When your Partner is a Spendthrift

Does your bank statement have a perpetual affinity for red ink? Or do you dread that time of the month when the credit card bills come in the mail? If you are not doing all the spending and worse if you do not even know what the money is going, perhaps it is time to look into your partner’s spending habits. Here are a few tips to help you along if you find that your partner is spending unwisely and he/she needs to be more financially responsible.

Decide how serious the problem is

It is easy to label someone as spendthrift when your financial priorities don’t match with that person’s. So you first need to look objectively at how much your partner is spending. If he or she just enjoys splurging once in a while, a simple talk may be all you need to point out that it may be a good idea to save something for a rainy day and not run through all the disposable income. On the other hand if your partner seems to have a deeper problem, you might need a more structured approach if you are to stay out of bankruptcy.

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Clarify your financial goals as a family

It is not enough to assume that your partner understands the importance of spending within a budget. While you may be dreaming of owning that vacation house on the beach someday, your partner may find it more practical to change to a fancier car that can be used now. In such a situation it is better to discuss what your financial priorities are as a family as well as what pleasure items each of you would like to spend on, now and then. At the same time, work out a financial plan with your partner that repays past debts and prevents new ones. These measures will help you to compare the desired expenses against your joint earnings but only after you have set aside money for domestic purposes and emergency needs.

Factor in changing circumstances

Your partner may not be spending more money than before but once family requirements change, the same spending trend can appear extravagant. For instance your partner may have indulged his love for rare whiskey in the early days of your marriage. But after the arrival of a baby and your sabbatical from work, you may find that there is not enough money to accommodate an extra family member as well as your partner’s weakness for premium Scotch. Once again this requires a thorough discussion on expenses and a redefinition of what is necessary and what is discretionary.

Remove temptations

While it is good thing to let your partner understand the problem and decide how to solve it, you can do your own bit in limiting his/her expenses. Convince your partner to get rid of extra credit cards and even on the one that remains, make sure there is a reasonable credit limit. Ask your bank to automatically deduct a percentage of the money in your joint account when it crosses a certain limit and put it in a separate savings account which cannot be touched. Also ensure that any bonuses or unexpected income goes into this separate savings account. This will have the double advantage of not leaving any disposable money in your account besides being a regular way of adding on to your savings. See if your partner can agree to keep the checkbook, the debit and the credit cards with you to prevent sudden shopping binges.  Also make sure that all major purchases pass through you so that you are aware where the bulk of cash is going. However in all these options, continue to be sensitive to your partner’s feelings and make sure he/she has adequate spending cash and can splurge a little bit on reasonable purchases. Or else your partner may feel disempowered and inadequate which is never healthy for a marriage.

Add it up

Big spenders are likely to live more in the present than plan for tomorrow. They may think nothing of taking a $4 coffee break every working day and treating friends and co-workers two to three times a week. After all it is only $20 here and another $30 there. But if you can show your partner how these small expenses eventually translate into a large amount, it may motivate them to restrict their spending habits. The daily $4 coffee break for instance adds up to $1456 a year!

Consider other triggers

Closely observe your partner’s spending habits and see if the excesses are being triggered by unhappiness at work or in relationships. If you find that your partner is spending as a distraction from negative feelings or as a way to feel good, consider what you can do to help your partner. Compliment your partner on his/her looks and assure him/her of your love, respect and support. Look for ways you can enjoy each other’s company without needing to spend a lot.

Seek professional help

If despite your best efforts, you are unable to restrict your partner’s extravagance, it may because he/she suffers from a compulsive spending habit. This is similar to addictions like alcoholism and substance abuse and requires the intervention of a trained counselor or therapist. Depending on the extent of the problem, your partner may be advised therapy, medication or a combination of both. In such cases, it is essential that you seek professional help so that not only your partner is able to overcome his/her problem but so that you are able to deal with the stress of financial responsibilities and limited savings.

It is difficult to move forward financially when you have a partner who spends unwisely. When things come to a head, it may simply seem easier to cut your losses and go separate ways. However it is possible to overcome excessive spending provided your partner is willing to work towards a more financially responsive behavior and you are there to support your partner’s efforts.