Should I just give him the money?
May 7, 2007 1:18 PM   Subscribe

My husband is financially irresponsible. Do I bail him out? (Sorry for the long post)

My husband is not good with money and I knew about this when I married him 3 years ago. On the plus side, he does pay all of his bills (much easier for him since I set up direct debits on his account), he just then spends the rest of what he has within days and then is left for the rest of the month trying to borrow money off of me or family members. For the most part, I will not loan him money anymore. I have tried to help him out by showing him budgeting, giving him an allowance etc. He has enough money to generally do what he wants if he were to make the slightest effort to stay within a set limit week by week, but he makes no effort whatsoever. I make more than him and if he were to even make the slightest effort I would be willing to help him out a bit, but as I see no effort, I don't want to give him any more money to throw away.

Here is my question. His daughter turns eighteen this week. Her mother still gets on very well with my husband and I am on friendly terms with her as well. Anyway, she is throwing a big bash next Saturday and mentioned a couple of months ago to my husband that if he wanted to contribute, he could though she would leave the choice up to him. Obviously, as he is active in his daughter's life I think he should contribute and he said that he would. I know the mother is spending quite a bit on renting a place, a buffet etc. However, my husband frequently promises that he will give people money for whatever and then doesn't save any (he cannot grasp the concept of going without to save money) and so he therefore cannot then give people money they have come to expect. He is very well-liked and easygoing so he seems to get away with this behavior.

This has happened in the past before and I feel like I am in a difficult situation as although people know this is what he is like and have almost come to expect it from him, they also know that I make more than him and could probably pay for it. I kind of think that when he promises money to his ex/daughter and then doesn't follow through that they are thinking that I should cough it up as they know I can. But like I said before, as he makes no effort to control his spending, I am unwilling to bail him out. If he made even the slightest effort, I would be more than happy to help.

As it turns out, he owes me some money this week, which I have already written into my budget. It also happens to be the same amount that he said he would give to his ex. Should I let him give the money to his ex for the party instead? I should mention that I am not wealthy so it's not as though I wouldn't miss the money as it is a fairly significant amount to me but I also don't want to feel like the bad guy. Am I being selfish? If he doesn't give any money to his ex (she is not expecting it at this point) I feel as though their whole family would secretly think I should have done so.

I should mention that he pays a good amount of child support every month and always has. He also will give spending money to his daughter if she catches him at the right time of the month. His intentions are very good - he would give any of us all that he has if he happens to have it in his possesion at the time. We also got her a very nice laptop for her birthday, though this makes no difference to my question.

Please help me decide what would be the right thing to do in this scenario, bail him out or stick to my guns?
posted by triggerfinger to Human Relations (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It really sounds like your husband needs help. I would suggest that you give him the money on condition that he agrees to see a professional about his spending problem. That may be reading a lot more into your post than you would like and I apologise if this suggestion causes any offense.
posted by teleskiving at 1:31 PM on May 7, 2007

I agree that setting boundaries and sticking to your limits is important-- especially with an issue as volatile as money-- but this may not be the issue that you'd want to choose to make a stand. It's her 18th birthday; I'd say let her enjoy it, pick up the costs, and then draw the line with your husband as clearly as possible. I'm giving him points for paying his child support... it sounds like he's well intentioned, but just can't manage his finances (is it a form of anxiety leading to avoidant behaviour, perhaps)?
posted by jokeefe at 1:34 PM on May 7, 2007

I think money is a symptom--a cliche answer, but I wouldn't call it a money problem.
posted by mecran01 at 1:35 PM on May 7, 2007

As it turns out, he owes me some money this week

IMHO, nobody who is married should take this attitude. You're partners. He handles his money and you handle your money but you contribute to a mortgage or rent together? Then you might as well not be married and consider yourselves to be roommates with benefits.

So, yeah, give him the money. It's cash that has come into the partnership and is needed by a partner, regardless of the reasons why it's needed.

Sure, he's frittering away part of the partnership's capital, for whatever reason. Talking about it is an appropriate avenue to change this behaviour. Living with it is, as well. So's leaving the relationship. But withholding resources from the partnership? Not so much.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:36 PM on May 7, 2007

Money handling is a sticky subject in some relationships, however, being married to me means not "owing" money to each other. So I would suggest, reworking your budget, and letting him help his daughter's party. Keeping score that way can only be damaging.
posted by stormygrey at 1:40 PM on May 7, 2007

You married him for richer or poorer...and for areas of weakness and strength.

Seriously, help him be functional. Do it with him. Do not scold, condescend or judge. Figure you were lucky enough to have reason to learn these skills (or parents to pass it on to you.)

He didn't. Make it Your goal over the next year to be compassionate and help him help himself. Quit 'punishing' him and making him 'loan money from you.'

If you're a lousy teacher, find one to help. If you need to in the meantime, get him to sit down and watch you budget your money and then help him budget his.

You might be the most forgiving wife, and compassionate. You may have never judged him on his abilities. It's just that money is an area where married (and single) couples fight over, and can be the acid that destroys a marriage.
posted by filmgeek at 1:50 PM on May 7, 2007

I'm not sure the actual relationship between her and her daughter's father has been spelled out.
posted by rhizome at 1:58 PM on May 7, 2007

I agree with the recommendation of picking your battles, you only turn 18 once so I'd say let this one slide temporarily if you can afford it. I disagree that you should just let it slide permanently.

All of this is modulo talking to him and getting his opinion, but I would do something like: "It's your daughter's birthday and that's important enough that I think we can work it out this time, but we still need to be square eventually, OK?" It's pretty clear that for whatever reason your husband has a problem with budgeting, I wouldn't want to go creating loopholes and exceptions to complicate matters. Keep it straight and simple, he still needs to figure out a way to put the balance where it needs to be, this should be just delaying it out of compassion.

I'm impressed that you're able to (seemingly) calmly deal with this level of financial inability, and I salute you for it. It's not directly relevant, but this level of apparently incorrigible financial inability might be symptomatic of something deeper. It's been known to happen in traumatic brain injuries, for example.
posted by Skorgu at 1:59 PM on May 7, 2007

I'd just like to point out the the money he owes me is for the cost of the laptop, which I bought as he did not have the money. He said he would give me half when he had the money. As it cost a lot, I would prefer not to be responsible for the entire cost in this instance.

I never "keep score" when it comes to money. When I can pay, I pay and when he can, he does and I am of the opinion that it will all even out in the end. You need to believe me when I sincerely state that if I happen to pay more over time, I am not bothered and I definitely do not hold it against him. Like I said, I think it all evens out in the end. It just turns out in this case that I do not like to carry a significant balance on my credit card and as I put the laptop on my credit card, he said he would give me the money back when he had it so I can keep my balance low.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:01 PM on May 7, 2007

Probably for the sake of the relationship with the mother, bail him out. And then y'all need to address this.

I used to be a person who just could not grasp the abstractions of money and I sympathize with both of you. I will second that this is not entirely about money - I mean, these are skills that some of us really do have to learn the hard way rather than figuring out like the rest of you, but usually there is baggage (and shame and denial and anxiety) going along with the skill problem. I got better, with some pretty compassionate help from my partner, but I think in our case it might have been easier because I was the one making more money. I didn't have anyone to borrow from when I screwed up.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:13 PM on May 7, 2007

if i were you i would offer to lend him the money if he agrees to let you take the repayment (and possibly the repayment of the money he already owes you) out of his account as soon as possible, probably around the same time that his other bills are automatically deducted and before he gets a chance to spend it on something else. then he will probably be low on funds for a while but it might be worth it to him if contributing to this party is something he would really like to do.

also, do you think it's possible that he might do this because he feels entitled to a more equal share of the finances even though he earns less? I know you are saying you are willing to share, but it might be worth discussing why he feels like he has this pattern, if you haven't already.
posted by lgyre at 2:13 PM on May 7, 2007

I agree with others here: you should be able to lend him money without expecting to be paid back and without counting.

However, realistically, I understand that you shouldn't be made to feel taken advantage of. I can think of several valid reasons why he might owe you money, that you wouldn't want to simply ignore on a regular basis -- like he hasn't yet contributed to rent for the month, or some other kind of joint expenses.

Have you considered setting up a joint account? You could more discretely support him this way, and it will be harder for you to "keep score", while at the same time it would provide a hard limit as to how much he can "borrow". If you both had a direct deposit into this account, then he wouldn't forget to pay into it. It might actually start teaching him some responsibility too -- if instead of asking you for some money (of which he has no good idea about how much you have left in your budget), he can look at the joint account for the month and see how much there is there for you both.

Some people are never going to learn to budget if they don't have to. For him, you guys either have spending money or you're all out, and luckily since you're not living paycheck-to-paycheck, you're never completely broke.
posted by cotterpin at 2:14 PM on May 7, 2007

Since he isn't good with money, would he agree to let you handle all of your money jointly? You are married now, which means that all of your income and all of your debts, legally, belong to both of you. A better plan might be to combine all of your income and all of your bills into one account. Then, you can put him (and yourself) on a reasonable allowance, and you can pay all of your bills. The allowance is designed so that each of you has a set amount of money to spend each week on whatever you want for yourselves--meals out, hobbies, clothing, whatever--without having to ask permission or justify it to the other partner. Any expenditure outside of that must either be budgeted for or must be discussed between you before it is made.

You can agree together on goals for saving, purchases, etc., but you, as the person who is better at managing the day-to-day, should take responsibility for writing the checks and making sure all of your goals are accomplished. In return for all of this, he should take responsibility for some household chore that you dislike or are no good at, like cooking or housekeeping or home repairs. Division of labor is one of the great benefits of being married, and you should take advantage of it.

If he agrees to the above, I would wipe the slate clean of past "debts" and agree to pay from your joint funds for both his daughter's party and the laptop if you both agree that those are worthwhile expenditures (and it sounds like they are).
posted by decathecting at 2:16 PM on May 7, 2007

I'm with others who say don't pick THIS battle. Don't punish an 18-year-old because her dad is bad with money. It's crappy. Suck it up and pay this time, then deal with him and his issues later. Let him know that's your reasoning.
posted by clh at 2:17 PM on May 7, 2007

As far as the question is concerned, there is no "right thing to do." It's between you and your husband to decide what you want to spend your money on.

I have to concur that the way you're thinking about money is rather unusual for a married couple. He can't "owe" you money… your money and his money are one and the same.

If he has trouble being financially responsible, then that's something you need to work on as a couple. If you guys agree that it's best for you to take the lead in managing your shared finances, that's might be a good idea. But you should still be making big decisions together, and you should be treating your income and his income as one pool of money, and your expenses and his expenses as one pool of bills.

Basically, what I'm saying is… your (shared) problem is that your husband is not managing your (shared) money well. He shouldn't be promising to give other people money, or spending large sums of money without clearing it with you (and vice versa). But pretending that your finances are completely independent, keeping a tally of "loans," or resentfully "bailing him out" doesn't seem like a healthy solution.

I'd recommend that you plan a shared budget together at the beginning of each month. You said you've tried to "show him budgeting" in the past, but that's not necessarily the same thing as sitting down each month to budget your shared finances together. If he can't keep to that budget, then you need to talk about it. Maybe over and over again, until you work this out. It might not work, but "owing" you money and running up bills on his own won't work either.

You Need A Budget's website is heavy on the marketing spiel, but I've found their rules & spreadsheet to be very effective for planning a budget as a couple and making it very clear what happens when you overspend your available income. YMMV. Good luck.
posted by designbot at 2:23 PM on May 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm feeling your pain. My hubby is the best-intentioned man ever, but when he has money he spends it until he doesn't have any more. Period. No budgeting, no saving, no thinking ahead. It is absolutely infuriating, not least because I was the same way and had to work really hard to get myself back on track. This all worked out fine until we bought a house, and now the last 5 months have been a nightmare. The one thing he doesn't do is borrow money from anyone once he runs out. And we're working on the budgeting thing, but it's been almost 2 years and many many fights.

I'm not going to opine on what a marriage means in terms of finances; it is the stickiest issue most couples deal with, and every couple finds a different way to handle it. My husband and I have joint accounts, we both put all of our paychecks into them and I pay all the bills. I have a friend who does it differently: they each keep their own accounts and contribute a certain amount each month to a joint account which pays all of their bills, and whatever is left over afterward in each of their accounts is theirs to do with what they want. If he doesn't have enough money to do something he wants or should do, well, he's SOL. You don't say how you guys handle your joint finances, but maybe a new system might work out better for you.

So. To your present question. You already gave him half the money for his daughter's laptop when he didn't have it, and now are feeling guilty for expecting him to reimburse you for that instead of contributing to his daughter's party, which his ex-wife is not expecting him to do anyway, and if he doesn't, the party will still happen? Hmm. What about him giving you half what he owes for the laptop, and the other half to his ex to help with the party? That would address the immediate issue.

As for the actual problem, that the guy spends money like he's Donald Trump on a bender, well, that's tougher. You've already said that you aren't going to give him money to help him cover his obligations, and I'd say you need to ask anyone else he borrows money from to stop lending it to him - although in all honesty, that's their look-out, and you can't really force that issue. You also can't force him to budget or anything else; if he's helping to cover your household expenses, and that's the arrangement you've worked out, then he may feel that what he does with the money left over is not your concern - which means that his inability to pay for things that come up because of his extravagant spending is ALSO not your concern.

Someone mentioned that your relationship with his daughter is not outlined; if she lived with you for any period and is a real step-daughter and you WANT to contribute to her party, then do so, but if you're just doing it to cover his ass, I wouldn't. My husband has three sons from his first marriage who live with us full time (their mom is useless, lives 1,600 miles away and pays no child support) so I don't consider money spent on them to be my husband's expenses - they're ours. I don't know if your situation is like that or not.
posted by jennaratrix at 2:24 PM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

oh -- and I didn't make it clear, but I do think you should bail him out again. This sounds like the wrong situation for making an example. But by all means, plan on making an example soon.
posted by cotterpin at 2:24 PM on May 7, 2007

Can't you make him pay YOU, and then you give the money to your stepdaughter's mother? That way the child isn't punished because her dad is flaky, but your husband doesn't get to think he gets a get-out-of-debt free card.
posted by headspace at 2:26 PM on May 7, 2007

He's easy going, that means he doesn't want to care about this shit. Reverse the direct debit procedure: instead of taking out only what's required for the bills, insert only what you budget (jointly!) appropriate for him to have as spending money. Then he can go nuts.
posted by bonaldi at 2:30 PM on May 7, 2007

As solid-one-love points out, money handling gets to be a sticky situation. I know more than one couple who've gotten divorced over the issue, and another one where the guy feels so henpecked that he'd consider a divorce ... if he wasn't so henpecked. (And if he could survive on his own, but that's why he's henpecked...)

The trick is doing it in a way that doesn't cause him to resent you. Simple, eh? Like so many simple things, it's really hard to do. The simplest way to start might be trying to divine exactly why he feels that way about money, and if he really doesn't think that far ahead in everything he does. I know that, for me, my overspending over the past few years was as a result of being so anxious about the topic of money that I dreaded opening up my bank's website to see how much I was overdrawn by THIS time... which I handled with a good bit of self-discipline after it went too far once. But that's the way I learn -- by hitting brick walls and saying "enough's enough." He might have a very different philosophy and learning style, or he might be suffering from a sad case of get-rich-quick coach delusional thinking.

Since I have the same problem as your husband as far as overspending and not being able to keep commitments, I switched to an 'all-cash' deal. My check comes in via direct deposit, and I get to go check out $100 ever weekend that's my money to live on during the week. Exceptions are allowed for dating, gifts, and gas -- those go on a credit card with a really, really, really (as in, the dude at the bank looked at me really weird when I asked for it, until I explained the reasoning) low limit.

There's all kinds of ways to fry this fish, but he has to be your willing participant or it's not really a real cure. It's just like alcohol dependency or drugs or any other bad habit -- a person has to be REALLY dedicated, from their heart, to stopping the bad habit before they're going to actually make a change within themselves. And they need the right reaction to backsliding -- and that reaction's different for each and every person (for me, you need to kick my ass. I almost got married to a person that was a hand-holder and sympathizer in that situation, which allowed me to backslide even farther because she said "aww, it's ok." Not everyone works that way. Me kicking her ass on something when she slid is what broke us up, and while that was a good thing... it's not what I was going for, that's for sure.)

You will hopefully know how to help him. But overspending to the point where you can't meet your commitments, despite our consumerist culture, is as much an insidious disease as alcoholism. Treat it similarly.
posted by SpecialK at 2:30 PM on May 7, 2007

I'm re-reading this and someone made a point that is not well-reflected in what I wrote - all your money is joint, and all your obligations are joint. True. However, it sounds like you've not lived that way up until this point, and the problems you're dealing with now are because you guys aren't making joint decisions about large purchases. That's the angle I was coming at this from, but on re-read, this sounded right to me:

If he agrees to the above, I would wipe the slate clean of past "debts" and agree to pay from your joint funds for both his daughter's party and the laptop if you both agree that those are worthwhile expenditures (and it sounds like they are).
posted by decathecting at 4:16 PM on May 7 [+]

posted by jennaratrix at 2:31 PM on May 7, 2007

I just want to say that people who do not live with budget-challenged spouse have no idea how hard it is for you. I do. It's something I've dealt with for 15 years, and some better than others.

You have two issues here. One is the birthday thing, and what I'm getting, I'm feeling that you'd like him (or you two as a couple) to contribute to his daughter's 18th. Well, if it's not going to leave you short with people knocking on the door for payments, do it. Yes, you will be paying interest on your credit card, but, this is something you feel quite strongly about.

Then after, sort it (finances) out. Talk about it. Ask what he thinks and feels about the situation. Ask what he thinks is happening for you. Try to tell him without blame or accusation. Try to create a plan together, but here's where there might be bumps in the road - he may have absolutely no idea how to manage this, so -

I suggest combine all income into one joint account that's relatively difficult to access. Have that account pay pocket money to each of you in separate accounts. Have the account automatically pay bills. Cut up his credit card and keep yours. Agree that you will discuss purchases of over $x.

I really do sympathise.
posted by b33j at 2:46 PM on May 7, 2007

You mentioned that he handles bill payment though automatic deductions, can you do the same thing for savings? Get him an ING account, or something that isn't readily accessible to withdraw money, then set him up with automatic savings transfers. If he spends whatever is left, that's fine, but he'll have some savings now.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:47 PM on May 7, 2007

OWES??? If that's the case, I'll get my chalk out and draw a line around her feet next time I see her on the street!

What kind of relationship exists where you have to borrow from your spouse, or vice-versa? I GIVE my wife money all the time. If I needed it, she would gladly GIVE me the money. You guys sound like you have more of a banker/borrower "type" relationship.

Don't get me wrong, we ARE NOT rich, we may have to borrow from our savings account or from a jar/can/envelope type savings at home, like for instance: vacation or a new car/bike modification or a new appliance. I can't see telling my wife she can't have money that she needs. She keeps the wheels at home running smoothly (and works as a insurance agent) she will invariable need the money for uniforms, meals, utilities or whatever and I will just open the wallet.

It's not a loan, were a team - her money is my money and my money is our money!
posted by winks007 at 2:56 PM on May 7, 2007

Thanks you everyone for all the advice. I have taken it all on board and it has helped clear up a lot of things for me.

Firstly, we have separate account becuase I always sort of thought that each person in a relationship needs to have a degree of financial independence and as long as we are contributing equally to the bills, I thought that any excess could be discretionary in each person's case.

You are all right, it is important that he contribute to his daughter's birthday and I think that would be the best use for the money.

However, I think that this is a good opportunity to sit down and have another talk with him about our finances. I think that I have tried a lot in the past with him with trying to write a budget and whatnot and then I've just gotten frustrated and given up, just being happy that at least he pays the things that need to be paid from month to month. Filmgeek, you are absolutely right, I need to be more compassionate. I learned how to be responsible with money by making mistakes so I of all people should understand. Lots of good ideas have been put forward and I think I will explore the joint account idea as I was thinking about doing that anyway, then, as someone mentioned, having a reverse direct debit into his account (and mine as well) with whatever amount we decided was his/mine to spend as we pleased.

And those of you who said that this is is a symptom of some kind of underlying fear or anxiety are probably right as well. But for a quick word in his defence, he has never needed to learn how to deal with money. He has literally ALWAYS had someone, whether it be his mother, his sister or his ex, handle all the finances for him (not becasue he ever asked, they just always did it). What he has learned is that he gives a set amount each month to a person and the bills get paid. I do not blame anyone else for his irresponsibility and neither does he. But I think this does factor in somewhere.

Regarding my relationship with his daughter, she was 15 when we got married and while I am on very good terms with her we are not super close. She has never lived with us though she has stayed on occassion. But people are absolutley correct in saying that any obligations that he has to her are mine as well.

On a final note, he has made some improvement since we've been married and actually lectured me the other week on shopping around for a good price on broadband! You can imagine my shock on him lecturing me! But I think he is becoming more conscientious (sp?) and hopefully he will continue to do so. I just think it is a lifetime of bad habits that, until I came along, people just put up with.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:03 PM on May 7, 2007

Have you ever just sat him down and told him that it is embarrassing to you when he borrows money from family members or promises to give people money, but doesn't come through? How sure are you that he is really "well-liked" by some of the folks he mooches off of?

If my wife were to call my attention to an ongoing, unpleasant habit like this, I would be devastated.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:03 PM on May 7, 2007

I may have missed this, but do you earn the same amount of money? Sometimes, when one person earns more than the other, lifestyle inflation occurs, forcing the lower income person to live at a level beyond their means. It doesn't make sense to split things down the middle in this sort of situation. Of course, it's entirely possible that your husband earns more than you and that he's challenged in handling his money.

I'm not sure where you live, but, in many states/provinces, the law says that all assets and debts aquired after marriage are shared. So carving money up into "yours" and "mine" is fairly artificial.

It sounds like he has never had the opportunity to learn financial skills. A visit (for both of you) to a non-commissioned financial planner may help. Your husband may also want to set up automatic savings so that some money is set aside before he has a chance to spend it. He could probably tell the bank to set up an account with no ATM access, so that it would be hard to access. He could also reduce the limit on his credit card. But those have to be his decisions. If you try to force it on him, it won't work.
posted by acoutu at 3:20 PM on May 7, 2007

I only got halfway through the replies, but I did get far enough into them to read the replies scolding you for your borrow/owes mentality.

I would just like to point out that I know plenty of married couples who manage their money in a similar way (though not quite as strictly), all of them for the same reason: one spouse is not responsible with the money. In most marriages, there is a healthy balance when it comes to spending money so it makes sense to approach it as a team. But in cases like this, it wouldn't be any more of a team if he was constantly spending everything and she was the one saving. Approaching it like a team would be disaster (I know one marriage with the same spender/saver dynamic and money issues have pushed them to the brink). Making each partner responsible for their own bills and spending seems like the only way to avoid resentment and fights about money.

I am going to go out on a limb and assume that when you say you lent him the money and he owes you, the money was out of savings. Had the money been for something urgent, like a health crisis or hole in roof or broken fridge, I am guessing the money to pay for it would come out of that same account. If he doesn't have any savings, how would he contribute? If the money was co-mingled, you probably wouldn't have savings either because both of your contributions would burn a hole in his pocket. Depending on the status of your savings account, if he doesn't return the money possibly you won't have the money to bail the both of you out in an emergency. At the same time, I hope that if you did have to pay for a major repair, you wouldn't "bill" him for the half. Assuming all of this is correct, this makes sense. However, I think there might be a better way to avoid situations like this in the future.

Perhaps he can open a savings account and have a certain percentage of money transfered over to the account every month (most companies will allow you to assign more than one account for direct deposit. If this account isn't linked to his regular account and he doesn't have an atm card for the account, it will probably reduce his instinct to impulse buy, leaving him with more money saved for high ticket items like laptops.

If another part of his money is diverted to a joint savings account, along with a percentage of your money, then maybe the whole mutual savings, mutual spending concept will sink in. If you each contributed the same percentage of your income to the account (percentage, not & amount), it might seem less like bailing him out when you two have to make large-purchase decisions together. This can be done through direct deposit or auto pay directly into that account.

Finally, whatever is left of his monthly income after he pays his share of the bills, his savings and the joint savings, whatever he has left is disposable income and he can spend as he pleases.
posted by necessitas at 3:38 PM on May 7, 2007

I'm a bit surprised at all the people criticising triggerfinger for having separate accounts and keeping track of how much of the money she's earned is being spent by her hubby. Surely it's the most reasonable course if one is faced with a spendthrift spouse who could effectively leave her financially in trouble. Somebody has to budget ahead, ensure that there's money there for emergencies and that the bills get paid. I get the impression (and I apologise if I'm wrong, triggerfinger) that lumping both partners' earnings together as "their money" would just give him twice as much to run through quickly. I come from a family where my parents' money was "our money" and it did not work well at all, for either partner or for the family, because one of them had the same spendthrift attitude.

I'm not married to my partner (although we have been together nearly 20 years) but even if I were, I would expect us to have our own bank accounts and our own money to save or spend after the essentials are looked after. That way we don't have to justify spending to one another.

As for suggestions on what to do, I'd suggest letting him give that money to his ex, because this may be a big deal in the relationship between him and his daughter. But if you've tried to show him budgeting and it hasn't worked, he really needs a financial counsellor, not just a financial planner. It's not just a budget issue, it's a self-discipline issue and it needs some work. Good luck, whatever you decide.
posted by andraste at 3:55 PM on May 7, 2007

Before we met, my husband actually took over managing money for his best friend. Even though he had an OK job and lots of friends and charisma like you can't imagine, this guy was so non-functional with money that he lost one apartment, was briefly homeless, and destroyed his credit. The friend would sign over his paycheck to Mr. Supafreak every two weeks, my husband would enter it onto a ledger, pay the friend's rent and bills, and hand over a weekly amount of cash. When he relinquished control to Mr. Supafreak, the friend was sometimes frustrated that he couldn't spend all he made, but it made a huge difference.

It wasn't a sustainable situation for my husband and his friend, but they were buddies, not spouses. Could you become the person in charge of all finances for the two of you? If you can convince your husband to agree to a budget that you draw up together, if you can pay his bills, help him save, and dole out a weekly or biweekly allowance for him to do with as he pleases, and if the two of you can both live with this situation without resenting one another, then your problems may be solved.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:57 PM on May 7, 2007

You are his spouse, and as a spouse myself, I have to say I feel it's your job to help him overcome this. I am, in a few words, in accord with filmgeek.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:31 PM on May 7, 2007

Very curious about what the critisizers would do if their partner decided to, e.g., eat out every day at a cost of 50$ and then justify it with "you said if it was 50$ or less we didn't need to discuss it". (Coming to a total of $1500/month.) I get the feeling that it's NOT the big items you're having trouble with, it's the small items that are eating up money intended for the large items.

Anyway, this previous thread about how couples separate money as well as this other previous thread about basically your situation should both be useful.
posted by anaelith at 5:38 PM on May 7, 2007

Wrong link, the first one should be this instead... although the other one is also useful.
posted by anaelith at 6:32 PM on May 7, 2007

He can't "owe" you money… your money and his money are one and the same.

I'd like to echo the point that this is not true for all couples, nor need it be. In fact, thinking like this has gotten a lot of people into terrible trouble when marriages end.

It's perfectly fine to set up a joint account to pay in common for mutually incurred bills. It's fine to balance the amount each pays in proportion to each individual's income (Lower earning spouse pays 1/3 of rent and utilities, higher earning pays 2/3, etc). You don't sign over your financial independence when you get married as a matter of course. It is one among many things which needs to be negotiated, sometimes legally.
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on May 7, 2007

My husband is not good with money. I am.

When we were first married, my husband was the only one earning money, for various reasons. So we decided that because a) he was the income earner, and b) we both grew up in households where it was the man's job to manage the money, that he should do the budget. This was a learning experience.

After two years, he threw up his hands and basically said 'I quit!'. He's got a lot of negative associations with money, paying bills, managing expenses, etc, and he just plain isn't good at it. It was really starting to damage our relationship - he was always grouchy about doing these things because it was such a negative activity for him, and I was stressed out of my mind because I absolutely need financial stability which he was incapable of creating. If he has money in his pocket, he will spend it. It is just the way he is - he is generous with his time and money. So, we thought about it for a while, and then decided that it would be better if I handled the finances from then on in.

Currently, both paycheques go into a joint account; there are automated deductions for some bills, and I pay the others manually via internet banking. Every fortnight, on a payday, I calculate how much money we need for bills, pay off the credit card, put money into savings, and withdraw a certain amount for that week's spending money. Husband gets some, I get some. It's enough for a weekly train ticket. coffee, and maybe a lunch out usually. Once the money is gone, unless there has been an unusual expense, there is no more until the following week. Every so often I give him an update on where our savings are at, and whether we're doing well financially. Every so often I sit down with him and show him exactly where the money is going, and why, and we discuss whether our various expenses are reasonable.

This is what works for us; it may or may not work for you.
posted by ysabet at 8:09 PM on May 7, 2007

(Background) A few years ago, I was similar to him. I was trying to run my own business and it was failing. The small amount of money that I did make was quickly spent on fun (and useless) items and activities. I was dating a wonderful woman that finally made it clear that a future together could only be possible if I became more responsible about money and my life. I realized how important she was to me and how much stress I caused to both of us with my irresponsible decisions. Fast forward a few years and I am working for a great company doing a job I absolutely love and being paid well to do it.

(Relevant bit) As soon as we realized that we would be moving in together and then married, we opened a joint checking account while keeping our separate accounts. The original plan was for ALL income of any sort to go into the joint checking and then transfer an agreed (and equal) amount into our personal checking for spending money. My wife would do all of the bill paying and budgeting since I was so profoundly bad at it. What we discovered is that as I became more involved with helping her, at her very gentle insistence, I spent less and less money on "stupid stuff" and found it easier to save for bigger items. I'm more interested in how my spending is affecting our future, not my future. I now take an active role in paying the bills and making the financial decisions. A couple of years ago, we closed her personal checking because she never used it. We only keep mine open since having a 19 year old checking account looks good on our credit.

All of that to say, if you will slowly help get him more involved, he will hopefully have a better understanding of the effects that his bad spending habits are causing. If you pool your money together, you will both be forced to be more aware of your finances. And for my wife and me, using a good financial software package makes all of this a great deal easier.
posted by CuJoe at 2:06 AM on May 8, 2007

Thank you again to everyone for all of your answers. They have all been brilliant and have given me many good ideas and things to think about. Thanks for taking the time to answer.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:58 AM on May 8, 2007

I don't see anything wrong with the way you handle the household finances. It seems to be working for both of you. You don't feel put upon, and he is making some new habits and probably feeling pretty good about that.

You can't read people's minds, and it's possible that your husband's relatives are amazed at your willingness to put up with his spending. Don't let their opinion be a part of the equation.

I suggest that you give the money to the girl, and possibly let it be known that it's from both you and your husband. I'm thinking that if he had asked you ahead of time, "How about if we kick in $X for Daughter's party?" you'd have said yes. It's the "bailing out" concept that seems to be getting in the way at the moment. Afterwards, you can add his half to what he owes you. He made the promise; you can help him to save face, and then he'll make good on his debt.

Different couples handle their money very differently. It doesn't matter who makes more and who spends more -- you just have to do things in a way that makes sense to both of you.
posted by wryly at 11:11 AM on May 8, 2007

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