Not a good outcome....

I’m felling pretty low right now. I’ve been managing, or struggling with,  “the bills” for 23 years.  I tried to open yet another a discussion with my wife tonight about our finances.  It went downhill from there. We didn’t fight, but she got pretty upset.

I’ve been tracking my spending for four years now with YNAB. I decided to, once again, start over and have been re-listening to the podcasts and watching the YouTube lessons. So, this afternoon I started going through my YNAB data and  listing all of our True Expenses - all of them. The raw numbers gave us less than $400 a month for groceries, household expenses, etc. for a family of three (the oldest just left for college).

The discussion devolved into “I feel I can’t even buy a cup of coffee” and “ We will never be out of debt, it’s just a fact of life” and “I’ll have to get a third job, then” and “I want to enjoy life.”

I feel we make good money but our monthly over spending  is covered by credit. More than a quarter of our monthly income goes to servicing that debt. Add in the mortgage and it’s over 50%.

I’m not sure how to get her on board. I tried every positive  term like “We need to make better choices” and “We can do that, we just need to set our priorities” and “ but this helps us makes sure the money is there when we DO want to spend it.” Sigh.

Should I be a hard ass and just tell her “We have no money for …” if the  category is empty? It’s been a rough year.

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  • I don't know if this will actually help or cause more problems, as my husband and I have a unique relationship (as do you and your wife), but I found talking about things at the time of deciding to make the purchase to be helpful. "We don't have any more budgeted for coffee this month. Where do you want that money to come from?" 

    Then, if she doesn't have a where in mind, you could suggest a couple options: "There's this category or that category that look like they have extra money right now, but that means we won't have money to do x if it comes up."  Leaving off the "but that means we won't have money for x" might help, also - that might have caused more issues than it solved.

    (For him, it was smart light bulbs and eating out. Now, when he suggests eating out, he preempts the conversation himself: "You can take the money out of my discretionary," usually. Or he'll ask if we have the money for it, and where we can get the money from if there's not in the category.)

    You clearly need to get your wife on board with a plan, whatever that plan is. And you need to think about what your options are and what you are going to do if either she's not willing to get on board with a plan, or if her plan is not one you're comfortable with and you can't reach a compromise. 

    Like 4
    • This method, of asking in the moment, has worked well in my house as well. I've noticed lots of benefits:

      1. It takes some of the financial decision making stress off of me, which means that I go into larger conversations about money in less of a defensive position.
      2. It brings my partner on board with the four rules of YNAB in tiny, bite-size pieces (i.e. Yes! Let's figure out how you can get that cup of coffee. Where should we move it from?)
      3. Each of these small, low-stakes, questions are training for larger, more emotional conversations about money. They are practice. "Look how we handled that discussion about $7 so positively! Next time it will be about $9. That will be ok, too. Jumping into big picture financial questions without being able to handle tiny ones is a bit like running a marathon without any training. Start small. Work up. 
      Like 2
    • Fuzzball Meows I just wish I were there in the moment of deciding.  My husband orders stuff while I'm sleeping. 

      Like 1
    • Orange Clarinet Yes! In those cases in my house, the moment is when the transaction imports.

      Like 1
    • Orange Clarinet Luckily (for some definition of luckily - cancer is not fun, 0/10 do not recommend), my husband sleeps way more than I do. Plus, he's the saver in the relationship. 

      Mostly he just wants to buy take out. 

      Like 3
  • Do you have a plan to get out of debt? Are you currently paying more than the minimum on any of your debts? Or are you adding to your debt every month?

    Maybe your wife would be on board if you could show her for how long she would have to restrain on buying coffee (etc.). It's not just "we can't buy coffee", it's "if we don't buy coffee now for X amount of time, we could buy coffee and cake for the rest of our life after that".  So have you tried to give her a plan, a timeline and an idea of what life would look like after?

    I know my husband is not at all on board with the everyday details but the overall picture and our big goals are important. If I tell him, we aren't doing great towards our goals, he will spend less for a while. We also agreed on more direct goals: we won't buy much take-away so that we can spend more freely during holidays (and go away more often when we aren't in a pandemic 🙂).

    Like 1
    • I really love this strategy. I'm the spender in my marriage and it wasn't until my husband and I sat down together to create a debt pay down plan that I felt a light at the end of the tunnel and felt like we were a real team. I haven't been perfect along the journey, but I also don't feel the shame and restriction around money that I used to feel. Our language around money and the way we treat each other has changed as we've made more mutual decisions, too. I can empathize with where both you and your wife are now! ❤️

      I wonder if doing the next Debt Bootcamp together as a team could be a way to get on the same page? That way, you both have a stake, a mutual starting place, and a say in the plan.

      Like 1
  • Based on what you wrote, it sounds like either some serious self-discipline needs to be applied to unnecessary spending habits, or your income needs to be increased.  If your monthly overspending is coming from unnecessary purchases (wants), then discipline is in order.  If the overspending is from needed living expenses such as groceries, utilities, mortgage, etc (needs), then you may have an income problem.  

    Here's a question for you:  if, right this minute, all your debt was erased except for your mortgage, could your family live reasonably comfortably just on what you and your wife make working at one job each?

    Like 2
  • WELL!

    After  our "discussion" we talked more about the next morning before I left for work. Thursday is payday, so when we got home I explained The First Rule, started a New Budget and I had her "give every dollar a job." 

    "So we can't go to dinner tonight?" It's was "Forever Family Day" in our house - the day we adopted our youngest. "Of course we can, how much do we think we'll spend? Give that money a job in the Dining Out category."


    And so we went category by category: groceries, gas for the car, gifts (we have an upcoming wedding to attend), fun money to go out with her friends. "Why is there a 'Rob's Allowance' and not a 'Margaret's Allowance'?"  "Because I'm the one with a spending problem."

    So, things are peaceful. When she gets home tonight we need to Roll With The Punches as we spent $3.10 more than we budgeted for dinner last night.

    Like 14
    • Robert Carignan Way to dive back in!! I love this.

      • MXMOM
      • MXMOM
      • 4 mths ago
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      Robert Carignan happy (belated) Forever Family Day. 

      Like 1
  • Hi. First of all, we get it. Many of us have been there. 

    I also tracked for years, asked for details of every expenditure, complained and said we had no money. We were in counseling and the therapist said to my husband “ why not just sit down and try a budget meeting” or the way I heard it “just do it, that’ll shut her up”. So we did. Now I am an accountant. I am anal. And I am demanding. So I had to change my approach as well.  Loosen things up money wise. We went through every line of what we spend on (on paper not in some software he doesn’t understand). So we had the big ones - mortgage, groceries, etc.

     Then we had “his” categories- coffee truck, golf, beer, spending (what ? Spending. Isn’t that what all those other things are). and I asked him (not told him) how much he needed in those categories. 😱 it was so much. But I didn’t flinch. We went through the budget (this was pre YNAB) planning for all our expenses based on our income for the month.

    And we paid cash. For pretty much everything. Walked around with envelopes like old ladies. that was a big thing. Not using credit cards. For almost a year. 

    But it worked. Because I didn’t say no. I didn’t question. I just took out the agreed amount and no questions asked, handed it over. That was so freeing for him. No more nagging. 
    For me, not so great but I had to loosen the purse strings to get this to work. 

    Then we started using YNAB. Well I started using YNAB. I am the administrator. He just got his money and knew how much to spend.  I created BROAD categories like Home Depot where I didn’t chase him down for the precise breakdown of every transaction. 
    then we put the app on his phone. He could see his spending amount (aka budget). As long as he spend within that, no questions asked because we had already agreed to the amount.  

    Next came talking about goals and feeling broke and wanting to do nice things. Well we could do that. We would have to make a few changes. $5 here. $20 there. But now there was a reason. A new car. Travel. 

    Then he started entering things in YNAB. It was so easy. A couple of taps and it was done.

    it was hard. But it was worth it.  But I had to stop trying to get him on the program. Do things my way. I had to be more flexible. And spend money on stupid things that weren’t important to me. But are important to him. 
    It sounds like your last talk went well. But you also can’t be throwing the lingo at her. We get it. It’s exciting. It makes sense. We want to tell everyone. But you can’t throw it all at her at once. 
    i recently wrote a post in YNAB wins about how far we have come. I will try to link it here. 
    i also recommend the book Your Money or Your Life. It’s a good one. Old but still relevant. 

    Like 5
  • I think it will be best to adjust your lifestyle to your available budget rather than adjusting your life because of the limited budget you have. Prioritize your needs first and cut off on some unimportant stuff. That will make a massive difference on your life, I really promise that.

  • I am no expert in handling familial finances, but what I do know is that you should be more open to her. I don’t think now is the greatest time to hide your current conditions just because you don’t want her to worry.

  • I've been using YNAB for about 8 years now (started on the Classic version!), and I've been the one to drag my BF along with him, hell or high water. In the beginning when we first got together he refused to allow me access to his accounts. I ended up with access to his checking account because of how we set up our business account (I HAD to be able to have access to that... so by proxy I could see his checking account!), and that at least got me a foot in the door. I would get the credit card statements and nearly have a panic attack at the balances. We got a consolidation loan together, almost $10000.00 to be paid off in 5 years. I was tracking everything I had, and slowly figuring things out. He still wouldn't let me have his passwords for a long time. I was freaking out because what I could see was SEVERAL hundred dollars EVERY month going down the drain with his spending while he was working (he has always been in a truck, so he's had access to convenience stores and fast food...) it was AWFUL. A small mortgage payment every month going down the tubes at McDonalds and 7-11. Then there was the spending... the purchases at amazon for I don't even know what anymore. He doesn't remember either. None of it was memorable. Or all that useful in the long run. More money washed away every month.

    FINALLY he let me have access to his credit cards. I also FINALLY learned that I just couldn't make him wrong for whatever he bought. I needed to know how to categorize things, but beyond that, I had to let it go. If I didn't make him wrong it helped to interrupt the shame cycle of spending. It didn't stop it, but it would at least keep it from spiraling as far out of control. Then I was able to start talking to him about just how much he was spending out while working.... mostly in a "Did you know..." kind of way. No, he didn't know, he had no idea. He was flabbergasted and shocked. That didn't stop it, but it brought awareness. NONE of this can chance without awareness.

    Finally I began to make some headway with him, and we started to get things a little better organized, slowing the spending a little bit more. Then we were told we had to move off the farm we were renting where I was running a business. It was going to mean losing $2000 worth of income per month that I couldn't magically replace. It also meant he was suddenly responsible for the entire mortgage (he had only been responsible for $400 of the rent, since the business covered the rest) and the power bill. HUGE wake up call for him.

    I crunched the numbers (because that's what I do) and I realized we could do it on exactly the amount of money we had. But we would need to curb some spending. And we were able to do it. Not only have we been able to do it, but December will be our 4th anniversary in this house, and he now has $10,000 in his savings account pretty much ALL the time. His net worth has risen $16,000 since we moved into the house.

    He still doesn't go into YNAB. He still doesn't check the categories. But now he knows that when he mentions wanting to buy something I'll tell him, sure, but I'm going to need to move funds from somewhere else, where would you like me to move them? He doesn't really know where his money goes, but he knows that I'm working on getting things organized. I've been able to show him where I have built up categories so we can easily pay for things (surprise medical bill, no problem!), and he likes that. We talked again about sitting down together and going over the budget so he better understands. His pay check automatically puts $200 into the savings account, and he asked me if that money was set aside. I said, well, no, not specifically, but here IS what I do with your money - and showed him all the categories that get funded every month now that we have more breathing room, medical, clothing, car repairs, alcohol purchases, etc, etc, etc, so that there's money there and we don't end up going into the red every month.

    It IS possible to do this even if your spouse/partner isn't fully into YNAB and doesn't geek out on the numbers (come here and geek out with us instead!). It IS possible to help them through some of the anxiety about money, and the fear that "it will always be this way". It takes patience, kindness, love, and baby steps to get there. And you will get there!

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