Dear Penny: My Husband’s Overspending Is Destroying Our Finances

A man sadly watches money fly out of his wallet.
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Dear Penny,

I know what needs to be done in order to catch up and get ahead on my bills, debt and emergency savings, and I know how to do it. My problem is my husband.

I can't seem to get him to understand our money problems and be disciplined enough to make changes in his spending. I have made lists, presented evidence, reminded him that small expenses — like subscriptions, fees, late charges and overdraft charges — all add up.

I've showed him what we could have bought or paid off if we didn't waste money on stupid fees. I've tried to point out that food for the family is more important than cable or something similar, but it doesn't change his thinking or his spending.

I know I am not alone in this frustrating situation. Any tips or ideas?


Dear A.,

You must feel like you’re talking to a wall whenever you want to discuss finances. A very expensive wall.

It sounds like you’re doing everything right by presenting evidence and making the case for cutting back. But since your message isn’t getting through, it might be time to take a few steps back and explore a new approach.

Have you asked questions when you talk about money with your husband, or do you just charge ahead, spreadsheets a-blazing?

Try starting the conversation with something like, “I know we’ve talked about trying to save money before, and you probably remember that I have a lot of ideas for how we can go about it. But I want to learn from you: What are your priorities when it comes to money?”

Even if you’ve argued about this a dozen times before, approaching your husband again with curiosity and a genuine desire to learn can help get you started — and on the right foot this time.

The answers might surprise you. Your husband might say that he thinks cable is worth having in exchange for spending less money on nights out, for example. Or he might reveal that he’d love to avoid paying the late fee on a certain bill, but he can’t figure out how to set up autopay without getting frustrated and giving up — we’ve all been there.  

You may think some of his justifications are dumb or that his priorities are off-base. But that doesn’t make his thoughts less valid. Investigating his point of view should help you identify areas where you agree, as well as areas that might be lost causes.

It’s also important to highlight the “why” as much as the “how.” If you aren’t unified in your goals for saving money, you’re going to be at odds trying to make those changes happen.

It’s only then that you can start re-examining a game plan for your family’s finances. He may be willing to let you take the reins of accounts and subscriptions if he doesn’t have the patience to nickel and dime them.

But you, the go-getter, will not know how to proceed productively until you get to the core of what motivates (and demotivates) your husband.

Have a tricky money question? Write to Dear Penny and you might see your question answered in an upcoming column.

Lisa Rowan is a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, and the voice behind Dear Penny.