Dear Dr. Chani,
My wife is a habitual spender. Money never burns a hole in her pocket. She consistently wastes our money on unimportant things. We were in debt early on in our marriage and I never want to go back there again. I explained to my wife that I have worked hard to get us to a point of financial stability and we need to continue being responsible. Yet, she seems to be oblivious to my concerns.
When I see what she brings home or I review our credit card statement, I am astounded by her runaway spending. She indulges in daily ice coffees, buys lots of clothes online, and gives frequent donations to every charity under the sun. She acts as if we have a money faucet that supplies an endless stream of dollars.
The truth is I work very hard to give my wife and children a comfortable life. But I never really feel totally secure at my job. There is always an undercurrent of anxiety beneath my confident attitude at work. Even when I get compliments or my work is acknowledged, I am always afraid that I could lose my job at any point. I shield my wife from my worries at work since I know she cannot handle it.
My wife has mentioned to me that she never wants to feel that she cannot spend money. She enjoys being able to buy what she wants or give money to whomever she wants, and she views it as my job to make the money for the family. That was her vision of what our life would be like when she married me.
I understand that my wife expects me to support our family, but I do not think she realizes how hard it is to earn money. She also does not realize that we need to save money for our future. I am fighting a losing battle to build up the balance in our bank account while I watch it dwindle down until we do not have anything to save for a rainy day.
What can I do to change my wife’s spending habits and get her to be more responsible about money?
Money is one of the hot buttons that tend to trigger people in relationships. Even though it may seem like everyone understands the value of money, people have different approaches to how to get it, spend it, and save it. You are struggling with your wife about all three.
It is difficult to feel that you and your wife are not on the same page about how to approach money. This perpetual conflict is not possible to sweep under the rug since it comes up all of the time. So how can you get to a point where you and your wife both feel comfortable with one another’s approach?
The first step is to think about your own past experiences with money and how these influence your current attitude and practices. Ask yourself the following questions: What was your experience with money growing up? How did each of your parents model an approach to money? How is your approach similar or different than each of your parent’s approaches?
As you explore your history with money, it can help you understand what money represents to you and some of your reactions in this situation. For example, it sounds like you associate money with a feeling of security and stability. You value the money you earn as a way of providing your family with a comfortable life and a reservoir to ensure a secure future. This attitude motivates you to use your money judiciously and save it over time.
If you consider your own feelings about money, it makes a lot of sense for you to be concerned about your wife’s attitudes and habits. In a similar way, this might help you make inroads in this issue with your wife. You have desperately wished that you could change her, yet so far nothing has worked. It may help you to deeply understand your wife’s approach to money and why it differs from yours.
When her spending baffles you, ask yourself what motivates your wife to spend money in this way? Reflect on the questions you asked yourself about your experiences with money while growing up and ask yourself how they apply to your wife. Think about why your wife “never wants to feel that she cannot spend money.” Where might this feeling come from? Ask yourself: What does money mean to her? What does she view as the value of money?
After you have invested much thought into understanding the differences between what money means to you and your wife, seek a pleasant opportunity to discuss this topic together. You might share with your wife some of your own life experiences that you feel have shaped your views on money. You can explain to her what money means to you and how it affects your approach to it. This level of conversation goes deeper than telling her your opinions about her spending. The spotlight is on you, not her. Giving her a window into your mind can help her to understand you, and to understand where your concerns about money come from.
If your wife seems ready, ask her if she feels comfortable thinking about where her approach to money comes from. You might ask her some of the questions you pondered about in your mind before your conversation. Be curious and keep an open mind about what she will say. You might be surprised to discover a new understanding of your wife’s approach to money that shifts your view about her spending. Yet, if you find that it is too difficult to discuss this topic with your wife, seek a therapist who can help you through this process.
It may take many conversations over time until you feel that you and your wife deeply understand each other’s attitudes about money and you find a balance between your approaches that feels comfortable. I hope that you go so far as to develop enough trust in your wife that you can also express your anxieties about work to her so that she can support you. Going beyond the practical aspects of your wife’s spending habits and sharing deep, personal conversations about money, can not only improve your account balance, but it can make your relationship richer for many years to come.
Wishing you much success,