What To Do When Your Partner Sucks At Money

By Breena Fain
August 26, 2016

Until a few years ago, I sucked at my finances. I had zero savings, a bad case of retail therapy, and a haunting credit card balance. I was buried under student loans, and my debt became all-consuming. It destroyed my confidence, my opportunities and my ability to see past the next paycheck. It even affected my relationships.

It’s no secret that money is the leading cause of stress in a relationship. Even when both partners are good at managing money, there is still anxiety around joint finances. Who makes more money? Who spends more? How do you each contribute to shared expenses? The mental accounting can be overwhelming, especially if you’re in a relationship with someone who utterly sucks at managing his or her money.

Fortunately, I had a turnaround. While my finances were nearing rock bottom, my career was taking off. It motivated me to finally climb out of the dark spending hole I had dug and I learned how to live below my means. I couldn’t have done it alone though. Fortunately, I’m now in a relationship with someone who inspires me to be better with my money every day. He’s a saver who makes frugal purchase decisions, doesn’t let emotions impact his financial choices, and supports me as a true partner in achieving my financial goals.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who sucks at money, there’s hope. Here’s what I learned along the way about the best approach to helping your partner get better at money.

1. Reaffirm your partnership.

According to a study conducted by CreditCards.com, 20% of spouses have hidden more than $500 in spending from their significant other. If your partner is hiding money out of embarrassment or shame for their poor money choices, the first step is to let them know you’re on the same team. Show them you’re there to help in a way that’s supportive, not judgmental. After all, you’re partners, right? By establishing that you share the same goals, you can help one another stay accountable to achieving them by working together on areas that need improvement.

2. Get to know their money challenges.

What is the root cause of your partner’s money problems? Does she have student loan debt racked up or unpaid bills? Is he guilty of emotional spending? Take time to uncover your partner’s financial history, patterns, and challenges. From my own personal experience, money issues are rarely superficial. They’re often tied to deeper emotional issues.The discovery process will take time. It will not happen over one conversation at dinner. You’ll need to consistently communicate your support and commitment to helping them uncover and tackle their money challenges together.

3. Create a shared budget.

Once you’ve clearly established you’re in this together, next make sure you have clarity about your shared goals and a budget for how to get there. Take the time to walk your partner through your money management process and tools. Give them plenty of opportunities to ask questions so that they are comfortable with the process, and work together to create a budget that reflects your combined income, spending, and saving. Keep in mind that exposing all of the details of their financial life could be a very vulnerable experience for your partner. Be supportive and help your partner stay focused on the end goal of what you want to achieve together.

4. Use expert resources.

Taking the lead role in your joint finances can put a lopsided strain on your relationship. If you want to avoid being the money coach, there are plenty of resources to help your partner develop their personal finance acumen. You can subscribe to podcasts or read books that are both informative and engaging. Make it a joint effort and keep it budget-friendly by visiting your local library to check out some financial books you can read together. By participating with your partner you’ll show him or her that this is a shared journey and an opportunity for you both to learn.

5. Schedule regular check-ins.

Money management takes time, and spenders typically go through waves. It’s important that you schedule a regular check-in to see how things are going. Let your partner set the schedule and give them as much control as possible. Make it a judgment-free zone. Be supportive and use positive reinforcement. Stay focused on goals and explore solutions together. Remember your partner is an adult–if you want this to work, they need feel ownership of your shared goals and the plan to get there.

Have other tips on how you and your partner achieved financial success together? I’d love to hear your tips! Share them in the comments below or reach out on Twitter.

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