose a financial system like the ones above to be a roadmap and something you both refer too as the family earnings and spending changes.
Financial Irresponsibly Often Signals Deeper Emotional Issues
Don’t be surprised if these conversations do not go well at first. Maybe your financially irresponsibly spouse grew up in a family without money and does have a system of managing it. Or, maybe they grew up in a house where money was abundant so why worry about it. Or, possibly having or not having money says something about them as a person or is a way they find to compensate for something.
Opening the discussion in a safe space with plenty of time and no interruptions maybe all it takes to get the money train back on the right track.
Offer to Pay the Family Bills for the Financially Irresponsible Spouse
Each of us brings our skill sets to the marriage. One spouse may be a fantastic cook while the other takes great pleasure in keeping the cars clean and running smoothly.
Paying the bills, keeping a budget, placing all the spending on a spreadsheet is just a skill set that one spouse may do better than the other. Just like the bookkeeper in a business, the spouse that does the ‘family books” does not get all the decision making power over the money nor do they have to make all the money. They are simply recording the facts about the family spending habits so they can be used in decision making.
This is often a great relief for the irresponsible spouse to know that the bills will get handled on time without fuss. In fact, the so-called “irresponsible spouse”, may have other awesome talents to give to the family because of no longer having to deal with the bills.
Are You Dealing with a Financially Irresponsible Spouse or Financially Unfaithful Spouse
If your financially irresponsible spouse is unwilling to look at any of the options above, you may be dealing with a larger issue. One way to figure out how to work with your spouse is to see a financial counselor.
A financial counselor will take a look at your goals and dreams, your spending and income and help you devise a plan. As a third party, the counselor can help set norms for the spending plan and mediate disputes between spouses.
As mentioned above, if your spouse is financially unfaithful, there is a much deeper problem. A financially unfaithful spouse keeps hidden accounts, lies about spending, is highly secretive about money matters and unwilling to seek help.
Seeking financial help on your own is the next step. The financial counselor can suggest practical steps to keep more money in the household. This may lead to boundary setting with the financially unfaithful spouse.
Seek support before you take drastic steps. A marriage and family counselor, 12 step program, or church family can help as you both sort out the best course of action.
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