For many of us, it takes several years before we realize we’ve made a mess of our money. We grow up thinking debt is just what people have, it’s inevitable, right? Everyone takes out student loans because who can really afford college? I know I couldn’t and neither could my parents. Also, who pays cash for cars and who doesn’t have credit card debt? These things are the norm, until we realize they aren’t. Something in our head just clicks at some point. We start caring more about our finances and seeking more information. Then we find out, debt is not the only way to live. We can escape it.
It’s insane how long it takes most of us to learn this, but now we have to tell our spouse! We’re all excited, full of joy for this new path we’re about to embark on. That is until our spouse bursts the bubble because they just don’t get it. They don’t care about the debt and they don’t understand why we should get on a budget.
“We’re doing fine! We can pay our bills!”
“I’m not getting on a budget — I work hard and I deserve to have fun.”
“What do you mean we’re getting rid of cable?!”
Now, think again how long it took you before you realized you should be on a budget and become debt free. While we know now it’s the best thing for our family financially, you can’t immediately expect your spouse to jump on board overnight. They need time to learn, understand and adjust just as you did. If you’re struggling with how to show your spouse “the way” here are some things I focused on to convince my husband, Leo:
Make your “why” known
It’s difficult to commit to something when you have no reasoning. Your spouse won’t naturally jump into something they don’t understand. Especially when it’s the same ideas society has instilled in you as well. If you go to your spouse and tell them “hey, I made a budget and we’re going to pay off all our debt and not spend any money ever, cool?” they’re likely not going to have the most positive reaction. Just think of a time someone told you, you needed to do something with no reasoning behind it. It doesn’t work. We need to understand why. The why can vary for all of us. It could be to change your family tree, travel the world freely, buy your parents a house, start a business, retire a multi-millionaire, anything really. But it’s important you give your spouse a reason and an aspiration. If there’s a long-term goal they’ve ever spoken about assure them that taking control of your finances and getting rid of debt is what’s going to get them to that goal.
Make it about them first
When you’re married, your debt is your spouses debt and their debt yours. Your bills are theirs and theirs yours. If one is struggling financially, guess what? So is the other. But when I first realized paying down our debt was going to be the best thing for us, I said let’s pay off your car. Now, Leo’s car is my car and my car his, but he brought this car into our marriage so it “felt” like more his debt. Instead of throwing his car into the debt snowball and paying it off when it came time I decided we should tackle it first. I was the one who was most eager to start this journey and I figured giving him the feeling of owning his car would make him more eager to continue. Make them the number one priority to start.
Allocate “fun money”
This may go against some peoples opinions on “getting out of debt” because ideally you want to be on a tight budget and get it done with as soon as possible. However, your spouse will be a lot less likely to comply if you remove everything fun they used to do for the sake of the budget. That is not a good start to a positive introduction on budgeting. Remember, a budget doesn’t have to be limiting. Of course you’ll want to cut back where you can, but not at the expense of your spouses sanity and quite frankly, interest in even embarking on this journey. You can take a look into our budget and see that we still allocate fun money. We call this category “non-essentials” on our written budget, so that we make sure we always know if worse came to worse that part of our budget isn’t necessary.
Budget meeting at a coffee shop
Leo and I had our first budget meeting at our local coffee shop this past month. As you can imagine, this journey allows less extravagant date nights so small moments like these are special. If you’re having trouble discussing the budget peacefully at home, get out of the house and meet because (hopefully) you’re less likely to argue in a public setting. If you’re not struggling with hot-headedness but rather lack of engagement I hope this is encouraging for you, Leo actually pulled out his calculator and totaled our line items the entire way through, for.the.first.time. Something about being outdoors and sipping a budgeted-for iced latte made him more eager to participate. Plus, it was mature and profesh with our little laptop and notepad talking about our money (before the laptop died and we had to go old school). Pro-tip make sure the electronics are charged.
These small steps can hopefully help pave the way to a big life change for you and your family. But truthfully speaking, your spouse may never be as crazy about the numbers as you. Leo still isn’t, but what we need is their commitment, support and understanding. We need them to know how positively this is going to benefit our future. They will eventually come around to that, but don’t feel discouraged if they aren’t reading all the finance books and downloading all the podcasts. It’ll be about the long-term goals, not the spreadsheets for them. When they’re on board, they’re on board. Some people are just not naturally crazy about the numbers as we are #amirite.
TL;DR: know your why, cater to “their” debt first, don’t make them quit spending cold turkey and have budget meetings — but make it fun!