Couple discussing budget

How can I get my spouse to agree to a budget?

Question: How can I get my wife to agree to a budget? I’m nervous because I don’t have a handle on how much money we’re spending. She’s afraid if we start tracking our spending I will second-guess every purchase she makes. I am careful with money by nature, while she likes to enjoy life a bit. Neither of us are happy with the recurring fights we’ve been having.

Answer: My wife & I struggled with these same issues when we were first married — except I was the one who liked to enjoy life — so I can share with you three steps we took to find financial harmony despite our differences.

Step 1 – Set a time to talk about money

The most important thing we did was learn how to talk about money. My wife tended to bring up the topic when she was worried, or upset about a purchase I had made, and this was never the right time. I often felt put on the spot — and that my way of life was under attack.

Learning to schedule important conversations was the turning point for us. I knew I needed to get better with money. Giving me advance notice of when we would talk gave me time to prepare for a difficult conversation — and, more importantly, motivated me to think about how I could get better.

My wife also needed time to prepare for a better conversation, even though she was the one bringing up the topic. I told her, “you need to look gentle” when we talk about money. She also needed to be more open to my priorities. This took forethought on her part.

Be encouraged that there is incentive in here for your wife. While my wife was the one who wanted to set up a budget, I was tired of the fights we were having. I wanted to be able to enjoy the things I loved without getting into an argument every time I spent money. Neither of us were enjoying the status quo.

So step one for you, if you’d like to set up a budget, is to ask your wife: “I’d like us to find a way for both of us to be happy with our finances. I want to give you space to have fun while giving me reassurance we have a solid financial plan. When can we talk about setting up a budget we can both be happy with?”

Given that this topic has led to repeated arguments in the past, it’s probably best not to broach this topic in person. You risk making your wife feel put on the spot that way. A safer approach is to send her a text or an email asking for a time to talk that works for her.

As my wife & I prepared to discuss our finances, we quickly realized agreeing on a budget was not going to be a short conversation. This is not a topic to discuss after work on a Thursday night. We agreed to set aside two hours the following Sunday afternoon, starting at 4:00 pm.

Talking Sunday afternoon allowed us to enjoy all of Saturday and most of Sunday while not pushing the conversation to Sunday night when we would be tired and thinking about the week ahead.

We also realized agreeing on a budget would take more than one conversation. We simply didn’t have the data to make informed decisions. I told my wife a budget would be a work of fiction as we hadn’t been keeping track of our spending. We also had a range of conflicting priorities. Agreeing on a budget was going to take real work on our part.

Step 2 – Track your spending

We decided to give ourselves a year to agree on a budget. During that year we would track our spending and meet every second month to share what we had spent money on. The rule was we had to be completely transparent — and we weren’t allowed to criticize each other’s spending.

I loved the structure of having scheduled conversations once every two months. Knowing I would have to be open with my wife about what I had purchased made me a more thoughtful buyer. I became more aware and less impulsive. I discovered I had been spending money on things I enjoyed — but also things I could have easily done without.

I also had time to review my spending before we spoke. I was often surprised to discover how certain expenditures had added up. My wife had often accused me of being too generous with my friends in social situations. On any given night, I didn’t think I had spent that much money, but when I saw how it was adding up, I could see my wife was right.

With time to think before our scheduled conversation, I thought of creative ways I could maintain my social life without spending as much money. A picnic in the park on one of our town’s movie nights was a great shared experience, and cost far less than a dinner at one of our local restaurants.

With a structure to our communication about our finances, my wife no longer needed to criticize me. I had time to critique myself and came prepared to our conversations ready to discuss solutions that addressed both of our concerns.

We grew a lot in that year. Thanks to tracking our spending, I was able to identify $10,000 in truly frivolous spending (take-out dinners and fancy coffee being the chief culprits). This was money that could have been used for higher-value priorities (savings for my wife and a nice trip for me).

So, step two for you is to agree to start tracking your spending. It will give you real data to work with. As the spender in our marriage, I actually came to enjoy tracking spending as it gave me the ability to focus my spending on what truly made me happy. Tracking spending comes before budgeting.

Step 3 – Agree on a shared vision for your marriage

The third, and final step, to achieving financial harmony is to agree on a shared vision for your marriage. In marriage, couples naturally have priorities they agree on, but also many things they disagree on.

Marriage is a long time to spend with one person. Both partners need to be happy, and your budget — if it is to be embraced by both of you — needs to make space for the things that are important to each of you.

The root cause of many of our arguments over money was our failure to respect each other’s dreams. My wife & I used the Shared Vision in Marriage exercise to take a step back and look at the big picture of our marriage. We each listed our goals for our life — big and small — and then engaged in give-and-take.

As an example, I would prefer we travel six times a year (I love weekend getaways). My wife would be satisfied with one such trip each year — she’d rather save the money for our retirement. Our differences led to a recurring argument each time I suggested a trip.

After completing the Shared Vision exercise, we met halfway and agreed to go on three trips each year — and save a set amount of money each month for our retirement. We embraced each other’s priorities and haven’t had this argument since.

We also looked at each of our goals and brainstormed about how they could be accomplished at less expense. I dream of visiting Paris, for example, but we realized we could drive to Montreal at far less cost (I pretended it was Paris when we got there — and our weekend in Montreal still ranks as one of my favorite trips).

We also made room for each other’s personalities. I enjoy spontaneously treating myself to a cup of coffee. My wife will make her coffee in advance and bring it in a travel mug, but she does have a weakness for decorative pillows and cute knick-knacks for our home. All these small purchases can add up, and it’s easy to point the finger at the other while being unaware of one’s own blind spots.

We agreed to budget a certain amount of “fun money” for each of us each month. This gave us space to be ourselves while limiting just how much “fun” we each had.

A successful marriage does require growth. I needed to grow in personal discipline and be more creative and wiser in how I spent money. My wife needed to be more understanding of my “frivolous” side if we are to enjoy a lifetime of marriage together.

The three-step process I have outlined — setting a time to talk, tracking spending, and hammering out a shared vision for our marriage — has allowed my wife & I to agree on a budget we can both be excited about.

Further Resources

Link – Creating a Shared Vision in Marriage
Link – Creating a Shared Vision in Marriage exercise

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