Can no longer bang head against financial wall.
March 26, 2013 5:16 AM   Subscribe

So... There are plenty of help-me-with-my-finances questions on MeFi, but this is more of a relationship question...

I do the bill paying in our family. My wife works full-time, and I'm the one with the flexible job that allows for kid raising etc. Logistically, it works pretty well. My problem is, despite years (and years) of trying, I can never get us ahead financially. We make over $100K per year. Our cost of living is relatively low. We don't have a lot of debt, except house and cars (which total $1694/mo). Some low credit card debt (less than 1K).

I've worked out expense tracking. Budgets on paper. As near as I can figure, after taxes, we should have at least $10K, maybe even $20K available to save.

But that never happens. Never.

There's something broken in the way we spend money. The way we communicate about money. I will often tell my wife we need to be frugal in a given week... but it seems to have no effect on her. She seems to want to function with no thought about our finances at all. And there's a lot of tension any time the subject is brought up. She just shuts down on the matter.

But it's not all her spending. We're not extravagant by any means. Pretty boring really. We eat out too much. I never buy anything. And yet, all the money goes.

It's extremely frustrating. We've got a college bound kid in 4 years and I have no idea how we'll manage given that we can't even manage to live within our modest means now.

What I'm after is how to change the dynamic. How to make this work.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you actually know what all of this money is being spent on, or is it just vanishing into thin air?
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:24 AM on March 26, 2013


Also: one way to handle this would be to set a certain amount to automatically leave both your paychecks and be deposited into a hard-to-access savings account.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:25 AM on March 26, 2013 [10 favorites]


I had a period like this, but I also had the incentive of trying to get out of debt and really trying to reinforce/relearn the value of money. So, every month after payday, after making sure that my automatic bank transfer for bill paying was setup correctly, and that I transferred a sum to a savings account, I withdrew an "allowance" for myself for that entire month *in cash*. I tried to reinforce in my head that *this amount* is *all* I had for this month. So I watched every cent I used, always thinking: "this one candy bar could actually buy 2 liters of milk", and so on, and so on.

Everything was paid for in cash (except for, as mentioned above, rent, utilities, etc.) - everything. Whatever I, eventually, had left over at the end of the month went into the savings account, it did not get rolled over to next month - unless I was saving up for something, then it got separated out to a "save up for a new stereo" envelope, or something.

it wasn't easy, and the temptation of using everything I had in my account was always there, but i've relearned the value of money. Put the card(s) away, and stick with cash was what worked for me.

Good Luck!
posted by alchemist at 5:25 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


also, as showbiz_liz mentions above, find a financial tracker to give you a breakdown as to what you spend your allowance on. My SO and I use "Splitwise" for our common household expenses. Getting this data might prove useful for reviewing/changing habits.
posted by alchemist at 5:28 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can you identify where that money is going? That's probably the first job to tackle, even if you can only get to the point of saying that it's going on personal spending by your wife that you can't account for in more detail.

Are you engaging your wife in a discussion about financial goals, the challenges you see when you crunch the numbers, and then getting her input on how to solve those problems (by setting budgets/spending limits/etc) or are you doing all the analysis and then presenting her with the results as you see them? If it's the latter, try to bring her more into the process so she feels some responsibility and credit for getting results.

She may also need changes to the system to make her aware of the level of available money at the time when she wants to spend it - that's definitely something my wife and I have found difficult to manage.
posted by crocomancer at 5:29 AM on March 26, 2013


I think they've done studies with 401(k) plans that people save much more easily when the money is automatically deducted from the paycheck because they never have a chance to spend it and well they don't miss it because it was never there in the first place. So if I were you, I'd just have the money taken out of her paycheck as soon as she gets paid. With direct deposit and computers and such it should be fairly easy to do that. Then put the money in a small credit union or online brokerage and don't carry an ATM card for that account, so it's really difficult to get the money. make sure you get rid of those credit cards (or store them in a safe deposit at a bank, so you are not using them to make up the difference

Also you might check out Dave Ramsey. His books and show are targeted for people like you.
posted by bananafish at 5:30 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of people think that Suze Orman is kind of goofy or not a "serious" financial advisor but your question is pretty much the entire foundation of her career. Put it in your DVR (or grab the show as a podcast) and you'll start picking up some communication tips.

In the meantime: do you have an 8 month emergency fund? Are you maxing your Roth IRA and 401k contributions (assuming you're in the US)? If you're moving money into accounts like this automatically (so you never notice the money in your checking account in the first place) that will help relieve some of your worry.
posted by bcwinters at 5:34 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a partner like this, except that I was the sole breadwinner. Money just ran away from us. If we had it, it needed to be spent. If we didn't have it, we had credit cards and we could just pay the bills on them. When we split, there was $40K in debt I had to pay off. And without her influence, I managed it in just a couple years, in addition to the support payments.

I wish I knew how to cure that shit. She's never, ever been able to hold onto savings. Even now, ten years later, new partner, she's still always broke, always buying stuff, always trying to use money to buy happiness or satisfaction or contentment or something.

So I'm not saying dump your partner, but I am saying this has -0- to do with budget and finance, and 100% to do with internal valuations of what money is for. Is this where I say y'all need some therapy about money? Or maybe some philosophical consultation about where one can find happiness in life? Maybe.

To solve your immediate problem, though, you create a line item in your monthly payment schedule that is "SAVINGS" and you treat it just like any other bill that MUST BE PAID, just like the mortgage. Start small, maybe $300 a month, and ramp that shit up every couple of months until you are actually banking what you need. Put the money in some financial vehicle that you can't easily get money out of at short notice.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:37 AM on March 26, 2013 [15 favorites]


You have two issues:

1 - You're leaking money. This could be because of bad budgeting, because of an inability to accurately report spending, or because someone in the family isn't being honest about money.

2 - You and your spouse are unable to collaboratively, openly address money issues. You're not alone; this is one of the most difficult areas in most relationships. You're probably both failing here.

Your best bet is to stop trying to solve these issues yourself, and go talk to a financial planner, who is a neutral party, and who can help you work through everything without injecting his emotions into the process.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:39 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


How to change the dynamic? I don't know. Having your partner not be on the same page as you are in terms of your finances can be a big problem.

How to make it work? I would do what my fiance and I do. Make it extremely structured.

Step one: Keep your money very clearly divided out in to separate accounts. Have an account for grocery money, an account for base bills, an account for EACH of you for spending, etc. This is easier than budgeting because you don't have to do any math to know how much you have left for each spending type. You just look at the account balance.

Step two: Every two weeks (works for us since we're both paid bi-weekly, on the same day) we have automatic transfers set up that do the following:
- transfer a set amount in to our grocery account. This is the account we use exclusively for buying groceries (or the odd take out pizza). We make a meal play every week to make sure that we stay within that budget. Sometimes we go over, but we try very hard to stay within that budget.
- transfer a set amount to our "emergency" savings account. This is just for unexpected things, good or bad. The trick is to hide that account from your financial summary so that you sort of forget it is there. Just let it accumulate.
- transfer a set amount in to each of our personal descretionary money accounts. That way we each have our own money to spend on whatever the hell we want without having to consult the other person. This is KEY as far as we're concerned. Again, it takes planning. If you want that 200$ pair of shoes then you have to save over a couple of periods to have it.
- transfer a set amount into a joint descretionary account. This is usually for date stuff - dinners out together or movie rentals or tickets to some event. This one can accumulate over a period of time which can let you do something big together if you want.
- transfer a set amount against our debt

Any remaning money after bills get paid (mortgage, power, cell phone, etc) gets either deposited in to savings, deposited in to an RRSP or (more often) gets put towards our debt.


Step Three: We have a quarterly "come to jesus" talk about our finances. Every 3 months we discuss where we stand financially, how our savings look, how we did in terms of keeping within our budgets. We also discuss our future goals, project forward to see what our finances will look like in a year's time, five years time, etc. Seeing that if you do this you can have 10k (or whatever) in savings can be extremely motivating.

Step Four: Work with a financial planner.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:40 AM on March 26, 2013 [14 favorites]


I think the biggest thing I can think of to help is to see if your bank does a financial breakdown of your spending. If not, there are programs that tie to your bank account. So you can see: March, 10% restaurants, for example. It's really useful for finding the leak. (And eating out can add up, particularly lunches, which people never think about.)
posted by corb at 5:42 AM on March 26, 2013


I will often tell my wife we need to be frugal in a given week... but it seems to have no effect on her.

Have you tried to involve her more in the process? I know that she shuts down, but it's not clear what type of discussion you're trying to have with her. If you print out what your monthly income is and what monthly bills you have, what you have in savings, 401k, etc, and ask her to sit down with you and talk about how much you both think you could/should be saving, do you think she'd be willing to talk about it? Ask her what she thinks about opening a 529 for your kid and how much you guys could put into it every month, and use that as a springboard to talk about tracking spending if you're paying for everything with cash.
posted by amarynth at 5:49 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I second the multiple-account structure that PuppetMcSockerson uses. We have two joint checking accounts. One is for bills, and we have a fixed amount direct deposited in that account each paycheck and we don't carry debit cards for that account. The second checking account is for day-to-day discretionary expenses like groceries, gas, entertainment, whatever small purchases come up. That way we never have to worry about whether we can buy groceries because the mortgage payment is coming up -- it takes up so much less head space to know that the bills account is always fully funded. If we spend everything in the day-to-day account, oh well, I guess we don't eat out until the next payday. At least we know the lights will stay on.

You can use this in conjunction with automatic debits and direct deposit to divert money to savings as soon as you get it, rather than hoping there's something left to save at the end of the month.

Honestly, we went from having the extremely uncomfortable money talks to never having to talk about money except in broad strokes, because all the minutiae just take care of themselves.
posted by payoto at 5:53 AM on March 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Don't budget, track.

Track what you spend. I'll bet, with your nice financial cushion, that it's really easy to just spend an extra $20 here, $50 there. Track every penny, and make sure your wife does, too (it's easier to spend when you're away from the house all day...a lunch, a snack, a book to read on the train, etc...it all adds up), and see where your money is going. I'll bet it'll come clear when you're not talking about what you should be spending, but what you are spending.
posted by xingcat at 6:03 AM on March 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Popping back in to add: it's important to use /numbers/ when you talk to her about money. This might be really hard, you might feel self conscious about how low you are or over how high, but numbers are way more helpful.

Compare the following two conversations.

A: "We really need to be frugal this week."
B: "Of course." *shopping time later* "Ooh, there's a great thing on sale if we buy in bulk! A will be so excited! I'm being so frugal. Ooh, I'd better pick up an extra thing of shampoo, just in case we run out, and some after-work snacks, but I'll make sure to use the sale brands. And when I eat lunch, I'll go to the place that has specials. "

A: "We have $200 left in the bank for this week."
B: "Oh wow, that is pretty low. This is a really good deal, but if we buy these things, we'll only have 100 left for the rest of the week. I'd better bring my lunch in from home every day this week, and try not to do any excessive driving."

So the former is helpful, but only if the two people understand exactly what frugal means, and that's a hard thing - particularly if your wife is used to a higher standard of living than prior to your marriage.
posted by corb at 6:14 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just another suggestion for tracking....every penny. I did this for a few months. It is very revealing! Also, do you bank on-line? Most on-line banking sites have a feature that allows you to quickly generate banking reports. I do this once a year (but you could do it monthly), it takes about 3 minutes, and it shows me every cent of income, every cent that I paid out for expenses, and every cent that I saved. And you get to set up the specific expense categories for tracking purposes. And the bonus feature here is that the tracking happens automatically because all of my financial activity goes through my checking account...and that includes when I "pay myself" by periodically moving large chunks of cash over to savings.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:20 AM on March 26, 2013


I shut down during certain conversations too, and it's mostly because I get overwhelmed and my conversation partner is not presenting the material in a way that is easily digestible to me. I need to SEE it, whether it's a spreadsheet or graphs or actual cash laid out in front of me. Talking just turns into blah blah blah and I tune out or freeze. How does your wife learn things? How does she communicate important things to you? Try to mirror that.

I will often tell my wife we need to be frugal in a given week...

Make it concrete; "frugal" means different things to different people. "Hey, we have $200 left until we get paid again. We can spend it on X and Y, or we can spend it on Z. We can't do all three. What do you think?"

Also, if she's the primary breadwinner, she may not be totally on board with thinking the money totally belongs to both of you. She may feel justified in spending more because she works more hours-for-money. Are you sure she doesn't feel resentful that you're staying home with the kids part time? This is important to establish.
posted by desjardins at 6:24 AM on March 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


Here's the tracker that I use from time to time to re-focus us. You input all your income and all your expenses and it automatically calculates what your weekly spending should be in various categories. Then every week you put those $$ amounts into jars on your counter AND YOU LIVE OUT OF THE JARS. You have to make the money in the jars last the whole week. It's magic. Work out the budget on the tracker with your wife or on your own, but do go over it with her to show her how the money works. At the very least, *you* will learn a lot from this tool. Serously, I love this tracker.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:43 AM on March 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


What I'm after is how to change the dynamic. How to make this work.

Honestly? Couples therapy. This has nothing to do with money and everything to do with how you, as a unit, operate and communicate.

There are plenty of financial tools like Mint that allow you to set budgets and track spending, and various ways you can save yourself from yourself (like reducing the number of cars, having automatic savings withdrawals, separate accounts, jars of money, etc.), but really if you can't even talk about money, then installing any of these tools won't really fix the core issue.

A lot of the time tagging everything in Mint and looking at where your money has gone the last 6 months is a trigger to do things differently - so I would start there. If you look at literally thousands of dollars in eating out, the number eventually gets big enough for even the most uncaring person will take an interest in the potential impact of changing a few habits.

It's at that point that you should bring a professional in who can help you communicate better. Come to Jesus, then change the dynamic.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:47 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with the suggestions that you need to be more concrete and to discuss the plan for the finances with your wife, I.e. Sitting down and deciding that in order to save money you need to cancel Netflix, or only eat out once a week.

I just wanted to add that you want to start the discussion in a positive way. Don't be accusatory or start by moaning about how you will never afford anything. You are putting her on the defensive. Say you want to talk about achieving financial goals that will make you both happy and you want to know what she thinks are the top priorities. Once you have agreed on the priorities and how much you need to achieve the goals, it's much easier to say, "well, we will need to make lasagna at home tonight, so we can save up for our vacation at the beach!" Having an agreed upon goal as a motivator will likely be much more effective, as well as addressing the issue as a team rather than something she is screwing up that you are nagging her about.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:52 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think tracking is going to be very revealing about where the money is going and where you can cut down. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if your wife is minimizing how much she is buying and just hoping you won't notice the charges. Not to be malicious, but because some people are just not good at being frugal, even when they know they should be.

Mint.com makes it easy to categorize and track purchases (they all have to be made with debit/credit cards, however, or entered manually if made with cash).
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 6:53 AM on March 26, 2013


From the relationship side, you need buy-in and an awareness of how much time/effort it will take to be financially successful.

My wife and I spend about 20 hrs/month on money management between the two of us. That's not unfocused worrying or arguing -- it is actual decisions, discussions, goals, tracking, reading, etc.

Earlier in our marriage, it was probably more like 30-40 hrs/month. She felt that much time was strange because none of her friends were doing it. But then again, all of her friends had less than nothing to show for years of professional work.

Are you and your wife ready to commit the time and effort?
posted by 99percentfake at 7:04 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also it is pretty baffling that you have credit card debt of that level with your income. Do you know the interest rate on that? It is probably like 20%, and if you pay it off you that's an automatic $150 extra bucks in your pocket every month or whatever. You should be able to pay that off in just a month or two, which makes it nice low hanging fruit for an early motivating victory in the financial plan.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:04 AM on March 26, 2013


I stand by my original "break everything off in to separate accounts" suggestion, but in terms of getting your wife on board...

If she shuts down every time you bring it up and doesn't seem to be putting any effort in to this, you need to find out WHY. This, realistically, may take couples counselling. If it is because it is just really overwhelming and confusing for her, find a way to help her better understand and now be so overwhelmed. Desjardins is probably pushing you in the right direction to get your wife on board, though. If it is a primary breadwinner entitlement thing (which is EXTREMELY common and understandable) then you need to talk that out and find a way to make it a more comfortable set up for everyone.

I agree with coming to her with concretes. Not "we need to be frugal" but "if we want to put away 5k in savings this year/go on the trip to New York/buy a new dishwasher we need to limit our spending X amount every month. Here is how I think we can probably break it down.". Don't make things accusatory or "you are spending too much". It is about both of you and both of your long term goals and how you both can work towards it.

Speaking of which, do you HAVE a goal? And I don't just mean "Save 10k", but a reward of some type? Maybe saving towards something (a vacation, a piece of furniture you both really want, etc) would help her. Don't blow all the money you are working so hard to save, but spend some of it in order to create an incentive. Hell, even just knowing that you want to model good financial responsibility and habits for your children can work wonders. If I am just "saving" I tend to go over budget because, well, who cares. If I am saving for something and KNOW that if I don't follow this I am not going to be able to afford that something I am MUCH more motivated to staying within budget.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:22 AM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd suggest talking to your wife and asking her what she doesn't like about budgeting or discussing finances. It's possible that she has a thing that she likes and that costs money - a daily latte habit, going out to lunch with work friends - that she suspects you'll find silly or unnecessary. Or maybe you and she have differing attitudes toward ways you spend money on yourselves, e.g. she's willing to spend twice what you do on a haircut or pair of jeans. Maybe she's tired of hearing "we need to cut down on X" without hearing any good alternatives to X. Or maybe it's not about spending habits at all: maybe she wants to feel more in control of the money, maybe she thinks you're fine and doesn't want to worry about finances unless it's totally necessary, maybe she disagrees on just how much money you need to save.

Whatever the reason is, come up with something together that allows for you to be able to budget together while making her feel comfortable. Maybe that's hanging on to a certain percentage of her paycheck to spend as she pleases, no questions asked. Or for you to take charge of the meal planning instead of simply saying "we need to eat out less." Or a different way of dividing up budgeting/bill-paying tasks so she's more (or less) active in doing so.

It is super important that you can both communicate as adults and partners, and come up with a responsible budget. But your wife's got some sort of block here. You and she may be able to work around it, or remove it altogether. But until then, all the spreadsheets and plans in the world won't help.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:50 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pardon me if this is a stupid question but are you working off your take home pay? People come in and say "I make $100k, I only spend $60k and I'm in debt! How can this be?!" And it turns out they're paying into a 401k, health insurance for the whole family (can be a couple thousand a month), FSAs, HSAs, commuter cards, etc, so that what hits their checking account isn't all that much, relatively speaking. When you look at a paystub suddenly it all becomes clear.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:21 AM on March 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


Also, are you getting big tax refunds?
posted by small_ruminant at 8:25 AM on March 26, 2013


Also, there are therapists that specialize in this. It's a VERY common problem.

If it is just runaway spending, gather up all the facts/numbers you have.
We spend $X on foo. $y on bah. Make sure to include income taxes and other stuff the comes out of your pay checks. $z we don't know where it goes.

If she is a person who has to spend things down to $0, (and I am one of those, due to wiring I don't want to take the time to change), she can work around it. I spend my main account down to $0 every pay period. I make sure my savings is electronically transferred out first thing each pay period, automatically. I make sure my 401k is being contributed to. Basically, if my paycheck comes on the 15th, on the 16th all my bills are paid. If she is one of those people, she needs her own "allowance" account that she can spend down to $0.

Pretty much all of these money quirks have hacks, so to speak, and it's much easier to work with them/around them than to try to change programming you instilled, research says, by the age of 4. Mostly people just feel deep shame around their money and STILL don't get their finances in shape. This is one of those areas that make successful professionals feel like frauds in life. Fuck shame. Work around your/her wiring bugs and live your life, and get help to do it, if you need to. It'll pay for itself.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:35 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thirding Puppet McSockerson's approach. This is what we do, too. Automatic transfers to groceries account, discretionary spending accounts (we each have our own) and savings. Groceries and discretionary accounts have debit cards, and the savings account is at a credit union without a local branch and no debit card so it's very hard to get at. Everything is automated so we don't have to "try" we just only have so much to spend.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:51 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I only solved this by severing my finances and becoming the saving partner, with it being my responsibility and coming from my income. Equivalent bills were paid with his income so he never saw much discretionary money, which made him more motivated to be frugal. Beforehand I'd always been there to drop some spending money or make up for shortfalls and he was spoiled a bit by that. It also kept me from feeling depressed about his undoing of any progress I made because he literally could not access it to spend it.

As you might imagine it was a hard sell.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:47 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I will often tell my wife we need to be frugal in a given week... but it seems to have no effect on her.

Put her on an allowance, and she will come running to the solution discussion table.
posted by Kruger5 at 12:47 PM on March 26, 2013


My husband and I made an agreement when we first got married that has helped us lo these many years. The deal is that if we are each working hard at whatever we are doing (a job, going to school, raising the kid, helping a sick parent, managing the household) then we each get 50% of the power for making financial decisions. This helped us not have an attitude when one of us was bringing in 90% of the money, that the one whose name is on the paycheck gets 90% of the say in spending etc. Making this explicit has been critical for us, particularly as we've see-sawed back and forth between earning nearly everything and earning nearly nothing. I'd start by discussing this sort of arrangement with your wife, so that you're on the same page that having a flexible job is so valuable to the family that it's worth the loss of the high income and thus there should never be a claim that the one with the high income and less flexibility is somehow the decider.

The other thing we did is essentially what PuppetMcSockerson has done, which is to establish a flow of money: It comes in, and first all the essentials are diverted (electronically) to a checking account that has auto-billpay set up. Next, a fixed amount is diverted to a second checking account for all our slush spending: groceries, gas, lattes, dinners out, books at the bookstore, shampoo, etc. Third, all our savings accounts are given boluses: travel, house maintenance, house upgrades, car expenses, emergency savings, retirement savings, college savings, etc.

If anything is left over, we've got a formula for how it's divided up. For a while, 80% went into saving for a downpayment on a new house. Currently, most of it is paying off student loans.

If we're short, money comes from a bridge savings account we have just for this purpose. If we take out money from the bridge account, then we any surplus the next month(s) goes back to that account to top it off again. This protects us from income swings, and the account is only as big as the largest deficit we've encountered recently (last few years) and is an easy-to-access savings account. It is separate from our emergency fund, which exists in case of disability or other catastrophe, and is equal to I think 12 months of income. That is in an income-generating account, mostly bonds I think.

To make this whole process a bit more fun, each of our accounts has a name, an idea we took from Ikea. So, when we're deciding if we can go out to dinner, we ask, "Does Caroline have enough money?" because our slush fund account is named Caroline. This makes it somewhat less personal than, "Can we afford it?" If Caroline doesn't have enough, we eat at home. Similarly, if we want to buy a new faucet for the kitchen, we ask, "Is Dexter cool with that?" as Dexter is our house upgrades account. It makes it somewhat easier for us (at least it has become easier once we learned all the account names. That part was a bit of a joke for a while).
posted by Capri at 1:09 PM on March 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


"Put her on an allowance" would be off-base enough if she weren't the larger earner; seeing as she is, it makes less than no sense.

You both have to agree to a budget that prioritizes your savings goals, whatever they are. Then you have to come up with ways to make prioritizing those goals automatic. Taking savings directly from paychecks is one way lots of people use.

In the short term, freezing (literally, I mean putting them in a Tupperware full of water and freezing them) your credit cards and putting your agreed-upon weekly or monthly budget for stuff like gas, lunches out, coffee shop, etc. on prepaid debit cards might be one way to track and limit impulse spending.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:48 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


My partner was like this, and still is to a certain extent. What finally got through to him was making him sit down and look at the breakdown of our bills. Not our spending (although that helped) but our bills, the incontrovertible things we have to pay. He never thought about the yearly bills, or the insurance, the registration. He never considered the medical stuff (we're in Australia so that's not so out of the ordinary). He just worked on a day to day thing and because we never were in a 'shit, $40 in the account, we can't buy fuel' like some of our friends, he just wanted to keep cruising.

The thing is, he still does. But he has a better understanding of what that means. And he has realised that there is a floor on the adage of 'you spend what you earn' because at a certain point we cannot pay our homeloan, we cannot pay for fuel. I had the same conversation with my mother as well - at some point you cannot 'make it work'. It isn't a matter of eating beans to make ends meet, it's that there is an insurmountable gap. It took my partner realising that we were using our savings to meet the gap for him to be on board. But it had to be concrete numbers, no 'be frugal' or 'spend less' because that's not the problem, it's a numbers game to him, not a feelings one.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:00 PM on March 26, 2013


I have been in a similar situation. I live on a low budget while I am looking for a new job. We should have enough money for a second car (car payments and insurance) but are always squeaking by at the end of the month. Here's what has worked for us to budget and I have heard worked for others.

1) Make a budget. (Looks like you already have, but maybe you can do a better one.) If you have Microsoft Excel there are budget templates that have pie charts and everything. It also has sections for projected expense vs actual expense. You can look on the microsoft office website to find more templates too! Link to TONS of budget templates.

2) Make sure you have access to each other's bank statements. Print if necessary and HIGHLIGHT all the expenses that fit into budget categories. (Food, Eating Out, Utilities, Shopping, Entertainment..) Be sure that these match your projected expenses or close.

3) Shop with a cash budget! I know, what the heck is CASH!?! It's a big tip I have seen. You leave your card at home and only take the cash budget you can afford or have planned for your grocery trips, date night, shopping...

4) Move money to savings right away when you get your paycheck. That way you can treat it as "untouchable" expect in an emergency - and not a "I need that pair of shoes" emergency.

5) Pay off small bills as soon as possible. For example if you have a medical bill or something with a small balance. Car insurance can be another example. If you pay it off right away you don't have it as a monthly expense.

Hope it helps!
posted by Crystalinne at 7:16 PM on March 26, 2013


oh god, I have been your wife. Worse, I have been your wife while being in a jointly financially irresponsible, enabling, codependent, broken LTR where neither I nor my partner had any understanding or even control of where the money was going.

For me it took a nasty breakup, being many thousands of dollars in debt, going through some horrendously lean times, getting my credit rating so completely cratered that I am STILL digging out of that hole now, ten years later, for me to understand even the first thing about personal finances.

Money is still a tense, fraught, frightening, emotionally loaded topic for me. It was a huge source of angst in my family growing up, complicated by the fact that my mother is the absolute worst financial role model I can possibly imagine. Let's just say I come by my fiscal idiocy honestly.

Anyway, what I have learned from all this is that there is no way I can be trusted to manage my own finances. I simply cannot handle it. If there is money available to me, it will be spent. I'm like a junkie who can't be trusted not to get into the stash. So what I've done is twofold - I've done the 401(k) thing at work so that I can't see that part in the first place, and then I've let my husband (who is a fantastic money manager) help me allocate the rest of my budget. We talked about this and I contribute a fair percentage of my income to the mortgage and bills, I make a direct deposit to our joint savings account, and then whatever is left over (which is a decent amount) is mine to do with whatever, no questions asked. And yes, I buy frivolous shit with it, and sometimes I still feel dumb and guilty and clueless about that, but I've been doing somewhat better at not zeroing the balance every pay period and I'm harming no one in the process (we don't have kids).

For the record, this has nothing to do with surrendering to gender roles or me being controlled by my husband or whatever spin you want to make of it; we've both discussed this openly like adults and I asked him to please take charge. This is me admitting I have zero clue how to be financially responsible, and letting my husband (who has proven to me that he is) deal with the cash flow. He checks in periodically to make sure that our allocations are fair and working for us and the way we run our household.

and yes, what seanmpuckett said: I'm not saying dump your partner, but I am saying this has -0- to do with budget and finance, and 100% to do with internal valuations of what money is for.

I think the most harm to my financial intelligence came from growing up in the feast/famine cycle I did (mom bounced several times between unemployment/welfare and making executive level pay grade, so... yeah). So there was always this idea in the backs of our heads that we should spend whatever while we had it because who knew when we'd be living on watered down tomato juice and walking down to the neighbors to make a phone call because ours got shut off.

So yes indeed you may need to approach this not from the logical / rational "budget" vector, but from a "hey, this is not me judging you so please don't feel defensive or guilty, but we really do have to get a handle on this and I am here to help" one.

I think it's almost certain that if she does have a spending problem, then gently approaching it like an addiction can help. That is what I have personally done for myself.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:53 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


To be more clear, we split the bills as though "savings" was a bill and I was responsible for it. He was then paying the bulk of our living expenses. He had no knowledge of or access to savings. This kept him from mentally classifying it as spendable cash and blowing the budget that way.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:30 AM on March 27, 2013


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