When Your Spouse Won't Participate in a Financial Plan or Budget

Couple disagreeing over a budget item.

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One of the more frustrating aspects of managing your finances occurs when your spouse has conflicting ideas about money or won't even participate in the discussion of money. When one spouse doesn’t want to participate in financial planning, it can be frustrating for both partners—and even cost you in the long run. It doesn’t help matters if your spouse thinks you are nagging or hounding them about money all the time, and you certainly don't want to let your finances ruin your marriage

To fix this issue, it helps to get to the root of what’s causing it. For example, your spouse may refuse to combine finances if they may have underlying fears or more serious financial issues that you are not aware of. Differing ideas about how to spend money, organize a budget, use credit, and tackle other financial goals have also caused issues in many marriages. Approaching financial issues with your spouse in a non-accusatory way and keeping things simple can help you make progress as a team.

Below are some common reasons that one spouse may not be participating in the money planning process, and how you can work with them to get them on board.

The Problem: Spouse Doesn’t Want to Budget or Plan

If your spouse understands the need to plan but just doesn’t want to, or hates following a budget because it seems like too much work, it can be difficult to get that person on board. Sticking to a budget is hard enough, let alone when you’re not completely sold on the idea, to begin with. For the sake of household harmony and financial health, though, it’s important to come up with a solution that will work for both of you.

The Solution: Create a Basic Plan for Review

Make it easy for your spouse to participate in the discussion. Come up with a basic budget that covers bills like groceries, utilities, and gas. Then talk about how you will choose to spend your discretionary income on expenses like eating out and shopping, what your individual spending money should be, and other typical expenditures.

To make things very simple you may even consider switching to a cash budget. You can break the money into weekly amounts to make it easier to get used to. That way, when the money is gone, both you and your spouse will have to stop spending. In this way, you won’t have to worry about nagging your partner to stick to the budget. Plus, some people operate better when actually handling cash and seeing it leave their wallet, rather than using a debit card, an online banking app or a spreadsheet full of numbers.

This approach can take some of the pressure off of you and eliminate those fights about every expenditure. At the end of each month, go over the budget and actual spending to see how you both did.

The Problem: Feelings of Blame or Picked On in Discussions

If you are in a bad financial situation with a lot of debt or you seem to have a hard time sticking to a budget, the way you are approaching the situation may make your spouse feel like you are blaming them.

This can be a tricky situation, especially if you do feel that they are to blame for your financial situation. However, it doesn't improve the situation if you place blame when in this situation. It will make your spouse feel defensive and less likely to participate in money discussions and stick to a budget. It will also cause you to approach the situation with a negative mindset, instead of a can-do attitude.

The Solution: Change Your Approach

Change the way you approach talking about money. Stop using blame, and don't focus on the past.

Instead, focus on what you can change moving forward and set up baby steps or milestones to track your progress towards your money goals. Try using phrases such as, “We are not going to blame each other for where we are. Instead, we’ll work together to get out of this situation.”

Ask your spouse to commit to a plan (including a budget) that will improve the financial situation for both of you. With this approach, your spouse may be more willing to get on board and work together to improve your financial situation. Re-orienting your approach to a positive one diffuses any negativity and allows you to work toward a more positive future.

Problem: Not Involved or Resent Being Told What to Do 

While you may think you have a reluctant spouse who does not want to plan, you may actually be dealing with someone who does not feel involved in the situation.

Ask your spouse if they would like a more active role in the budgeting process; and if they say yes, then you may benefit from changing the way you approach the situation by sharing some of the financial responsibilities with them.

Often, one spouse will feel like the other is controlling all of the spending decisions, and feels like a child rather than an adult in the situation. This may be especially true if one spouse gives the other an allowance.

Solution: Start Over

You can fix this problem with a change in your approach. If your spouse simply doesn’t feel involved in the process, then maybe it’s time to start the process over and do it together as a team, but take care to avoid being bossy, condescending or otherwise making your spouse feel like they're somehow less integral to the process than you are.

Gather together your actual bills and list your expenses and income together. Go over monthly expenses, your budget, and your financial goals. When looking at your budget, get your spouse’s take on how you should spend your remaining monthly income. Once they see the numbers in black and white, they may be more willing to stick to a budget or curb their spending.

Plus, once they are involved in the process, they will be much more likely to participate in future budgeting and money discussions, since they had a say in the original plan.

Problem: Belief Everything Will Work Out Somehow

When your spouse is holding onto the belief that everything will work itself out naturally, you may have a difficult time getting them to participate in the discussion. Many personality types are much better at being flexible in the current moment but not great at planning for the long-term and feel that if they keep working hard, that everything will just somehow work out. The truth is, financial success comes when you make a solid plan and stick to it.

Solution: Give Your Spouse a Reality Check

This may sound harsh, but the best way to handle this is to provide your spouse with a reality check. Talk about goals or desires that they have expressed in the past, such as owning a home or traveling during retirement years.

Compare these goals directly to your current financial situation. Put together an estimate of the level of savings you need to accomplish and demonstrate to your spouse whether or not you will achieve that goal at the rate you are operating now. Through this process, you may be able to get them on board with a monthly budget discussion and a financial plan. Sometimes it takes seeing the hard facts to wake someone up to the reality of the situation and help them get inspired to take action.