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Ask Dr. Mike: Advice for Family Money Issues?

Dear Dr. Mike,

My husband has issues with money that are hurting our relationship and family. He makes a lot of money, but he spends more than he makes and we are in debt.

He can’t just have a luxury car, oh no, he has to have the newest and nicest one in the neighborhood. He can’t just have any old golf club membership — he has to have the most expensive one that or by the way, he only goes to about ten times a year. His bonus last year was his highest of all time, but he spent if before the check even cleared the bank.

We have no savings to our name and tons of credit card debt and spoiled kids, but every time I bring our finances up to him he tells me that he “works hard” or he “deserves it” or “chill out” and I “worry too much.” I love him to death but can’t keep living like this. Got a few good ideas for us?

— Concerned Parent

Dear Concerned Parent,

While your husband’s spending style is a very real problem for you, it does not seem to be much of one for him. So, why doesn’t your husband get that this a big problem for you and change? First of all, know that you are not alone. Finances can be a topic of stress and discord for many couples, and several research studies have found it to be a leading cause of divorce.

Psychologically, money means and represents different things to different people, and there are usually very good reasons for why that is. Is it just random that some folks are inclined to save, while others have a penchant for spending or that some folks are generous with their money while others are stingy? Nope. The ways in which we experience ourselves and behave in relation to money depends a lot on our early life experiences. More specifically, we internalize what we were exposed to in childhood, and we then take that forward into adulthood – even what we saw, learned about and understood to be true about money as children.

There are certainly outside factors to consider that will influence how individuals behave with their money, like winning the lottery or losing your job. But I would still assert that our personal psychologies will dictate how we manage ourselves in response to positive or negative external factors when it comes to money.

My mother, for example, made sure that I always cleared my plate as a child, and there were enough canned goods in our kitchen cupboard to feed us for 15 years if needed. Being frugal, not wasting food and always having enough on hand was part of her post-World War II reality growing up as a child and it stayed with her for life — these realities were psychological, social and ecological for her — and likely unconscious.

So, getting your husband to change how he behaves with money should start with first understanding why he does what he does and then coming up with a shared action plan for change. Here are a few tips to consider in getting you both to a better place on the topic of money:

Talk Openly to Your Husband About Money & Listen Closely to What He Says
Help your husband to gain some insight and self-awareness as to why he spends so recklessly. If you don’t already know, ask your husband about his childhood and money. Did he grow up poor, middle class or wealthy? Is he motivated to repeat what he experienced as a child or is he motivated to not repeat what he experienced as a child? Is money and/or possessions a compensation for something that happened to him or his family? Does money represent safety or security for your husband or something else altogether? Addressing the topic in a caring and loving manner and encouraging your husband to explore his thoughts and feelings on the topic is a good first step toward change.

Talk About Your Concerns & Ask Your Husband to Listen to You
As much as you think your husband needs to change, perhaps you also have some work to do on the topic of saving or spending. By openly expressing your thoughts and feelings on the topic, it’s my hope that your husband will gain a greater understanding of your needs and strive to make changes or compromises that work for you both.

Hire an Expert
It might be a good idea to turn to a financial planner or advisor for guidance. By bringing on a neutral third party to address your financial situation, you would no longer be the one to correct or complain to your husband about his spending habits — let a trained professional put together an action plan for spending and saving that works for you both as a couple and family.

Take Control of What You Can Take Control of & Plan For the Future
When discussing things together, be positive about your future and come up with some shared goals that the two of you can get excited about. Do you have the shared goal of paying off your house sooner than later? Do you have the shared goal of saving for an exotic family vacation or home renovations? Do you also have shared goals for retirement? Proactively planning and saving now will determine what your options will be later in life.

Consider Couple’s Therapy
Marital therapy could be helpful if problems with money remain for you as a couple after trying to improve things. Having a neutral third party professional for the emotional realm of things could serve to improve communication problems and could help you both with putting together a roadmap for change.

— Dr. Mike

This post was written by Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Clinical Psychologist, Ashburn Psychological & Psychiatric Services.

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