Getting Your Spouse on Board with Budgeting

Budgeting with Your Spouse

When Johnny first told me about a budgeting book he was reading, I was all for it. He’d tell me little details here or there, and I’d nod my head in approval to all the wisdom he was gleaning from its crisp pages. Then he sat me down to discuss implementing a strict budget into our daily lives. Even then, it sounded okay. But when it came time to putting it into action, I was no longer on board. This was his dream, not mine. These were his rules, not mine. I grudgingly stuck to the budget because I’d said I would, but I blamed Johnny for sucking all the fun out of my life. After all, it was because of him that we were doing all this in the first place.

Any of this sound familiar? Maybe you’re Johnny in this situation, and your spouse is me. Whatever the case, one of the biggest challenges with budgeting can be getting on the same page as your spouse. For some reason or another, opposites attract, which means oftentimes a saver marries and spender and vice versa. And having different money philosophies can cause big problems. So what do you do when you find yourself in this situation? Every situation is different, but for Johnny and me, here’s what helped us get on the same financial page.

Recognize Each Other’s Strengths

Chances are good that you and your spouse are fairly different. For instance, I tend to be a little more organized than Johnny, so keeping track of our budget is easier for me. BUT (and this is a big but), I am way more compulsive. When it comes to spending money, Johnny thinks through every little purchase and, therefore, rarely makes a regrettable one. So when it comes to keeping track of our spending, I kind of lead that up, reminding Johnny to enter in purchases he’s made. And then Johnny’s job is to talk me off the impulsive spending ledge (usually late at night on Amazon). “Joanna, let’s just go to sleep. I promise that toilet training kit for cats isn’t going to seem like a good idea in the morning.” The point is, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses forwards and backwards, but we try to focus on the strengths and use them to our advantage.


When we first started budgeting, I would get so upset with Johnny because I felt like he was trying to control me. I’d say super mature stuff like, “I’m an adult! I’m not a child!!” and then stick my tongue out at him. We’d then have a passive-aggressive let’s-see-who-can-go-the-longest-without-talking fight. Even though Johnny had only the best intentions with our budgeting, I didn’t respond well to feeling like I was being forced to do something. Budgeting has to be equal. One person can’t be telling the other person what to do. Now we agree to the same budget each month and set rules, and we politely (for the most part) remind each other of those rules. The “Everything Else” portion of our budget really helped ease up the tension, too.

Another key to equality is not keeping track. And I’m not talking about your spending. Sorry, Charlie. I really hope someone named Charlie just read that. I’m talking about the income. There should be no “yours” or “mine.” It’s all “ours.” Johnny makes almost all of our money right now, but he doesn’t have special privileges within our budget because of it. And I didn’t get my personal spending revoked because I’m now a stay-at-home-mom. Keeping track of who is contributing more is never a good idea. Capisce?

Set Goals You Can Both Agree On

One of you may hate budgeting. Maybe even both of you think it’s the devil. And you’d be right. But even if you and/or your spouse doesn’t want to budget, you probably both want the same things from your future. Do you want to be debt free? Do you want to buy a home? Do you want to have enough money for retirement? Do you want to buy a farm with fainting goats? Figure out which similar goals you have for the future. Once you’ve established what you both want, you can then figure out what you’re both willing to do to get there. This was the clincher that finally got me 100% on board with budgeting. It’s still our freaking budget, but now we’re both on the same page because, ultimately, we want the same things from life. And one of the biggest things is financial peace.

That’s our two cents. And for all you not-yet-marrieds out there…

Talk about finances before getting married. There are few topics more important to discuss before you say “I do.”

Anything you’d add to this list? What has helped you and your spouse be a tight financial team?

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  • Reply Retired by 40 August 1, 2014 at 7:36 am

    When we first started budgeting, I was the one on board and he wasn’t. He was very resistant to it at first, but then I realized that because I was handling the bills, he never felt like he got to spend any money! So, I had him sit down and physically pay the bills with me. He would physically write the amounts out of the bank account and write checks and then he understood what it was like to pay bills and have no money…LOL!

    • Reply Joanna August 5, 2014 at 11:34 pm

      Great story! Thanks for sharing. It’s so important for both spouses to realize where all the money’s going!

  • Reply TT August 1, 2014 at 8:23 am

    My wife has always been a little gun-shy with our finances due to past (small) mistakes she made with money before we were married. These experiences have left here very debt averse, which I love. However, they also left her confidence in money management low, so since being married she has always deferred to me to make the bigger picture decisions (budgeting, IRAs, 401ks, debt repayments, etc.) While I appreciate her trust, and I actually enjoy thinking and planning about it all, our financial lives are only getting more complicated, and I just don’t have the time to track everything to the level of detail I think we should. I’ve tried to use different systems, apps, philosophies, but she hasn’t really taken to anything until some new changes we made recently. We’ve been married for a number of years, and only now have we *maybe* found a system for budgeting that she doesn’t mind using/participating in. My suggestion to others would be to keep trying new things. There is no one size fits all budgeting/planning method. Find what works for you, but don’t stop until you find it. Hopefully we can find a way to keep our recent momentum going.

    • Reply Joanna August 5, 2014 at 11:35 pm

      Great advice, TT. So true that there’s no one-size-fits-all plan. We all come from different backgrounds, and we each have different goals we’re working toward. Good luck with your new system!

  • Reply Kristin August 1, 2014 at 9:16 am

    When I wasn’t working, my husband and I took the football approach. His job was to play offense and get the money into the house. My job was to play defense and keep the money in the house. It was a game we played together and it really helped each of us feel like an important part of the process.

    • Reply Joanna August 5, 2014 at 11:37 pm

      Teamwork at its best!

  • Reply J.Mill August 1, 2014 at 9:39 am

    My husband totally tried the kitty potty training kit! I was appalled at the process and hated relinquishing our second bathroom to two messy fur balls (litter is still involved! ew!) Luckily/Unluckily, one cat got it and the other didn’t, so we quit after a couple weeks.

    • Reply Joanna August 5, 2014 at 11:38 pm

      Haha, that cracks me up. I really wanted to try it when we first got our cat, but Johnny totally refused. We lived in NYC at the time, so we only had one bathroom… looking back, it was probably not one of my best ideas! 🙂

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone August 1, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Hubs rolled his eyes a bit when the budget first came about, but quickly adapted to it. Once he figured out that he could still do whatever he wanted, and the budget was just forcing him to truly think about the value of purchases before he made them, he was totally on board. He likes it now because he sees how much money we’re saving, and he sees how much money most of our friends and family waste. It was actually a pretty easy transition!

    • Reply Joanna August 5, 2014 at 11:39 pm

      That’s awesome, Becky! I was the same…. once I saw the money we could save, I was totally on board. Great job to both of you!

  • Reply Alicia August 1, 2014 at 11:50 am

    I am currently engaged, so this post is really helpful! I think for the most part we’re on the same page for long term goals, but I think the day to day stuff can really differ. Also, the equality thing will be hard for me; my fiance makes about twice as much as me right now, I know he doesn’t mind paying for stuff, but I feel guilty about it! Maybe that would change if our money’s together…but in the meantime I guess I should just try to find a job making more $$!

    • Reply Joanna August 5, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      I know it feels unequal now, but once you guys are married and there’s no longer “yours” or “mine,” I bet the equality thing will come more easily than you think!

  • Reply Michael August 1, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    All great points. I feel so bad for the people who call into the Dave Ramsey show who are trying to improve their family’s financial situation and their spouses aren’t at all interested. What a horribly sad situation to be in.

    My wife is a CPA. She’s the saver. I’m the spender. But surprisingly I’ve been spearheading our get out of debt journey (we only had our cars, which are now paid off, and our house). So things have worked out fairly well for us.

    • Reply Joanna August 5, 2014 at 11:43 pm

      Awesome, Michael. As a fellow spender, I’m super impressed you’re pushing to get you guys out of debt! Way to go.

  • Reply Courtney August 1, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I’ve been budgeting successfully for just about a year now – for most of that year I didn’t ask for my boyfriend to participate at all. We lived together, but we split shared expenses 50/50. His curiosity eventually got the better of him and he started asking questions about how the budget worked, how much I had saved, etc., but always finishing it up with “Wow! I could never do anything like that”. I never pushed him – I did my best to show him the bright side of having a budget (going out to dinner guilt fee seemed to be a big eye opener for him), and explaining my plans for the future once I was debt free. I talked about how I would like to eventually combine our finances (we’ve been dating for 10 years and own a house together) but I never put a timeline on it.

    The tipping point finally came one day out of the blue – he called me on the phone and announced that he was ready to “take the budget plunge”. He had watched his family struggle financially his entire life, making the same mistakes over and over again. He decided that he didn’t want to end up like that. We have now been sharing our budget for approximately four months. It hasn’t all been easy, but having weekly budget meetings, sharing common goals and paying down our debt together has made us a much stronger team.

    • Reply Joanna August 5, 2014 at 11:45 pm

      Love your story, Courtney! It sounds like you were just the kind of person your boyfriend needed to finally get on board. Way to stick to your budgeting guns!!

  • Reply Bethany August 1, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    What financial topics would you consider key points in talking about finances before marriage?

    • Reply Joanna August 6, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Good question! We did a post about that very thing today! Hopefully the post and others’ comments help answer your question :).

  • Reply jolie August 3, 2014 at 10:59 am

    I have been trying (wishing, hoping, dreaming) that hubby would get on board some form of budget train for 6 years now. No luck. He is a head in the sand and won’t talk about anything money related, planning ahead, goals. While I certainly wasn’t financially aware at the start of our relationship, I am glad I am finally starting to get it. Not having two people willing to communicate about money is so unhealthy for a relationship.

    • Reply Joanna August 6, 2014 at 10:35 am

      That’s frustrating! Keep trying different stuff, and hopefully something will finally click. Way to go on pushing forward on your own!

  • Reply Tony Evans August 4, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Really great blog. My business specialises in budgeting, cashflow and debt management (in Australia) and I couldn’t agree more with all your points. Budgets aren’t actually restrictive – they should liberate you to spend in an informed way with the understanding that you are on track towards your financial goals

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