It’s not conflicting worldviews. Or lack of passion. It’s not even infidelity. Money issues are the leading cause of stress in a relationship. If you’ve ever been with someone who mismanages their finances, that’s probably not very surprising.
But like most relationship woes, this is a solvable problem—if you approach it the right way. That takes compassion, as well as the ability to explain just why overspending is a harmful habit.
If you want to address your partner’s spending problem, here’s the best way to do it.
When you prepare to confront a partner or spouse about their overspending, try to come from a place of understanding instead of criticism. No matter how badly they screwed up, you need to figure out why it happened and how to avoid it in the future. This is not the time for name calling.
The key is to frame the issue as something you both need to tackle together, rather than a flaw your partner needs to correct by themselves. They likely have issues that do need to be addressed, but they’ll come to that conclusion more easily if they feel supported and understood.
For example, don’t say something like, “Your spending addiction is screwing up our budget.” Instead, say, “I think we may need to rein in spending to meet our budget goals.”
If your spouse loves to stop for fast food every day, ask them what drives that choice. Is it more about getting out of the office for a little while or do they feel too rushed to pack a lunch from home? Is their daily cappuccino that much better than brewing a cup at home, or do they just like the environment of a coffee shop?
Then help them brainstorm frugal alternatives, like meal planning together every week or buying easy potables like yogurt and Lean Cuisine meals. If you tackle this as a mutual problem that you can solve as a team, you’ll likely find a more effective solution and avoid any big fights.
Make the problem real
Your partner might not be aware of how their weekly pedicure or happy hour habit is affecting your plans for early retirement. I’s not enough to use vague terms when you’re discussing the issue—you have to illustrate it clearly.
Use a spreadsheet or chart to show how their spending affects your ability to save for long-term goals, like buying a house or going to Europe. By framing their overspending as a problem that impacts the rest of your budget, you can help them see why they need to change that behavior.
It can also be helpful to frame their spending in an annual context. Paying $4 for coffee every day seems like a small indulgence, but it adds up to almost $1,500 a year. Putting it in those terms could help your partner better understand where your concern is coming from.
Don’t compare your spending to theirs
One of the first tactics a frustrated partner might use is to show how little they spend compared to their more wasteful partner. The thing is, no one likes to be compared to someone else—especially the person they’re in a relationship with. They might see you as a cheapskate instead of a shining example of frugality.
We all have different values, so making direct comparisons only creates a divide when you should be seeking to better understand one another .
It’s ok to use examples from your own life to illustrate how you try to save money or be frugal, like telling them why you buy clothes from a secondhand store instead of Macy’s. Otherwise, avoid framing yourself as the “good guy.”
Talk to a professional
If you’re still having trouble getting through to your spouse, it might be time to consult a therapist or financial counselor. An objective third-party can help you learn to communicate honestly and openly about money and voice your feelings without someone getting hurt.
Look for a couples therapist who has experience assisting spouses with financial problems. You can often do a free phone consultation with a therapist beforehand so you can ask them what their methods are and voice any specific concerns you have.
Going to therapy can be stressful for your partner, so try to make it a positive experience. Avoid talking for the majority of the session and let your partner voice his or her concerns and frustrations first.
The easiest way to allow your spouse to have control over their spending without going overboard is to create separate budgets for discretionary spending. Each person gets a certain amount of money every month that they can do with as they please.
They can spend it all on 7-Eleven slurpees, at Starbucks, or Kate Spade handbags. It doesn’t matter what they buy, because they’ll be drawing from a sum specifically set aside for discretionary purchases.
This strategy is recommended by many personal finance experts because it avoids conflict, while also creating strict parameters for both partners.
A great way to implement this strategy is to give your partner a debit card attached to a bank account that only has their portion of the budget. That way, they can’t run up a balance on a credit card or spend the grocery money on video games.
Create financial goals
Once you’ve talked to your partner about their spending and created a separate account for them, try setting some financial goals together. These can be as simple as “save $1,000 for emergency fund” or as spectacular as “take a luxury vacation to Paris.”
Having shared goals will make cutting back seem easier, because your partner will have a reason to stick to the budget. The goal is to create a clear A to B between saving money and getting to do the things you both want to do.
It’s understandable to be frustrated with a shopping-addicted partner, but try to be understanding and proactive in dealing with the issue. You may be justified in flying off the handle, but that won’t help resolve the issue in the long run.
Offer constructive criticism. Be sure to make it clear why overspending affects you both negatively. You may be able to shame someone into making temporary changes, but it’s better to show them why those changes are in everybody’s best interest.