How to Trick Your Spouse into Sticking with a Budget

by David Ning · 11 comments

I don’t know why it is, but it seems like almost every marriage comes with a spender and a saver. I have seen rare exceptions where both are unleashed spenders – which often turns out to be quite disastrous, and even rarer still I have seen marriages with two savers. But for the most part, it seems like most have an eternal struggle between the spender and the saver.

So, as expected, I am the saver in my household, while my wife is the spender. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy spending, it is just that I enjoy saving a lot more than she does. ;)

From early on in our marriage, I realized that if we were going to have a marriage that wasn’t a constant fight about money, we needed to figure out a way to make it work. As with most disputes, the key to solving it was compromise.

Focus on the Big Picture

For my wife and I, a key to making a solid budget was to talk about our financial goals. Not just we want to pay all the bills this month, but rather our long-term goals. How and when we want to retire, when we want our house paid off, etc. We spent a little time soaking up what it would feel like to reach the goal – basically just letting our minds wander and dream about how wonderful it will be when we reach those goals. In doing this, we found that we had quite a few common goals that we were trying to achieve.

But My Spouse Wants Both.

I am not sure why, but for some reason I can focus on the big picture for five minutes and be motivated to save money for the next 2 years. But my wife will be motivated just like me, until she sees a pair of shoes on sale in the mall. She still does want to reach the end goal, but she also wants the shoes – does this sound familiar to anyone else?

Giving Up Something Small in Order to Get the Big Prize

This is where the compromise comes in. Being the saver that I am, I can look at that pair of shoes and just see it as an obstacle preventing me from reaching my goal, or I can see it as a stepping stone. What I mean is that if buying that pair of shoes is going to pacify her spending tendencies and keep her from throwing in the towel, it is probably worth the sacrifice.

I look at it as taking a longer route to get somewhere instead of not moving at all. If both spouses want to go in different directions, you are not going to go anywhere fast.

I know it was difficult for myself to do something that I think is taking us away from the path to freedom – but over the last few years I am realizing that this was one of the best things I could do to help us reach the goal.

Obviously, there needs to be balance when it comes to this. So, just as I have made the sacrifice to allow a little more discretionary spending than I would like, she has made sacrifices by fighting against her frequent spending urges. I must say that I have been amazed. As I showed some goodwill by not fighting against every pair of shoes that she buys, she has worked even harder to stick with the budget.

Allow Your Spouse to Change Gradually

The key that has worked for us is that both sides have to give something up and also allow the other person to gradually change. Expecting immediate and drastic changes has always led to disappointment in my experience, but allowing my wife or anyone else for that matter to change gradually and giving them incentive to do so has worked wonders.

Editor’s Note: While Emma is not a spender, there’s still similar struggles because I’m much more frugal than she is. In our family, we take this idea one step further and instead of focusing on our goals, I remind her of the big goals that she holds dearly in her heart. It may help Emma spend less thinking about early retirement, but thinking about being able to buy a house (a dream come true for her) drastically reduces her desire to buy any luxury items.

This is a guest post from Bob who writes for about getting out of debt, budgeting, making money, and other personal finance topics from a Christian perspective at ChristianPF.com.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

meinmillions May 14, 2009 at 7:15 am

I know it’s just the title and you probably were trying to be clever, but I don’t like how you use the word “trick.” To me the word trick implies deceit and I don’t think that’s something you want in a marriage. Just my two cents.

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MoneyNing May 14, 2009 at 4:45 pm

I’ll relate it to Bob (the author of this guest post). I think it’s just a catchy title but I understand your reason of concern. I agree that marriage should be about trust and commitment.

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Imani May 14, 2009 at 7:25 am

Personally, I don’t have a spouse to consider but I have read on other PF blogs that couples allow each other $X per week/month of “mad money”. This allows either to spend some money as he/she pleases without guilt.

I think this is important because it keeps a balance between becoming a slave to goals or blowing them completely for the week/month.

Just a thought….

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Money Beagle May 14, 2009 at 7:32 am

I don’t think you want to ‘trick’ them. My wife was always fairly responsible with money before we got married and combined our finances, but a budget wasn’t something that she was used to. It did take some time and work, but she now understands the value and is excited by it. Those two things are I believe key points. Work to make sure that they understand the value and what benefits can come from sticking with a budget. In our case, it allowed us to address debt very forcefully which then led us to be able to convert to a single-income household with the any-day-now birth of our first child. Second, is to get them excited about it. I was able to work with my wife and set goals together that we both agreed on, and when they were reached, we were both happy because we knew we’d achieved a milestone together.

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Bob May 14, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Agreed, thinking back on the title, maybe it wasn’t the best one I could have come up with – it was supposed to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but maybe it didn’t come across that way…

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ABD October 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm

If it makes you feel better, I read it as tongue in cheek ;)

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Jerremy Morrison May 14, 2009 at 11:25 pm

First of all, I want to say that the post is very realistic as well as unique. In most of the cases, we can observe that two different person with different habit of spending lives together. It does not matter a lot if any one of them is having the nature of saving. The saver can control the spender to some extent and as a result they can successfully reach their financial goal. But the disaster comes when both are of the same habit. At last, I want to suggest everybody that we should maintain a budget to live a healthy financial life.

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Debbie Lacy, MoneyMindful May 15, 2009 at 7:30 am

You’re right — in most all couples, one is a spender and the other is a saver. It’s the ying/yang thing that is so attractive… and frustrating. By not “fighting against every pair of shoes that she buys,” you very wisely disarmed the money dance that can create a lot of conflict for couples.

Typically, when the spender in a couple spends more, the saver gets more set in his/her ways and the two end up on opposite sides of the scale, further entrenched in their habits. Balance is always desired, so anything that can be done to move toward one another, such as identifying common goals like you mentioned, will help strengthen communication and create long-term financial success. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Bob.

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Sue | Air Conditioning May 20, 2009 at 12:54 am

Debbie, I really have to agree with you here, I am in the same boat but its my other half that seems to have burning hole in his pockets, he spends far more than I do. We have now set up gaols and we both have to stick to them, and communication is one of the most important things to have in a relationship, when it comes to ones financial goals.

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ABD October 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I have often wondered how tough this was for other people to work out.

In my family, my dad is the workaholic, who doesn’t have time to spend his money. My mom is the spender, but in a way, she’s also the saver, because she spends the time figuring out the budget and paying the bills.

I know that I am way too into managing my money to just sit back and ignore it the way my father does, but I’m not too excited about the idea of having to teach someone else how to save either.

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G Angela November 21, 2014 at 10:38 pm

I am glad I read this post, agree with you opposites attract; and in a marriage it is not easy bring in change, it takes a lot of time; and patience; sometimes the husband makes impulsive decisions with regard to money and the wife and children have to bear the consequences… financial health is something very important for peace and harmony in the family …

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