One of the biggest financial problems couples face is when they have very different financial goals. This can take many different forms, ranging from simple disagreement over priorities to paths that are destructive to the marriage itself.
Ask GFC reader Dawn M. is facing one of these situations, and weighed in with this question:
“The biggest problem I have, besides budgeting, is having a spouse flat out refuse to help. He gives me via direct deposit the paycheck from his first job(about$300/wk take home). The second is cash and his to do with as desired. He refuses to cut back on any services, cable etc. We attended FPU (Financial Peace University) a few years back and the furthest we've come since is finally making a budget and sharing a bills acct. He is not interested in any future goals. My student loans were my deal. I work part time too to fill in the budget gap to make head way on bills. So for a year now, I have resigned myself to taking care of it, savings, planning, picking up more hours. We have three children at home or else I'd work full time. So I don't want to hear, we need time work together or negative thoughts on his behavior, I want to hear as I see others in my position, how to make financial change without the spouse on board? One of the biggest things I see on the Facebook boards are other women complaining of similar position.
Dawn looks to be somewhere in the middle of the spouses-disagreeing-over-finances hurdle. Dawn has financial goals and her husband has no interest whatsoever. There are no perfect solutions here, since we're dealing with both different personalities as well as relationship issues, but let me try and offer Dawn some constructive advice.
I Don't Want to Play Marriage Counselor But…
I've got to tread lightly here, and keep my advice limited to finances. But life's experience has taught me that when couples have major disagreements over finances, there are often issues in other parts of their relationship. But since I'm not a marriage counselor, I'm going to do my best stay on the money path only.
The advice I'll offer will be made with the assumption that their financial disputes could ultimately be settled, but also in consideration of the possibility that they won't.
There are already a few positives. Dawn's husband does direct deposit his pay from his first job. And they do have a budget and a shared expense account. This means that their conflict is far from catastrophic. The fact that they agree on at least that much gives them some common ground on money issues.
Save Even Though Your Husband Isn't Onboard
One of the biggest problems in having a spouse who has no future financial goals is that it's very easy to slip into the same mindset. That's because it makes you free to spend today, and not worry about preparing for the future. But when you have children, you have to prepare for the future – even if you don't want to do it for yourself.
My advice for Dawn is to save a little bit of money out of each paycheck, even if your husband doesn't help. You still need to have some emergency savings, at least for the benefit of your kids. She should set up a savings account in her name only, and contribute to it regularly.
The reason for setting up the account in her name only is to avoid her husband having access to the money. It will completely defeat the purpose if he spends what she saves. Under extreme circumstances, she might even consider having an old-fashioned cash kitty that he’s not aware of.
Though either step might seem underhanded, the first priority has to be the children. There must be money available in case of an emergency expense, such as a medical event. (Dawn doesn’t indicate if the family has health insurance coverage, which would make savings a serious priority.)
Set Up a Retirement Account
Just because Dawn's husband isn't worried about his own financial future doesn't mean that she shouldn't be concerned about hers. Dawn should consider setting up her own IRA account, so that she can begin saving for her own retirement.
Since retirement accounts are tied to the individual, the account will be in her name only. That will make sure that at least she has something set aside for retirement, something that he won’t have access to.
Yes, all things should be shared in a marriage. But her husband has very different financial goals, and she must be prepared to go forward without him.
Payoff Your Own Debts – But Not His
Dawn mentions that she has student loan debts. Paying them off is a solid part of a long-term financial plan. She should continue to pay off those debts, or any other debts that she has. That will at least leave her in a debt-free position, eventually.
At the same time, she should not concern herself with paying off any of her husband's debts. If he is leaving her to take care of their long-term financial future, he must at least pay his own debts.
If she does pay any of his debts, she leaves herself open to the possibility that he will use credit as a backdoor method of having access to her income. He will run up the debts – and she will pay them.
Dawn has not indicated that this is happening, but it's not an uncommon situation when one spouse is financially responsible and the other isn't.
Cut Out Services Your Budget Can No Longer Afford
Dawn mentions that her husband wants to continue having services like cable TV that are straining their budget. If it has reached the point where unnecessary expenses are squeezing the household budget, she should cancel those services.
Since her husband has additional income from a second job, have him pay for those extra services out of “his own money” if he truly wants them. That can force him into taking on more responsibility for family finances.
That said, there's nothing wrong with each spouse having a free spending allowance. But the problem here is that Dawn's husband has an entire cash flow (from his second job) that’s fully dedicated to his own spending. If she can force him to part with some of it for the benefit of their family, he may eventually start to accept that he needs to shoulder more responsibility.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of breaking old habits and creating new ones, and that’s what this strategy could accomplish.
Create a Mutual Short-term Savings Goal
Sometimes when a person has no financial goals, what's really meant is that they have no long-term financial goals. Dawn's husband may have no interest in goals like getting out of debt or saving for retirement. But he may have interest in saving money for a goal that has a very short-term benefit.
For example, if you create a savings account designed specifically to save money for a vacation, the down payment on a car, or the purchase of a computer or widescreen TV, her husband may get onboard with that.
Many times when people don't save money it’s because they don't have an orientation toward delayed gratification. But if the goal is to accumulate money for something that will be enjoyable, a priority can often be established.
This kind of savings tactic could convince Dawn's husband of the benefits of saving money in general. Eventually, he may come to equate savings with positive outcomes. And from there he might start thinking more about saving for the long-term – particularly since Dawn already is.
It's not a guarantee, but it's worth a try. Dawn’s husband is not a saver now, but maybe he can be gradually turned into one – with the right motivation. It'll take time, but it just could be the answer to Dawn's problem.
No miracle advice here Dawn, but I hope these suggestions help!