Can’t Agree on Finances? Here’s a Process for That


can't agree on financesThe scene is always the same.

Your spouse wants to spend. You want to save.

Then it comes to blows and you find yourself wishing for a magic pill that would make your spouse agree with you about financial matters.

You could crush it up in their morning coffee and all would be right in your world.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

How to get your spouse on board.

We had a request from a reader asking that we write an article on how to get your spouse on board with a frugal lifestyle.

This is a critical question, because many people deal with toxic money disputes within their marriage. These often create ongoing tension and sometimes even lead to divorce.

As much as I would like to hand over the magic pill to a one-track-mind kind of marriage that includes joint goals for spending, saving, and investing, it simply doesn’t exist.

What does exist is the ability to change.

Change requires time, hard work, persistence, and patience.

But, like most things that are tough, it will be worth it.

I read about this strategy in a book called Facilitating Financial Health by Brad Klontz, Psy.D, Rick Kahler, CFP, and Ted Klontz, Ph.D.

The book is a tool for financial planners, coaches, and therapists to facilitate financial health in their clients. In Chapter 4, “Helping Clients Change: What Works and What Doesn’t” they cover how to facilitate change in resistant clients.

According to their research, “Of the people who are in need of changing things in their lives, research shows that only one in every five is actually ready to do what is necessary to make such changes.”

One in five?! That’s only 20%.

So maybe your spouse is that 20% that is ready to change their lifestyle and join you on the path to financial freedom.

Or maybe they’re not.

Based on those numbers, it’s far more likely that your spouse is one of the 80% that desperately needs to change, but for whatever reason, won’t.

At first, this seems discouraging and you find yourself daydreaming about the magic pill again.

But, the research in this book offers a slice of hope.

That hope comes in the form of a 5 part strategy dutifully deemed, “The Change Process.”

Does it really work?

Ok, ok. So there is research and a method for encouraging change. Of course there is. There is clinical process for everything.

But, does it really work?

That is a great question.

My answer is this.

Ever since the birth of Cash Cow Couple, Jacob and I have been on the same page financially. We have joint goals and we are determined to live a frugal and blissfully simple life.

However, we haven’t always been financially in-sync.

Jacob is a saver by nature. It’s against his being to participate in wastefulness. Not a dime shall be squandered!

Me? Not so much. At least not when we first started dating.

While he was living at home for free, hypermiling, and saving money on just about everything before we were married, I was living the high life on-campus, paying off a stupid loan on a car that should have been bought with cash, and opting for restaurant meals instead of those produced at home.

Jacob had some work to do…

So without coercion, blunt force, or even a magic pill, he began to persuade me until I became a full blown frugal convert.

(Disclaimer: Jacob didn’t use this exact method on me, as he wasn’t aware of it at the time. However, we did go through these stages, one painful step at a time, and I believe you will have a better chance at persuading your spouse using this tactic.)

I’ve broken the process down into what Jacob did to facilitate my change and my reactions to his prodding.

The Change Process

Stage 1: “Pre-contemplation. At this point, clients [your spouse] don’t know or believe they have a problem. They simply don’t know what they don’t know…The only problem they see is the problem of people like their spouses or facilitators bugging them about changing. This stage may also be described as ‘denial.’”

Jacob’s action: Jacob was always excited about saving money. He talked about it continuously. He would always talk about new things that he was learning, or big ideas in working toward financial freedom.

My reaction: Hearing Jacob talk about his money saving fantasies was entertaining, but I had no intention of joining him.  I was in denial about my lifestyle. I felt very entitled to my apartment away from home and going out to eat, on vacation, and shopping whenever I pleased.

Stage 2: “ Contemplation. At this stage, clients acknowledge that there may be a problem…At the same time, they are still quite ambivalent about change, not totally sold on the fact that they really need to change or whether it will be worth the effort.”

Jacob’s action: Continues to share ways that he and I can s.ave money

My reaction: As I was around Jacob and his money saving obsession, I began to question if my spendy lifestyle was really worth it. I had stress over whether or not my paycheck would cover my living expenses, and I noticed how nice it must be for him to not have to worry about money. Watching him be careful with his money peaked my interest, because I could see the benefit of less stress and more money in the bank.

The way I began to see it, living without a few of my luxuries might be worth it, especially if it meant not worrying about being broke.

Stage 3: “Preparation. This is the stage when clients make a commitment to change…They move from gathering information about the problem to gathering information about appropriate actions they might take to solve it.”

Jacob’s action: Jacob starts suggesting that I change a few things in my life. He made it clear that it was how he planned to operate his own financial life, and that if we were to get married, things would have to be resolved.

My reaction: With a fairly bad attitude, I began to think about ways to cut my expenses. I realized that his way of saving was better than mine of spending, but I was definitely not happy about changing.

Stage 4: “Action: [This stage] involves a client able to implement and carry through with a plan for change…This stage takes the most time, commitment, and energy…”

Jacob’s action: Whenever we were together, we followed the rules of frugality. Free entertainment and BOGO coupons for dates, hypermiling tutorials, and the mall was for window shopping only. Jacob would also hold me accountable for the things I said I was going to change.

My reaction: When I went through stage 4, I wanted to have a backup plan. I didn’t change everything at once. First, I started small. I stopped buying clothes and crap I didn’t need, but I didn’t stop going out to eat. That came with time, but not at first. It was the hardest part for me to forfeit.

(HINT: You’ll know your spouse is in this stage when they make small changes. When you see that change, I know you’ll be excited. You’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. You might feel the urge to push your spouse to change more, but I caution you to not push too hard.

If you notice a small change, praise them for it. Then, very carefully, bring up the idea of changing something else.

Don’t make a plan for changing EVERYTHING. Simply encourage them to change ONE more thing. Changing everything can be overwhelming, while changing one new thing can be exciting and challenging.)

Stage 5: “Maintenance. At this stage, clients are learning how to consolidate new behaviors and make them a part of their lives…Relapse, or falling back to old behaviors, is a normal occurrence during the maintenance phase. The facilitator needs to anticipate this and help clients understand it is quite normal and to be expected along the route to any permanent behavioral change.”

Jacob’s action: Continued to be a frugal fanatic and invited me to join him on a daily basis.

My reaction: I started to love being uber-frugal. I loved the feeling of being stress free and content. I also like the challenge of saving as much as possible. But let me tell you. Relapse happens. In fact, just the other day, I impulse bought some jewelry that was not on sale. Who knows what I was thinking. I just picked it up and checked out, both mentally and at the counter.

Jacob didn’t get mad. He didn’t say a word, which is his way of saying, “…don’t do it again.”

(HINT:Being a gracious spouse when your other half screws up will not only make you Spouse-of-the-Year, but will also have a positive effect on your spouse’s behavior.)

Once you go through this process with your spouse, you’ll most likely have to repeat it a few times in different areas of their financial life. Just be patient, gracious, and persistent. (and if you find a magic pill, let us know!)

This change process takes time, but great things can come out of it. What do you think? Will you try it out in your home?

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