One of the most frequent questions we hear about couples and their money is what to do when one spouse wants to make some drastic changes, get out of debt, and start saving for their future, but their spouse isn’t on board.
What we’re really talking about is having two opposing goals in your relationship. If you’re the one who wants to get out of debt, you’ve probably thought about strategies you can use to pay off debt while not really dealing with the issue with your spouse.
Common solutions are giving the spouse an ‘allowance’ to control their spending, constantly monitoring their activities, or opening a separate account to use a larger portion of your paycheque for debt. While these may help to knock out a bit of debt, you’ll quickly come to realize that this isn’t the healthiest way to run a household.
The idea of an allowance or monitoring spending requires you to treat your spouse more like a child than a partner. By not giving them a voice in how the household finances are taken care of, you’ll likely end up dealing with resentment and/or binge spending, lying, extra credit cards, and ultimately more debt.
Similarly, while some spouses find separate accounts helpful, they only work if both people are on the same page with how those accounts are used. If your account is used for debt repayment and your partner’s is for food and household expenses, that’s fine. But if your partner decides that a day at the spa is more important than your heating bill, you’ve got a problem.
To Start, Begin At The End
Quite likely, your spouse hates talking about money and doesn’t want to feel controlled by it. Your constantly bringing up paying off debt is coming off as sounding controlling, limiting, and boring.
That’s why it’s crucial to reframe the conversation. You’re not talking about debt, you’re talking about dreams. You’re talking about your future together – your plans, your hopes, and your goals.
How To Start The Conversation
Here are some general ideas to get started:
“I know we’ve been talking about money a lot lately, but I want to take a step back and start thinking about our future. Where do you see us in 10 years?”
“I was just reading about this couple who spent an entire year travelling the world. They blogged all about how they prepared and saved up for it and what they did to make it happen. We don’t have to do the same thing, but wouldn’t it be great to_____”
“A guy at work was talking about how they just had a kid and how happy his wife is that she can stay home with her. He said they planned for a couple years to make sure she wouldn’t have to go back to work even after her mat leave is over”.
You get the idea. Once you start the ball rolling you can work backwards. Travelling the world sounds good? You can’t do it with debt.
Debt Repayment Isn’t The Goal – It’s Just A Step
If you can’t figure out what you’ll do once you’re out of debt, you’re not planning far enough ahead. Your spouse needs to see the good stuff that comes AFTER, and the $0 on the balance sheet probably isn’t enough of a reward.
Now when you have the conversation, the debt repayment is an incidental step. “So if we use this couple as a model, we need to save X in the next 3 years to prepare for the trip. That gives us one year to get out of debt, and two to save up.”
Excitement Is The Key
If your spouse isn’t excited, this will never work. New clothes, fancy groceries, and good wine all make you happy NOW. In order to have the discipline to skip them, you need something that overrides the desire.
Saying no to things has to be a game. It’s an in-joke between you and your spouse as you wink and think about the cruise/cottage/boat/whatever you’re going to do later.
A Stronger Relationship
Going through this conversation will expose a lot about you and your partner. Learning each other’s hopes and dreams and making a plan to achieve them together will be a fun, fascinating, journey. Good luck!