Paying off Debt: Getting Your Spouse on Board

How Can We Work Together?


One of the most asked questions from my coaching clients and my community is “How can I get my spouse on board?” This is usually followed by comments regarding how exhausting it has been trying to create financial stability alone. The frustration and heaviness of carrying all the weight of financial responsibility can take a heavy toll on a marriage. When one partner feels like they are the only ones shouldering the responsibilities, soon the fervor to continue the fight for financial freedom begins to die out.

This often leads to feelings of resentment towards the nonparticipating spouse which surfaces in harsh communication, decreased intimacy, and feelings of hopelessness regarding their marital future. As time passes without addressing these issues, problems such as financial infidelity (hiding money or transactions) or worst case scenario…divorce can occur. The bible speaks clearly about the advantages of two in partnership. “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NKJV) When the finances are left to one and there is no accountability, mistakes often ensue.  When mistakes occur, the one who has done his or her best to pay the bills or save for a rainy day feels responsible and often overwhelmed; while the other has the mental freedom to continue about their daily life without any regard for the impending doom of the mistakes made. This alone begins to feel unfair to the responsible spouse. The responsible spouse may start to feel like they are parenting the other in the relationship rather than working together in partnership.

Lack of participation breeds disrespect

There is also another danger in allowing one spouse to manage the money alone that starts to threaten the marriage unknowingly. It silently grows from a place of disrespect for the lack of spousal participation, hence their incompetency regarding the family finances. The danger that I am referring to is when the responsible spouse begins to make financial decisions either without consulting the other party or totally disregarding their input on financial matters. Though both parties may be at fault here, the responsible party (out of obvious obligations) may feel entitled to this role, leaving the other spouse to feel overlooked and disrespected. This leads to arguments and worse, feelings of distrust. These tactics usually do not motivate the other spouse to participate, but lead to an imbalance in the marriage. Where kids are involved, they quickly learn which parent to approach to get what they want, which can lead to further marital discord.

Nerd or Free Spirit?

So how do we tackle this problem? Glad you asked! Usually, there is always a reason why one spouse has refused to participate in family finances. Discovering that reason could lead to the answer and the beginning of a new family financial paradigm. Dave Ramsey says that in most marriages there is a nerd and a free spirit. Learning which spouse is which and then making a plan that will work for each is the key to creating financial harmony in marriage. Dave identifies the two categories as nerds or free spirits and spenders versus savers.  The nerds are the ones who absolutely love budgets, numbers, and anything that has to do with calculations (That’s me by the way, I carry a calculator and small notebook everywhere! I just love running budget scenarios while I wait at the dentist. Weird right??!!). The other is the free spirit. This person is laid back, does not like numbers, but would rather take a look at the overall plan after it’s done (or hear about it…or better yet, nothing at all, lol). Surprisingly, just because you are a nerd, does not mean that you are better at creating and STICKING TO a budget. Most likely it means that, by default, this responsibility fell into your lap and you owned it because you felt capable.

Who’s the Saver?

The other very important component is to determine the spender from the saver. This one is usually easy and self-explanatory.  By nature, there are those of us (ME, ME!) who feel compelled to buy things that make us and others happy. Those things that we are willing to buy may differ, but the urges are still the same. For example, you will not likely see me buying Prada bags or designer shoes…not my thing. No temptations there. BUT, flash a vacation in front of me that includes sandy shores or a beachfront…where do I sign up? Budget? What budget? See where I’m going with this? My husband, on the other hand, is a self-proclaimed simpleton. He eats tomato sandwiches for lunch, still owns clothes from when we met 20 years ago (which I am slowly moving to an undisclosed location when he is away, haha), and when faced with choosing water when dining out or a soda….you guessed it, he’ll take water almost every time! Yep, that’s my man! He’s not Scroogy with it though. He is a happy giver when the Lord prompts us. For us, giving to others has never been an issue. It’s usually agreeing on the amount to give where we have to reach a consensus. He hears $50 in his spirit, I hear $500…we always meet somewhere in the middle which is where balance plays out beautifully!

3 tips for getting your spouse on board and working together:

  • Start with the “Why”. Discussing the reason that getting your finances on track should be the starting point for your financial journey. This conversation does tons for creating intimacy, togetherness, and willingness to work towards a common goal. Does your why include your children, your grandchildren, your legacy, or maybe being able to care for your elderly parents? What’s important to you and your spouse?  Find the commonalities and make this your launching pad! Your why will keep you when the going gets tough! Reminding each other of your why will help keep you in the fight TOGETHER!
  • Schedule a regular budget meeting and commit to it. Finances can be an emotional subject in some households. Scheduling a time to discuss the deeper issues related to this can alleviate arguments and settle mounting feelings of uncertainty before they boil over. Be considerate when setting a time. It shouldn’t be scheduled during someone’s favorite tv show or the big football game. Showing up to the meeting is the minimum requirement. You must engage for the best results!
  • Discuss your financial strengths and weaknesses and agree to work together to accommodate each other. Are you a nerd who loves to do the budget? Is your mate a free spirit? Discuss the expectations of your roles in budgeting. If nerds do the budget, what is the expectation of the other spouse in contributing input to the budget? Talk about this so that there is no confusion. Side note: there should not be one spouse supporting the other in budgeting; the two should be working together in a way that feels balanced to both parties. It is your job as a couple to flush this out. Enlist a financial coach if this proves difficult!

Personally, I believe that certain combinations are easier to work with than others but both are doable. For example, it may be more difficult working with nerd savers and free spirit spenders. Nerd savers are very stringent about numbers and you may find it difficult to convince them that fun and wiggle room in the budget is necessary for success. Free spirt spenders may be challenged with the budgeting aspects as well as implementation due to their inability to control their impulses. This is why working together is imperative! Developing goals and focusing on your “Why” as a couple is foundational for success in financial freedom!