How to Get My Wife or Husband to Follow a Budget

By glblguy


While Gather Little By Little is a new blog, I have been surprised by the success and support it has received from the blogging community and from you the readers. I have recently noticed that I am getting more and more hits from Google as my content is starting to be indexed. At this point, the number one search that results in people finding my humble little site is “How to get my wife to follow a budget”. Given there seems to be a significant interest in this topic, I decided to address it directly; however, I will address both husbands or wives, not just wives.

Remove “I” and “You” from your vocabulary

In order to get both you and your spouse on the road to following a budget and achieving your financial goals, the first thing you must do is work together. A common saying that applies here is, “There is no I in Team”. Statements like “I try to get her to follow a budget” or “I try to manage what he spends or “I am the frugle one, s/he’s not” have to stop. In order to even start the process, you must decide you will work together. From this point forward, everything must be “we” or “us”, not “I” or “Me”. You both together are a team.

Engage your Spouse

Many times your spouse isn’t following a budget because they don’t understand it or because they don’t have any ownership in it. I know before when I tried unsuccessfully to start a budget, I would go create it and track it without ever once talking to my wife. How could I expect her to follow it when she had no input in it and frankly never saw it?

One evening after the kids are in bed, turn off the TV and sit down somewhere together. Explain to your spouse your concerns about the finances and why you want to begin following a budget. A couple of suggestions for doing this:

  • Do not place blame, and only discuss your feelings.
  • Do explain to your spouse that you want to begin working together with them to manage the finances.
  • Do not discuss mistakes of the past, they don’t matter. You are where you are regardless of how you got there and you’re in this together.
  • Do make sure they understand that this is important to you.
  • Do ask if they would be willing to try a budget for the next month and that you will both work together to develop it, track it and follow it.

For details on how to write a budget and tips for following it, see Step 4 of my How to Get Your Finances Under Control series. I would also recommend you review the whole series.

Wow, this really works

A fairly well known statistic says that the number one cause of marriage disagreements (i.e. fights) is over money. By following the simple steps above, the fighting will practically stop. Once you begin to work together towards common goals and begin communicating there is nothing to fight about. The budget becomes the contract, the budget becomes the reason we can’t go out to eat tonight. The budget is what keeps you from spending more than you earn and not having enough money to pay the house payment.

Now, with that said this isn’t a silver bullet. This isn’t going to provide a sudden marital bliss, but it will help. My wife and I still have disagreements over money, but they are few and far between. They are generally because we stopped communicating. It’s easy to get back into old habits and not have your weekly budget meetings. Don’t make this mistake. Make discussing your finances a priority. First off it keeps you both on the same page and secondly it’s just a great way to spend one on one time with your spouse.

Common Problems

Below are a few common problems and some suggestions:

My spouse doesn’t like finances and won’t participate in developing a budget. He/She would just rather I do it.

As you have probably realized, this doesn’t work. If your spouse doesn’t want to develop the monthly budget with you, don’t force them. Some people just don’t like to number crunch. My wife doesn’t develop the budget with me. I develop the first cut, then we review it together. Print off the budget, or give them the hand written copy and ask them to find one thing on the budget to change. If they have input on just one item, that gives them ownership of the budget. Once they have ownership in it, it suddenly becomes theirs, not just yours.

My spouse agrees to the budget, but then goes and spends more than we allocated.

There could be a number of reasons for this, but generally the primary reason is they don’t understand. I am frequently guilty of not keeping my wife up to date on where we are and how much remains in each category. While she is very conscientious of the budget, if I don’t update it and make her aware of how much is remaining, than it is very easy to spend too much.

I recommend having at least one budget meeting a week to review the budget and how much remains in each category. Twice works even better, once at the beginning of the week and once towards the end of the week. These meetings don’t take long, and go a long way towards communicating and working together.

Now, if you are doing all of this and they are still spending beyond the budget than you have a bigger problem. What I would suggest is first understand the problem. If you come into the budget meeting guns ablaze you won’t make any progress.

“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” – Stephen R. Covey

Ask your spouse why they spend beyond the budget. It may be a simple explanation of they needed to buy something that couldn’t wait until the next month. So pull the money from the emergency fund.

It could also just be they just wanted something and didn’t want to wait. This is a bigger problem. The first thing I would suggest would be to pull money from another budget category. Maybe the eating out fund, entertainment fund, etc. This will make them realize that nothing is free, if you splurge in one category, you must sacrifice in another.

When you create your budget, do something that will make you both commit to the budget, and agree to hold each other accountable. My wife and I do this little pinky shake. It seems silly, but whenever I go to buy something I remember that little shake and the commitment I have made to her.

Agree that whenever one of you is going to buy something that is more than say $40 that you must discuss it and both agree on it first. While at first glance, this seems like asking for permission, what it really is is a safety net. It goes back to holding each other accountable. Funny, but I find just knowing that I have to talk to her makes me realize that I don’t need it.

I have tried all of the above and they just don’t seem to care

If you have tried everything above and you still have a problem, than I would suggest you don’t have a financial problem but a marriage problem. If that is the case, than it’s time to see a marriage counselor. Relationships are complex and often outside intervention just to help you both “see the forest instead of the trees” is necessary. This is often a hard step to take, but put your ego aside and do what’s best for both of you.

We established a budget and we blew it the first month!

First off, it’s ok. If you are detailed like me, when you make a plan and don’t follow it 100% it’s a huge deal. Understand that the first few months aren’t going to be perfect. It takes a while to get into the routine of using a budget. You will make mistakes and you will under fund and over fund categories. One or both of you will also over spend. For many of us, this is a huge behavior change, and it doesn’t happen over night.

Remember, just having a budget and trying to follow it is most likely a huge step for you as a couple. Remember this is a journey not a magic pill.

I am sure I have just brushed the surface of this topic. What other suggestions do you the readers have? What types of things do you and your spouse do to manage your finances and stay in budget?

15 Responses (including trackbacks) to “How to Get My Wife or Husband to Follow a Budget”

  1. plonkee Says:

    I have no experience in this, but I think that having some amount of money that you don’t have to account for can be very helpful especially if one person isn’t earning any of the money.

  2. glblguy Says:

    Great point plonkee. We actually have a “blow money” category that serves as an allowance for each of us. We pull the amount out in cash in each month, and can do whatever we want with it. We haven’t done this since we’ve become focused on getting out of debt, but will again soon.

    Great point though and each spouse having their “own” spending money is nice and avoids some “issues” ;-)

  3. MITBeta Says:

    Great post. This is perfect for my sister-in-law and her husband!

  4. glblguy Says:

    @MITBeta – Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Point them my way, and if they have any specific question that I didn’t answer in my post, tell them to feel free to contact me. Thanks for visiting!

  5. April-j Says:

    Do you recommend joint checking? I’ve been trying for years to get my Spouse on board with the budget, but we’ve always kept separate accounts and we’ve each tackled separate bill lists in the past. This has worked for the most part in the past, however we are greatly altering our current life to move to a hobby farm and we’re going to need a tighter budget.

  6. joe Says:

    I spend a lot on my girlfriend…how do i put this in my budget without my wife knowing?

  7. Chris Says:

    @Joe on 11/29/2010: Categorize it as “miscellaneous.”

  8. Mike Says:

    My wife couldn’t follow a budget if it was to save her life, and win her a million dollars.. I don’t think anything above will work because that is what i tried from the beginning.

    She will know that “Our” clothing category of the budget only has $5.00 left, and she just went out and spent $45. Our “eat-out” fund has $.50 left for the MONTH, and she just went to chill’s for $20.

    It doesn’t matter that we JUST talked about having to follow the budget, and agreed. This is the same song and dance for years…

    My advice? give her a prepaid card with a set amount of money for the month. Watch the balance because when it gets close to $0, its time to turn off your phone and go on a business trip.

    How do you get a woman to understand the value of ZERO $0.00 ????????????? But see, I am a bad guy because I dont take her out on a date.. THEN STOP SPENDING ALL THE DAMN MONEY!

  9. Lisa Smith Says:

    My husband and I have been through Financial Peace University, although he stopped going before the end of the sessions. I have been to counseling to get help with this issue. My husband is a smoker and that is a $40 a week habit. He spend money almost every weekend on fishing. He will tell me what he wants me to buy for his lunches but as soon as the checks hit the bank he is buying fast food for lunch everyday, as well as breakfast some days. He spends $70 a month on protein shakes, and I don’t know how much, on supplements for “energy”. I am at my wits end trying to determine how much to budget just for his wants and needs. We are in our second year of a five year bankruptcy plan. We owe on my car and I have student loans. We have no credit card debt or other debt aside from these and the mortgage which is included in the bankruptcy payment. I don’t know what else to do as he has no desire to be a part of the finances. As long as he gets what he wants, he is happy. I’m miserable and stressed out.

  10. Tired & Finished Says:

    Lisa, I have the same exact situation with my wife of 20+ years. I make a lot of money but really have nothing to show for it. As much as I make is as much as we spend.

    If you think this behavior will change someday, think again.

    Lisa why not just run away with me and our spouses can have each other. :)