How to Get Husband on Board with Debt Free Living: Ask Happy

From a reader:

I have been feeling really burdened by our debt- which keeps growing – but my husband seems to think it will magically disappear. He lived at home until we married and never had to “take care of himself.” How did you get your husband on board? I am praying, but not sure what else to do… Any suggestion? Thanks!

Arguing Penguins

Let me start by saying that I can sympathize with this reader. For many years my husband and I argued about money. I was born a saver, he a spender. Early in our marriage we struggled to pay the bills with his small military paycheck and as the paycheck increased so did the spending.

We had debt, but it was manageable. We could pay the bills every month.

The problem, as I saw it, was that we were spending every penny we made, and occasionally more. If we wanted something we would put it on a credit card and get it that day. We had no savings and in my mind, no savings meant no security. My husband didn’t see it as a problem. Or if it was a problem it wasn’t a big enough problem to change his mind.

We argued about every single purchase. It took me 14 years, but I finally learned that you can’t argue someone into changing their spending habits. You can’t nag someone into cutting up the credit cards. While you might see results initially, they will go back to their old ways of spending in time and they’ll resent you in the process.

You can’t change someone’s mind about money.

So if you can’t change their mind what can you do?

Find ways to cut the budget that will not significantly affect your spouse.

If you are use to ordering pizza twice week try making homemade pizza instead. Turn the air conditioning up a few degrees when your spouse isn’t home to save on the electric bill. Hang out the laundry to dry instead of using the dryer. Shop at the thrift stores instead of the mall. There are many ways you can save money by yourself.

Be content.

Many times my husband spent money on me. I would complain about something and he would spend money to make it better. Make sure your spouse knows you are happy with your current car or home. If you are constantly talking about the Jones’s, your spouse will probably be tempted to keep up with them.

Ask for a budget meeting.

While you might not agree on the budget, many people will agree to at least talk about it. I’ve found that many times people are in denial about how much debt they have or how much they are spending every month. Sometimes just sitting down and actually looking at the numbers can help a person change their view of personal finance.

Ask a friend to help.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes it takes the right person, at the right time, to influence your spouse? Sometimes people need to hear wisdom from a different voice (not yours). If you feel like your finances are destroying your marriage it is probably time to ask for help from a trusted friend. My advice would be to ask a mutual friend or one of your spouse’s friends. Getting a girlfriend to “help” probably isn’t much help at all.

Suggest going through Financial Peace University or a similar course.

When I say suggest, I truly mean suggest. Don’t nag, pester, cajole, or force your spouse to attend a personal finance class. When I started reading personal finance books I told my husband how much I really liked a few of them and asked if he would be willing to read one of them so he could better understand where I was coming from. He didn’t read it right away, but once he did he was on fire about getting out of debt and saving money.

Even though these authors weren’t saying things I hadn’t already said, my husband needed to discover it for himself.

Be honest.

If the mounting debt is causing you to feel insecure in your relationship it is important to share that with your spouse. Just avoid saying things like,

“Because you racked up $10,000 in credit card bills, I don’t have any financial security!”

A better approach would be;

“I’m thinking about our future together and looking forward to retirement. Do you think we should start planning for the future? I’d feel better knowing our plan for retirement.”

Pray about it.

The reader who sent in the question said she was praying about it. Honestly, that’s all you need to do. God can change people’s hearts, even really stubborn, stuck in their way spenders. I’ve seen people transformed by the prayers of their spouses. Prayer works.

Do you and your spouse have fundamental disagreements about money? What are some of your tips for making it work?

Photo credit: nouQraz

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  1. My husband and I used to be in the same scenario. Communication was tough and we were chasing each other in circles. The more I nagged, hounded and “helpfully” suggested saving strategies the more he dug his feet in to frivelous spending and the more he did that the more I … well you get the idea. We’re still on our path to becoming debt free but for the first time in 11 years I feel like we have similiar goals. The key to our success? Prayer for sure but not necessarily to change your spouse but for God to change you. I had to realize I was clawing for security driven by fear. My faith wasn’t in the Lord but invested in my husband and his spending habits. As soon as I started praying for my heart to change I started seeing a lot of my own misguided spending patterns and thoughts that God wanted to correct first. It was then that my husband could see I genuinely wanted to get out of debt and not just to change and control him and what he did with the money he earned (this it’s my money I earned and should spend it my way thing is huge to a guy, so I’ve discovered!). And lastly, COMPRIMISE and LISTEN!!! For years I never allowed to really listen to my husband’s hangups over a budget until in a heated argument I realized that as much as saving is security for me, having a few bucks in his pocket that doesn’t have to be “budgeted” was a security thing for him. We had to comprimise and allow himto have $10 or so just for him and life is GOOOD now 🙂 Good luck and keep praying!

  2. Money has always been a struggle in our house as well. My husband was taught NOTHING about finance growing up and I grew up playing with kids play checkbook sets 😉 His parents didn’t seem to struggle financially and mine struggled to pay the mortgage and having a house go into foreclosure. I did finally buy the Dave Ramsey cds on ebay, I even found an older version, brand new for only $30.

    I did get him to sit down and listen to me and he seemed to finally start to get it. Now we just need to get everything in motion and get out of debt.

  3. TheHappyHousewife says:

    Great insight Stefani, thanks for sharing!

  4. God is good, all the time!

  5. I appreciate this post very much. I needed this information. Sigh.

  6. I can see by the suggestions that were made in the article, the responsibility fell upon the female of the relationship. Like hanging clothes out to dry on the clothesline, making homemade pizza instead of ordering out, turning the temperature on the air conditioning unit up while the male partner is not at home, Etc. While these are truly great suggestions to cut spending, I see it as a one way street. I see it as the person doing all the spending and not wanting to take responsibility for his actions that got them there in the first place, as actually being REWARDED for his continued bad behavior. While the “adult” of the relationship is the only one being punished. Ok….punished is not the right word to use here, but I wanted it to be seen for how I see it. I too, have had a battle going on for 6 years. I cut coupons, won’t buy meat unless it’s in the clearance bin, eat lots of beans, rice, pasta, make my own household cleaners, make my own laundry soap, buy from thrift stores, and alot more. And he turns around and buys guns, rifles, shotguns, that not once has he ever shot one bullet from, and has had some for 6 years. He bails out his adult children 27, and 29 years old even though they are married and have two incomes ( like buying them 9 new cars between them they habitually wreck) we still have over $1,000 worth of paint out in the garage from over 4 years ago he has never opened (I offered to help him paint) which is no longer any good. We had to put our dog down in Feb. because he did’nt have the $ to take him to the vet for something minor which then turned into a staph infection. I don’t have Any debt! I paid for him and I to go thru Financial Peace University. He wouldn’t even do the homework. There is no changing his mind and heart on how and why he makes poor life long financial decicions. But, when I don’t get a birthday, Christmas, or anniversary gift, because “he doesn’t have any $” because he spent it on his kids or a new gun or something else, I am the one being punished, not him. That is the point I am trying to make here. We have all responsibility and they get off scott free without any stress keeping them up at night.

  7. TheHappyHousewife says:

    I understand you are hurting because of your situation. I can see what you are saying about the responsible one being “punished,” but at the same time, just because one person is an irresponsible jerk doesn’t give the other person a free pass to act the same way.
    The point I was trying to make was that you can’t change the other person. They have to come to the realization themselves.
    It sounds like the problems in your relationship go way beyond money. It sounds like they have more to do with priorities, trust, and responsibility and are just manifesting themselves with money. Have you considered seeing a counselor? Getting another person involved might be beneficial.


  8. Aw. I am so sorry you are going through this. I’ve been there. My *christian* husband has went behind my back over so many thing that I can’t even begin to tell you all of it. He’s gotten us financially in trouble many times… I went around for about 4 years of our marriage resentful towards him because of it.

    The last time we got into big trouble I prayed about how God wanted me to deal with it and ended up “making” him ask my parents to help bail us out (and us pay them back aggressively). Of course I didn’t make him, but it was either our kids eat or him ask and I refused to do it. I probably would have if I had to but I fed my kids first and let him eat ramen noodles for supper LoL.

    What I wanted to say is pray about it. My husband is on board with living debt free and only has the occasional small unauthorized purchases which is much better than a $2000 dollar flat screen LoL. God can use your circumstances to work in your husbands heart, but God can also change YOUR heart and get rid of the bitterness and resentment.

  9. I definitely understand your situation. I am trying to find the right balance point…the point where I feel like I am doing all I can to help our situation without feeling resentful towards hubby. I can cut expenses to the bone if needed, him, not so much. I have tried the tricks suggested – the a/c is a big one in our house (plus it makes me mad when I have to don a sweater & I ‘see’ the dollars I’m paying to be uncomfortable). It’s a work in progress, and we are making small steps in the right direction…now if only he were an avid reader 😉 My point is, don’t sacrifice too much that it causes resentment.

  10. He was offered free counseling through the military. He blew it off. The truth is I don’t rank anymore. I have seen him put fast food meals and gasoline on his credit card to drive 4 hours away to help his daughter to do nothing more than put a dryer vent hose on because she didn’t want to ask anyone, he had no $ left in his acct. to pay cash. Too bad he didn’t feel the same passion about our beloved dog. My top priority would have been to save the life of the dog. And thank you for pointing out to me that I was over-extending my free pass to act like an irresponsible jerk. I had no clue.

  11. Pray for my family… I see no end to our enormous and ever growing debt!

  12. TheHappyHousewife says:

    I hope you didn’t misunderstand what I was saying. I was only trying convey that someone else’s bad choices don’t give us an excuse for making bad choices too. I don’t think you are making bad choices. I am very sorry you are in this situation. It does sound awful. When I mentioned counseling I was talking more about marriage counseling- not financial counseling. I really do think money is secondary in your situation. 🙁

  13. I wanted to give your reader some perspective from the “other side” since I am actually the spender in my relationship. I agree completely that YOU cannot change the other person, that person really has to make the choice to change. For me, reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover really, really helped me. I would recommend any of the Dave Ramsey products (CDs, books, Financial Peace University online or in person) that you think your husband would be the most receptive to. These products work for the typical spender who is someone who is sort of blithely optimistic about money and generally prefers the feel good feeling of things now versus valuing financial security. I agree that a situation more like the one the commenter Gail is in is not purely a matter of a “spender vs. saver.” That is a much, much more complex situation.

    Anyway, for me, a spender who cares about my spouse and was willing to try to see his perspective but just didn’t really understand, the Dave Ramsey products were a homerun. He really made me understand that I want to pay myself in the future more than I want whatever thing.

    The other thing I would suggest is to really work toward a compromise. You will probably not turn a spender completely into a frugal, super saver. So find ways to give your husband some spending wiggle room. For me, if I completely shut down spending, or set savings goals too high and inevitably don’t meet them, then I feel bad and just sort of give up until I work myself back up to saving. Does that make sense? I am just saying that you should be sensitive to his spending needs too. Help him find ways to get the same end result without spending so much money. Kind of like the post suggested — he loves to go to the movies every week, but you hate spending $11 per ticket? Try alternating a home movie week with a movie week out. Or go to a matinee instead. Or make him appetizers before the movie so you don’t have to get the expensive sodas and popcorn.

  14. Ditto here… I’m the saver; he’s the spender. After 24 years that has still not changed, but he is starting to hear and see from others the error of his ways. I save as much as I can on a regular basis and earn extra $$ with two home businesses for fun family activities, schoolbooks, outings, etc. Our only debt is our home (thankfully, valued at more than the mortgage), and we have a rental house that is mortgage free. I have learned to be content with that because nagging just creates tension between us and upsets our children. Unless the Lord changes his heart, we will still have the mortgage when it’s time for him to retire and I guess it will sink in at that time what the consequences of not attentively trying to get out of debt while still working are. We certainly will not be broke when he stops working but all it would take is one major hurricane or a severe illness and we would be in major trouble. 🙁

  15. P.S. If you are seeking the Lord and submitting to the authority of your husband even when he makes mistakes, I have no doubt that you / I will be provided for when the time comes.

  16. Shannon says:

    I have a smimlar story. Because of my husband’s spending and debt, I have developed an intimacy with God I havre never known. I have also read several books such as boundaries in marriage and angry men And the women who love them. I discovered that my husband is stuck at 15 years old when he had a traumatic event. Every response is like a 15 year old, such as spending, just wanting to have fun, always being right, not open to suggestions. I know eventually its going to come down to him going to counselling (and believing in God), but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about God, his timing is always perfect. I have about 4 more years of my own debt and future counseling to handle, then I know God will reveal what to do next. I think often times we try to change things in our timing we can become frustrated. Prayer, patience and inward changes can make amazing differences in marriage.

  17. Hi there i was touched by your posts. i have been in a similar situation for 9 years. my husband spends more on his dad and is always in debt. i have paid his over draft and credit cards and lent him money ever the years. Th last time i paid his credit card off of 2000 pounds and gave him 1500 to help sort his self out with the agreement that in 2 years time we would work together to pay of of mortage. when the 2 years were up i found out that he had run up the credit card again to 2000. that was the final straw, i nearly had a breakdown and was severely depressed. After a lot of prayer i have slowly began to recover but i have realised that i have been the one who has enabled him to continue this bad behaviour. i have since set some clear boundaries and will not get myself involved in any more of his debt issues. i have made it clear to him that i will not pay for anything other then the agreed contributions and am looking at ways to earn extra income so that i can achieve the finacial independance i long for. Before he could convince me to support every idea even though i knew it was a wrong, like spending on stuff that we don’t need without paying tithes etc, but now i won’t do that anymore. it is hard but i have forgiven him and am no longer bitter and angry but i am more clear, focused and stronger so i can withstand his convincing. i love him very much and he is a great husband and father, but finances is his weakness and i can not continue to enable him to live without planning. I also stopped nagging and complaining instead i am allowing him to work it out and encouraging him that he can. Sometimes it can seem as if the problem is all them but I have realised that i am also part to blame, so instead of focusing on his weakness i am focusing on his strenghths, allowing God to work on him and also focusing on improving myself. I am much happier now and so is he. although i know he his having a hard time having to face his financial spending, i am tempted to help and offer advice but i have determined in my heart that i must allow him to face the consequences of the decisions that he has made. I hope you all find a way out. Two books that help me are the Bible and the dance with anger by Harriet Lerner.

  18. Makayla R says:

    I loved this post!

    My husband and I have been working on lowering our debt, increasing our savings and building a retirement fund for the past year together. Me, I have been doing it since our son was born almost three years ago. Those two years without his commitment were agony! It felt like every time I would take a step forward, his ignorance would take us a step back.

    I’ll put it out there though, we are Pagan so we don’t pray to a god or goddess to help us see the light. There is nothing wrong with either way, it’s what you have to do in your own life. If praying helps, then you need to do it for you.

    About a year ago, I looked at my husband and ‘slapped’ some numbers in his face. THIS is our debt, THIS is our income, THESE are our expenses and THIS is what we have in savings and retirement funds. That combined with the realization that our children would suffer from his lack of commitment to a financial plan finally hit home for him. In the year since he has been co-managing the finances with me (I still do more of the budgeting, I’m an accountant so…. 😀 ) we have reduced our debt by nearly $6,000. We have an emergency savings built up and we both have a good handle on our retirement!

    No, you can’t make people change, in my belief, neither can the gods. What you can do, is put your head down, work hard and wait. You may have to put up with a lot of not so fun stuff during that time. What is important is that at the end of the night, you still love your spouse and you still love yourself and the decisions you’ve made. I am still putting up with my husband’s occasional, “we make good money, we should have good things” arguments when I tell him we really shouldn’t buy that new gadget. When you can’t go to bed loving your spouse because of certain issues, such as money (which may be a secondary uprising of deeper issues) then it’s time to seek the assistance of someone who can help the two of you communicate.


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