How Do I Budget if My Partner is a Spender?
(This page may contain affiliate links and we may earn fees from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. See our Disclosure for more info.)
You dreamt of the day you’d join your life with the person who makes your soul happy. Your nearly flawless alignment has been almost surprising.
However, as “mine” and “yours” have become “ours,” one subject remains sore: finances.
You’ve done the work of calculating the perfect budget with a place for everything and everything in its place – except for your partner’s spending.
You often find yourself questioning the way they choose to spend money.
You don’t want to start arguments. But you feel if you don’t say something they'll keep spending too much money and you’ll always be living in a deficit.
Equally frustrating is the thought that if they don’t stop spending, you’ll never get the chance to achieve the financial goals that matter to you.
This conflict isn’t out of the ordinary.
Numerous studies over the past decade have made it common knowledge that money is one of the leading causes of relationship turmoil and is noted as a significant contributor to separation and divorce.
This isn’t to say opposites who’ve attracted are hopeless in finding success. You need not choose between being romantically happy and building financial stability.
Rather, acknowledging and validating your differences can go a long way in making peace with your finances and sustaining team spirit in your money matters and relationship.
After all, it’s easier and more productive to change how you budget rather than try to change each other’s nature.
Getting on the Same Page About Money
Instead of going head to head over a budget, unite your partnership powers with these suggested exercises:
Uncover Common Money Goals
An individual’s values often dictate how one spends money. Disagreements can happen if you don’t understand or respect your partner’s values or they don’t understand or appreciate yours.
To find common goals, it’s important for you and your partner to each set aside some time to define your own set of values.
Ponder in what major areas you spend money and why you believe you choose to spend it that way. For a better insight into your partner’s choices, give the same consideration to their habits.
It’s likely that you haven’t peeled back the emotional and psychological side to spending in this way before.
You might realize what you deemed as frivolous or meaningless spending is actually rooted in a value you hold as well.
For example, if your partner has been anxious to spend money on home improvements that seem unnecessary to you, the value they are fulfilling might be family orientation or the sustainment of a good quality of life.
Those are much harder to sneer at than the dollars going out of your bank account.
Come together to share what you both discover, draw similarities, and consider compromises for each other's non-negotiable values.
With your values in black and white, you can work together to set common and individual goals providing fulfillment for both partners.
These goals may be spending within a budgeted amount or may warrant the setting up of a new savings or bank account to manage your flow of discretionary funds better.
Working to identify values then validating them by creating shared goals will help your partner to feel accepted.
This, in turn, will cultivate an internal motivation far better for their wellbeing and your joint financial picture than the all too tempting, nagging.
Collaborate on a Budget
Once you establish values and goals, work them into a budget or budgets depending on how you integrate your finances.
If you have separate bank accounts and split bills, a budget for each of you makes more sense. Writing out even a basic budget ensures spending occurs more intentionally.
Start by noting all income and listing out expenses including both needs and wants (read goals).
Discuss with your partner how you might use the income to meet obligations and then funnel it into categories supporting each partner’s goals.
Now is the time to agree upon an appropriate monthly allotment for each person’s spending. Once decided, the issue should not be raised again unless income changes drastically.
It’s equally critical that both parties have a voice in this process. Your end budget(s) should not be a marching order, but rather the product of each party’s own volition.
A budget might call for a bit of sacrifice, but that sacrifice needs to be a choice. Overall, a budget will be an easier sell if it doesn’t just permit your partner’s spending, it supports it.
Watch out for these common budgeting mistakes!
Separate Partner Spending Money from Main Accounts
Tracking how much money there is to spend or how much money is spent can be difficult if all income flows in and out of the same checking account.
To draw clear lines between budget categories, it may be helpful to organize money by its intended purpose.
You can choose together whether you’ll create new bank accounts or simply stock envelopes with the allotted funds. You may even opt for a hybrid system. Whatever works for you.
Because this money is separated and therefore limited, there should be far less of a need to question how it's spent. Partners can then enjoy guilt-free spending with no impact on other parts of the budget.
Consider Tools to Help Track Your Finances
Spending, as well as saving, can fall off course without some kind of tracking. Having a partner stick to these types of goals may be aided by introducing them to the right tool.
You could both get on board with a mobile banking platform or discuss the features of various apps, such as Tiller, Personal Capital or Zeta, which is specifically designed for couples.
With a combined account to track financial activity, both partners will be able to observe the impact of their actions. This may help to deflect the resentment some partners feel from overbearing accountability.
Additionally, using automatic notifications to alert your partner of low balances or over-limit spending can reduce the frequency of unpleasant conversations.
A tool shouldn’t only be used to neutralize the negative. Be sure to celebrate together as the savings wins stack up. Communicate appreciation for efforts in the right direction.
Withhold Judgment as You Maintain an Open Dialogue
The worst feeling in a relationship is when all communication has stalled out. This can happen if one partner feels their decisions are under constant attack.
No one can deny making smart financial decisions is important. But you should never make another person, especially someone you love, feel less than for struggling to meet standards you alone have set.
Once a rift develops, it takes great care to repair. The damage is likely not worth winning the argument in the first place.
Realize it takes most people a lifetime to understand their relationship with money and develop discipline in its use.
Have patience with your partner. Resist being critical. Forgive slip-ups.
Relationships, like budgeting take work and periodic reassessment. So long as you both continually commit to trying, you’ll find a harmonious arrangement in both regards.
Article written by:
Guest contributor Amanda Amezcua, a personal finance writer at Money Fit, a nonprofit credit counseling agency. She shares how individuals can be systematic with their money to better enjoy life and the things that matter most.