Why We Don't Save #4: "My partner won't budget."
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Welcome to our series: Why We Don’t Save – a breakdown of the six most common reasons people put off starting their financial journey.
Are they legit? Do you feel personally attacked? Stay tuned for a new post in this series every month!
Trying to get your partner on board with your budget can be frustrating to say the least. At its worst it can spark fights, dissolve communication, and lead to divorce.
“I really want to start budgeting and saving more, but my partner flat out refuses to participate. We share an account, so it’s month-to-monthally impossible to do it by myself."
So why on earth would you bother?
Because addressing your financial communication is a vital part of your financial future. It’s always better to be on the same page.
So what do you do when your partner won’t budget?
Remember: Money is emotional.
When one partner is already bought-in on budgeting, it can feel like a one-sided discussion. A large difference in income can lead to very different expectations around responsibility for specific expenses.
When your finances are combined in one account and nothing is tracked – there isn’t much friction.
Money comes in, money goes out.
As long as there’s a little leftover at the end of the month – who cares?
But when you start to think about how much to spend on what (and who should pay, if necessary), things can get tricky.
Your partner may shut down because they feel defensive or excluded from the process. Or they may not agree with the goals you’ve set out.
It can feel like budgeting with a brick wall.
The most important thing is to listen if they do open up about why they aren’t keen on creating a budget. Their reasons may not be what you expect.
Defensive – Your partner feels blamed or picked on.
Solution: Avoid harping on mistakes made in the past and emphasize steps you can take together. Focus on the future and diffuse negativity when it arises – especially if it’s coming from you.
Excluded – Your partner feels controlled, not involved, or resents being told what to do.
Solution: Re-start the process together. Set a date to sit down to assess the situation side-by-side, and make sure to give them space to contribute to the goals and conversation. This is their budget, too!
Oblivious – Your partner doesn’t see a reason to change the status quo.
Solution: Remind them of wishes they’ve made in the past – a vacation, retirement, or large purchase – and paint them a picture of reaching that goal. Suggest small steps they can take towards milestones they’re actually interested in.
Scared – Your partner believes it will be too difficult, and not worth the effort.
Solution: Model the behavior you want to see by creating and following a budget for a few months on your own. If they do decide to follow in your footsteps, consider small changes a win.
No matter the cause of their reticence, remember that you can’t control your partner. You can only present them with options and explain your own desires.
Practice damage control.
Budgeting for two can be hard – but it’s not pointless. And it’s absolutely doable!
Simply set up a budget with your existing accounts and do your best guess of where the money will go. There will be some variability, because you can’t predict what your partner will spend. But you can start gathering information by logging the spending you find on your online banking account.
Here’s how to set up a budget without your parter:
- Create a budget.
- Add additional accounts if you have them.
- Add a special category for your partner's miscellaneous spending. This is where you’ll put any spending you see from your partner that doesn’t fit into your existing categories – including cash withdrawals, since you can’t know how the cash will be spent.
- I repeat: Do not try to track your partner’s cash spending. It’s a losing battle.
- Once a day, log into your online bank account and record any new transactions into your budget.
- Focus on keeping the balance of your account up-to-date, and don’t be afraid to start over if you need to.
Just make sure you move anything you manage to save out of any shared checking accounts, so that your partner doesn’t unwittingly spend it!
Dividing your money into envelopes is only part of the solution. It’s essentially giving yourself an allowance, but for every category of spending. If you have the financial impulse control of a child, the solution is not to treat yourself like a child. The solution is to grow up.
Why An All-Cash Budget Is A Bad Idea (And What To Do Instead)
It may be frustrating at first, but the benefits will be concrete:
- Better understanding of your expenses
- More money saved
- Spending re-aligned with your values
- Actions that are 100% within your control, and not reliant on your partner
If you keep separate accounts, then there’s nothing at all stopping you from setting up a budget and tracking your expenses. Just track money coming in and going out of your account. It might help to find a friend to help support you emotionally, but you can always go it alone.
When we talk to each other, we share information. The more information we have, the better informed our decisions (and spending!) will be.
Finding Your Financial Community
Your partner shouldn’t hold you back.
Regardless of the approach you take, you should try budgeting for one simple reason:
Your partner doesn’t control you. Don’t let them limit you, either.
Of course we all make sacrifices for our relationships, but these are made out of mutual respect and shared values. If you want to try something that doesn’t involve your partner – you should give it a go!
If they can’t respect that, they they don’t respect you.