First Person: My Spouse Is Irresponsible About Money. What Should I Do?

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COMMENTARY | "Irresponsible! My husband is irresponsible about money." Her opening line. Welcome to my world of budget counseling.

Mathew wasn't in attendance at this session; he was working - "finally." Danica came alone and without the required list of expenses. "He did not put down on the list all the money he spent; I don't think he knows where it went."

My task is simple to state - marital harmony - but it is difficult to achieve. These two need to be on the same track, moving in the same direction. Danica, by her own admission, is the "detail oriented" person in the marriage. She wants to know where the money goes, and this is important to her and to the family because there is very little money available to spend. Both husband and wife have been variously unemployed and underemployed. Danica, the current primary breadwinner, complains that she gives Mathew enough money for the week, money for his gas, money for snack food, money to spend on himself. By Tuesday, the money is gone and not very well accounted for. Mathew hates to ask for more, but he needs to gas up the truck again.

I tell Danica she needs to sit down with Mathew and explain that she wants to give the budget a try, with his input of course. I recommend they have a 20-30 minute meeting each week with the family budget as the only topic. Come together each with an agenda; focus on cooperating; celebrate by doing something fun afterwards.

I give Danica an example from a guy's point of view. In this case the guy does the budgeting, and his wife wants a category for "getting my nails done." The guy can't reckon with spending money on nails (just like his wife can't understand a category for buying beer with his friends while watching a football game). The answer is that each spouse must have access to money which can be spent on whatever he or she wants without having to seek approval from the other. Caution however - don't call it an allowance. Call it "Mathew's money/Danica's money."

The goal is to address the budget so everyone is happy and the budget makes sense given family income and goals. She decides to include "Mathew's money" in the budget. If he spends money on the baby or on groceries or some other budget category, that amount would be reimbursed. Danica says she wants to begin with this approach; she is enthusiastic it will work and definitely worth a try. I tell her that enthusiasm is the key to success. Can't wait until the next session to see how this turns out.

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