Financial Struggle

(Sharon Dominick Photography 2006)

Help! My Spouse's Spending is Out of Control

By Lifestyle and Budget MoneyRates.com

You're a saver. Your spouse is a spender -- maybe even a big-time spender. Is your marriage doomed?

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Not necessarily.

Financial experts say that communication is the key to crafting a successful marriage -- even when one spouse would rather sock away money and the other prefers to spend it until it's gone. The worst case? When the spending spouse and the saver don't talk about their financial issues until a giant credit-card bill forces them to address the problem.

"It's all about communication," says Leslie Tayne, founder of Tayne Law Group, PC, a law firm based in the New York City area that specializes in debt assistance. "Too often, spouses hide their spending because they don't want to deal with the repercussions. The other spouse is taken by surprise when they receive this huge credit-card bill. That's not the way to handle the situation. This can put great stress on a marriage."

The better approach? Spouses need to talk out their financial problems before they can resolve them. And those spouses who are spending so much that they're building an insurmountable pile of debt? They need to identify why they are spending so much and take steps to stop their dangerous financial behavior.

The Power of Communication

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Tayne suggests that married couples meet once a week for an hour or so to discuss finances. This holds true even if spouses generally agree on how money should be spent. In cases where one spouse wants to spend more than a partner is comfortable with, these meetings become even more important. If both spouses are honest during the discussions, there at least won't be any surprises on future credit-card bills.

But what of those spouses who hide their spending until it's too late? Brenda Hendrickson, author of the book "How to be a Frugal Millionaire," says that it's important for married couples to determine why one spouse is spending so much.

Maybe a spouse is lonely or bored, and spending money at the mall is an outlet. Maybe the overspender has too much free time and not enough to do with it. Or maybe the spending is a result of a deeper psychological issue.

"There is always some reason behind all the spending," Hendrickson says. "It's important to get at that reason. Otherwise, it's not easy to stop the spending."

Maybe the couple lives too close the mall. This might make it too easy for one spouse, especially if that spouse has plenty of free time, to spend too much.

Resolving these issues comes back to communication. Spouses must be willing to talk about their financial habits and challenges. If they aren't, the overspending will only continue, Hendrickson said.

Some spouses might not even understand that their free-spending ways are causing financial pain. This happens when one spouse handles all the money issues and doesn't share the numbers. Again, this is something that can be resolved if couples agree to hold regular talks on financial matters.

"Money issues can damage a marriage," Hendrickson says. "Financial stress is one of the leading causes of divorce. If couples don't address it, they can put their marriages in jeopardy."

Tackling a Spouse's Overspending

Once a spouse's free-spending ways are exposed, what can couples do? Tayne suggests a common-sense resolution: The spouse who doesn't overspend should handle the weekly grocery or regular clothes shopping.

"If you have someone who can't get through a Target without spending hundreds of dollars, that person shouldn't be in charge of the shopping," Tayne says. "Instead, put the person who can run down a list and only buy those items on the list in charge."

Hendrickson suggests that overspenders put the credit cards away and try to rely only on cash for purchases. Too many spenders don't think of credit cards as real money, Hendrickson said. They don't think about the consequences of running up their credit-card balances until their monthly statements arrive in the mail.

Hendrickson recommends that spenders use debit cards instead of credit cards. This way, they can only spend money that they already have.

"You'd be surprised at how many people never think of credit cards as cash," Hendrickson says.

Couples need to study their credit-card bills and bank statements too, Hendrickson says. This way, they can determine what kinds of purchases are prompting their partners' overspending. Maybe a credit-card bill is filled with fast-food lunches that add up to hundreds of dollars a month. That might be the sign of more serious food issues that should be discussed.

The Ideal Approach

Elle Kaplan, founding partner and chief executive officer of LexION Capital Management in New York City, says that ideally partners will discuss their finances long before they get married. That way, there won't be any unpleasant financial surprises after the honeymoon is over.

These money talks will also give future spouses the practice they need to discuss serious financial issues after they are married, Kaplan said.

"Spenders often marry savers," Kaplan says. "That's OK. It doesn't mean that a marriage can't last. But there will be problems if savers and spenders don't talk over their finances and set some ground rules."

A wise approach is for couples to create a realistic household budget. A budget, as Hendrickson says, doesn't have to be rigid and inflexible. But one that allows for entertainment and shopping spending -- to a point -- can give couples a blueprint they can follow to financial harmony.

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Help! My spouse won't stop spending