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Financially Incompetent Spouse

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Wife is Financially Incompetent

Jan 2012

I'm going through the third cycle in the past 10 years with my wife of trying to clean-up her debt and credit rating. Time and time again, she racks up tens of thousands of dollars of high-interest debt using credit cards or some other instrument, until it blows up and creditors start to call, and they hassle me too. She evidently doesn't learn from experience and hasn't learned. And she refuses to understand that her bad credit ultimately affects me too.

For example, we have a lot of equity in our home, and I looked at a cash-out refinance to pay down some higher-interest debt - we had to take her name off the loan, because her credit is so bad she doesn't qualify. This either reduces the amount of money we can re-finance, or increases the interest rate (or both.)

What to do? Every time I turn around, I find some other debt she hasn't paid - no amount is too small for her to ''oops!'' forget to make a payment. She keeps digging the hole deeper, and refuses to accept responsibility. (Every expense was absolutely necessary and legitimate. Right.)

I did start telling her, a few years ago, when she was asking me for money, to figure it out on her own, hoping to force her to leave within her means. She works in humanities, and has a salary about 1/3rd mine. What I expected is that it would force her to find a way to reduce expenditures and/or raise income, not just put everything on credit. She repeatedly gets in the trap of using Visa to pay Amex, or some variation on that theme. Now, of course, it's my fault, because I told her to ''go figure it out'' instead of just giving her money. Again, she won't accept responsibility.

I am insisting on managing all the money now, putting it through my account, paying the bills on time - she's always late, incurring late fees on top of interest and everything else - and while I could refinance some money out of the house to pay down the current debt, I did that once before and don't really want to do it again, because I don't think she's learned anything. Bankrupt


This is very hard. Clearly your wife has a real problem. My husband is not anywhere near as bad as her, and we have had some hard times over it.

Yes, you should handle all the bill paying. It seems like she almost needs a representative payee--someone who manages her money, pays her bills, and gives her a little cash for spending each month. I think a lot of spouses end up being that for their partners.

I would tell her that she has only one choice if she wants to stay married: you're in charge of the money. She gets an allowance (perhaps a certain amount per month put in an account with a debit card, or perhaps only cash). She doesn't get credit cards. You close all existing cards and see if you can put a note in her credit report that no new cards can be issued.

If she won't go for that, I encourage you to do what you can to protect yourself financially. Don't spend your money or risk your assets to protect her. Consult a lawyer about your legal rights. You may find that some of her cards are in her name only and you are not responsible for them. Others might be your problem.

I have been on both sides of this. I had no money managing skills when younger, and my first husband had to take care of everything. Then I did some bookkeeping work in a friend's business, under her direction, and learned how to actually balance a checkbook, use Quicken, etc. In my current marriage, I'm the one who pays the bills and manages the finances. So I am sympathetic...but firm. protect yourself; she's not going to


Two words: Debtor's Anonymous. http://debtorsanonymous.org/ There are four meetings a week in Berkeley, and doubtless dozens in San Francisco. As a recovering alcoholic, I can tell you that your wife's addiction is not going to get better on its own. She's not going to stop, because she can't. The dynamic between the two of you will not change, because she can't change. You sound mostly angry and frustrated, but seeing as you're still married to this woman I would imagine you still love her, and all of this must be very painful. There are groups for the spouses and families of alcoholics, there may be meetings for the spouses and families of compulsive spenders, too. I found one, http://www.debt-anon.org/, that has a phone meeting on Sundays. You may be able to find support for yourself through Gamblers Anonymous, also, they have a more robust family group -- Gam-anon. And you'll always be welcome at an Al-anon meeting, too, the behaviors of addicts are very similar, regardless of the substance. There is a very good Al-Anon group in Berkeley, lots of meetings.

I am really sorry that you are going through this. It sounds very sad. Please, at the very least, find some support for yourself, and encourage your wife to seek help for her addiction. Ultimately, I'm afraid, she has to want to change for herself, you can't force her. So get the support you need and hopefully she'll get it too.


Managing money is not something we're born knowing how to do. Even things that seem simple to others, like creating a household budget, can be very daunting (almost impossible) for those who are truly uncomfortable with math or have psychological issues around money from their family of origin. Things that have helped me: Automate all my bills; Use only one debit card for all my spending; Save all my receipts and account for them on the web site Mint.com; Set budgets on Mint.com for each spending category; Take basic math courses at a community college; Seek out friends who are willing to explain basic financial formulas to me (such as compounding interest). Learning to Manage Money in Mid-life
I have been through similar situations with my wife and have seen relatives living the same way. I asked a psychiatrist what they thought could be behind such behavior and the answer was adult ADD. An inability to control impulse-or impulsivity as they put it, the hallmark sign of ADD. The continual repeats of the same defective behavior was the second sign. Making the same mistakes again and again knowing that last time the end result was disastrous but nevertheless repeating it as they spiral down and down and down. In my wife's case I set up a mutual account for family expenses and let her run it until that failed. Then I tried writing a check for my portion of each bill leaving her to write a matching check. That failed too and then came the late fees and so on. She would make frivolous expensive purchases knowing we had bills coming that needed to be paid and that her purchases would make it impossible to pay the bills. The answer for you is to isolate yourself first of all so her mis-spending doesn't become your debt. I think you better take charge of all the bill paying and get the cards away from her if she is unable to control her use of them. I offered to cut up all the credit cards and she said she would just order new replacement cards. This may sound harsh to somebody that hasn't been there but it is the only way you will ever be able to get control of it if you ever can. Once I understood there was a physical defect behind the behavior it made it a lot easier for me to understand it was something beyond their control and all the scolding, coaching, and suggestions would never alter the behavior. Bankruptcy is the end result for them unless they get help from you or elsewhere. The psychiatrist suggested medication trials and counseling which supposedly can be helpful. It won't get better without a big change. been there too
I hope you will check out Debtors Anonymous. It is a 12-step program. They have regular meetings in Berkeley and Oakland. If you read through their checklist of compulsive behaviors around money, they will probably ring a bell. Incurring more debt to pay an existing debt has become commonplace in our society over the last decade or so - and that's why so many of us have lost our homes, our equity, and/or our savings.

Compulsive debting and spending isn't exactly a physical addiction, but the adrenaline rush of shopping and the intense anxiety of unpaid bills can feed into one another in a cycle that mirrors addiction. Her admitting she's got a real problem, and taking steps to get help with that problem, may bring both of you relief. It's a process and takes time. There's a cycle of dependency, where she gets into trouble and you bail her out - and you will both need support to work together daily to keep clarity about your financial resources. You can still dig yourselves out of this hole - one day at a time - and find respect for one another again. I hope this beginning is a blessing for you. * * * * * * still climbing out


What you describe is far beyond financial incompetence. It's addiction or mental illness or some sort of attempt to get your attention. And it could seriously affect your future.

I'd recommend as a practical measure you pay for credit monitoring & get a credit report from 1 of the top 3 agencies every 4 months--you need to keep an eye on this. Check to see if she's opening accounts (in her name or yours). Get credit card limits LOWERED & use one that (like American Express) needs to be paid off every month.

It's possible your wife is simply addicted to the high of shopping; if this is so, I believe Debtors Anonymous is one 12 step program that can address this. At least, it's worth looking into. Out-of-control spending is also one common sign of bi-polar disorder. I'm not saying that is what your wife has, but worth investigating. I mention it because I watched my bi-polar mother put our family in debt repeatedly with absolutely DISASTROUS results that are affecting the rest of us even now (I'm in my mid-50s).

In short, do NOT ignore this. You don't say anything about the rest of your relationship with your wife, but there is clearly something else going on. If you can get a recommendation for a GOOD therapist, that might also be helpful. (By good, I don't mean getting psychoanalyzed for childhood trauma, I mean someone who will work directly on the spending and its impact on your family & marriage.) --Still digging out from under


I would suggest divorce. I know it sounds extreme. You may want to continue to live with her, but you really need to separate your finances, and the only way to do that is by divorcing her. Then you can put a roof over her head and feed her, and let her figure out her finances on her own without her debt affecting you.

You don't say what she is spending money on. I assume it is vacations and jewelry and such. If she is actually spending money for gas and work clothes, then my advice would be completely different. anon


Sounds like, rather than financially incompetent, your wife is a shop-aholic - - and I mean this honestly: an addict. Which means that, despite your attempts at trying to change her ways, you are co-dependent and even though it doesn't seem it to you, you are enabling her. Until the root cause of your wife's addiction is found, and she admits to the addiction AND is willing to seek help with recovery, no healing can begin. A huge undertaking, I know. As the wife, daughter and sibling of alcoholics, I can tell you that there IS hope. Sadly, I don't know the exact orgs that address the addiction to accumulating -- but, with a little research I'm sure you can find them. Best to you two on your journey of discovery and healing.
As my mother-in-law once said, ''You share your bodies but not your money.'' Face it, you are married, and presumably have children since you are on this list. Your money is joint; one hopes you are both handling other responsibilities -- i.e. childcare and housework jointly. In a marriage if both are working or caring for children a reasonable amount of time (and it sounds like full time from your post) then the income is pooled. You need to figure out a way to budget together, so you have the necessities under control, some savings, some spending money for each of you. You probably should start with a financial counselor so you can both learn to budget and handle your expenses responsibly. my 2 cents
I was married to a woman who took advantage of managing the family checkbook. For 17 years we were always ''on-the edge'', though we managed to buy a home, sell a home, buy a second home. I worked and wife managed the home and home finances. I made between $100k and $200k for the last 10 years of our marriage.

When we got divorced, i discovered gross mismanagement of funds and a checkbook well over $1,000 out of balance... actually close to $2,000. It turns out money was spent on her boyfriend, so i asked that we separate our funds, which other posters already said = divorce. I wanted to keep raising our kids together. Well, that didn't happen and we went through a messy divorce (monetary and otherwise, which resulted in me getting 90% custody of my 2 kids).

Fast forward 15 years. I make less now (career change) but seem to have plenty of money. So, i wonder where all my money went when i was married. Shame on me for being trusting (ok, there were some private school tuitions, but still...) I have dated women that have no concept or understanding their ''retail therapy'' is unhealthy ... too much stuff, too much shopping. So, take control of your finances, nobody else is going to. been there


This is a follow-up to an original request for advice that was published in the January 10th 'advice wanted' newsletter under ''Wife is Financially Incompetent.'' I'm not really seeking specific advice this time, but your comments and feedback are welcome. And it may serve as a cautionary note for others.

I have asserted my control over the household finances, insisting that all paychecks and expenses flow through a joint account that I manage.

I have determined so far that various late fees and related charges on just 3 accounts alone (amex, cell phone, car payment) total $500 to $750 for the year 2011 alone. That's enough to buy a coveted airplane ticket back home to see the family, send one of the kids to camp for one month in the summer, or pay for a night or two skiing at Tahoe.

I have paid-off completely one of her 30% APR credit accounts, and paid-down her Amex. American Express has just sent notification that charging on her account has been suspended. Although, that may be because I started paying down the balance - creditors LOVE people that pay the minimum, with interest and fees, regularly.

Her credit is slowly being repaired thanks to my management, although none of this is helping our mortgage refinance. (We have lots of equity in the house.) To date, I have no evidence of spending on infidelities, a possibility that some suggested. It just seems to be really, really, poor judgment - every car payment in 2011 was late, incurring fees and interest.

I suppose that if there is any question, it is this - considering that she somehow imagines that she might regain her (false) independence over her finances a year or two from now... should I stay or should I go? Bankrupt x 2


My heart goes out to both of you. I was in a very similar situation once. You are wise to get things in shape. My own financial history and couples' history with money is not pretty, but my learning has served well...especially served my children! Looking back, I wish I'd legally/financially divorced my husband long before the compounded troubles of money, time and partnership led to our split. My taking charge of my life partly via money began a couple of years before we split and illuminated some other difficulties; perhaps without the financial stress we'd have been better able to work through the other partnering issues. Some questions you might ask yourself are: Would you stay with her if your own financial well-being is safe and she still lives with these patterns of spending? Is this difficulty indicative of other issues? Do you have trust in other fundamental areas? What would lead to greatest health and happiness together and independently?

Now that I've read hundreds of books on money, practiced improvement for years and coached people in somatics and money, I understand how deeply rooted in culture, personal sense of value and practical habits our money issues are. Your wife may still be in some blindness of the struggle if she is hoping that just seeing that there was a problem is enough. It is a great beginning, and it is serious and very fun work to change the patterns involved in such deep levels of financial distress. It is so satisfying to live within my means and pay everything on time! I wish for her the same simple joy. I recommend checking out Debtor's Anonymous together. It helped two of my clients tremendously, though didn't suit two others.

It might be worth noting that, though divorce after 20 years was painful, I am extraordinarily happy, my kids see different ways of handling money as choices and consequences. My elder child even asked me to handle her finances in the divorce, which her father agreed to; they still have a great relationship! And I've learned enough to have been asked to be executor to a close friend's estate -and she watched me close-up through all the pain! Your wife can learn too, if she is determined! I wish you good heart and financial well-being!


It sounds like you've done a good job of overhauling her mess. I think if you don't have a therapist or some professional third party working with you, get one! It would support you in articulating feelings to her and support her in understanding herself and you. That person could also help hammer out some agreement by which SOME DAY she gains incremental control while being monitored. Her behavior is addictive and I would not trust it either.

If you're feeling you may have to hand over control again when you're not ready (why would you feel less power at that phase when you've done such a great job with this phase?), and you're feeling you'd rather be gone than do that - both are crucial issues to deal with with a therapist. Maybe the anger and loss of respect (?) or sense of betrayal (?) make you want to find any reason to get out. Those things would be important to talk through too. - anon


Separating finances (and debt) from spouse

May 2009

I married somebody who has good intentions, but is constantly taking on large amounts of credit card debt. I wouldn't mind if he was just a little behind on our shared household expenses, but he's self employed and uses his credit card to pay his suppliers (which ends up being a lot of money very fast.) My husband and I have both agreed that due to our vastly different lifestyles and the fact that he wants the freedom to run his business as he pleases, we should maintain separate bank accounts and separate credit cards. I have not signed for his credit cards and he has not signed for mine. We maintain separate bank accounts. My question is to what extent I am responsible for his personal debt in California. I know that California is a community property state from the perspective of dividing assets during a divorce? But what if we want to stay married? Can we have separate finances and separate debt? Can we own a house together and have our names on the loan together? Should we file for legal separation? Should I hire a financial planner or attorney to help me protect my assets (which I am saving for my children's education.) I had shopped for a financial planner a few months ago, but got different info from the ones I spoke to. I am hoping to either get advice on the matter or find an advisor or planner with experience and knowledge of this specific situation. Thank you.


I suggest you go to Nolo Press (or check their website) for books on setting up a business in California. There will certainly be at least one that covers different types of legal entities you might choose for a sole proprietorship. Become familiar with their pros and cons. Then consult at least a tax accountant who works with small business owners for advice. And maybe a business lawyer. Francesca
Get hold of your credit reports to find out what damage this situation has inflicted. You can order once yearly from freecreditreport.com. Then check it out. As I know from being divorced (and yes my ex's credit card debt was a contributing factor) , your debts and your assets are community property. Unless perhaps his business is not structured as a sole proprietorship ? The latter question is a legal one- see Nolo press or a lawyer here. But get started with that credit report. anon.
I know it is tempting to seek advice of this sort on BPN, but as a family law attorney, I would caution you from relying on the advice on non-attorneys. Well intentioned folks can share how the law worked in their situation, but you will need an attorney to tell you how the specifics of your situation will intersect with the law. I suggest you check out Nolo Press which is a great source of information (we attorneys use their books all the time) or Divorce.net.com which also has reliable information. family law attorney

Moneypit spouse

Oct 2008

I posted to the advice column recently about problems I'm having with being the ATM for husband's small business and his general lack of ability bring home a paycheck. I need some realistic advice about 1) How to get him on a path in which he can contribute financially to the household (and the debts he's created) 2) how to protect myself from the inevitable (draining my savings and sanity.) He's already gone through $100K of my savings and 90% of my sanity. On #1, I'd take him to a life coach, or career counselor, but seems to me that you can't ask someone to change (change has to come from within.) On #2, how do I protect myself and our son financially? When we got married, we agreed to maintain separate finances, so I hadn't planned to pay 100% of the mortgage, childcare, and groceries. Since I can't afford 100% of household expenses on my current paycheck, I've been depleting my savings even further. Another problem is that we have vicious fights when I try to ask him about finances. My brain tells me to get out while I can, but my heart wants to believe that he'll eventually bring home a paycheck. Waiting for paycheck


We must be leading parallel lives. My story is remarkably similar to yours. I cannot afford all of our expenses on my salary alone either so I am using up savings slowly but surely. I agree that you cannot make him change. I have tried everything I can think of...support, prodding, cajoling and threats...not of it works very well. However, we are making incremental improvements due to the following: 1) my husband owned up to a substance abuse problem. While you didn't mention any indication of this, you might consider if this is a possible issue for him. Since the start of my husband's recovery, his work life and our relationship have both improved.

2) I started drawing boundaries and sticking to them. We keep our finances separate and I cut him off from dipping into my savings account about 6 months ago. If his business fails, it fails. I make cost-cutting decisions where I can..even unilaterally sometimes. (Sorry, we cannot afford a vacation this year. Period.)

3) Delineate clearly what his financial responsibilities are. My husband and I agreed to one major household expense that he is responsible for (childcare). Most months he handles it. On the occasion that he cannot, I am stuck with it. But having clear delineation of responsibilities helps alot.

As for the vicious fights...that sounds familiar too. My husband tells me that his reaction comes partially from feelings of inadequacy and feeling constantly criticized. So, especially given his recent resolve to recovery, I am working with him to see if we can resolve other issues first (e.g., staying sober, working on our communication and intimacy, making time for us as a family).

I have not completely found resolve either since my husband still doesn't contribute sufficiently to our household expenses. If you learn anything useful, please repost. I would love to find my way with this as well. I wish you well. sounds familiar


Your attitude will cost you your marriage and the love of your children. Yes, you are right, he needs to contribute financially to the marriage. Yes, you are right to be scared since he is draining your savings and you can not break even each month. However, blaming him, shaming him and dismissing him, will only get him angrier and more resolved to fight back. The reality is that like all married couples you and him have a dynamic in your marriage that must be worked on in marriage therapy if both of you are to get your needs met. That means you have to explore your role. After all, you married him, had kids with him, and chose to finance him. You have two choices here. Either 1) you continue to demand a paycheck which will almost certainly result in divorce or 2) get into marriage therapy and start working on the issues both of you have. It's always harder and more challenging to look in the mirror and try to find out what went wrong in the marriage than to point fingers and scream where's the paycheck. By going into marriage therapy, you might actually get that paycheck, and even more important, the love that you once had in the marriage. Good luck! Anon
This sounds like a bad situation going downhill to me. You are enabling dysfunctional behavior on the part of your husband. He needs to realize that his business is not viable and it is irresponsible to continue. $100K of your savings is gone because of this?!? They say that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Both you and your husband sound guilty to me. Also, I found your comment about counseling interesting. Of course change must come from within, and that is exactly what counseling/coaching does. Maybe you meant he should take himself rather than you taking him, which is true. You need to tell him that is a deal breaker: If he does not get and participate sincerely in counseling (maybe with you as well as on his own), you are leaving him. Debtors Anonymous would be a good idea too. unfortunately, I can relate
''What we have here is a failure to communicate.'' The two of you need to have some down in the dirt truth telling that goes way beyond the blaming and resentment that is so alive and in your face now. From what you said I would say that you need to have a neutral third party facilitate this. Also based upon what you said, my guess is that this conversation will require many hours and a real willingness for both of you to face your fears, anger and discomfort. If one or both of you is unwilling to do this, then you can expect the current situation to continue with momentum. anon
I think you already know the answer with the 10% of your sanity that is left. You can't change him but you need to change the relationship by setting some realistic limits. You aren't keeping finances separate as you agreed to, so he HAS to discuss finances with you and make joint agreements, otherwise you have NO MARRIAGE. You need financial counseling or your joint and individual finances; individual legal advice (in case of separation or divorce); and marriage counseling on how to set limits and negotiate with each other. Go on your own and find out what your options are with and without him. You hope he will change in how he is handling his problems. However, if he can't or won't, you need to know how to save yourself and your son. Good Luck
You probably don't want to hear this, but you can't change him. The only way to protect your money is to get a divorce. Even if you continue to live with him, you should probably get a divorce. Then, legally, your savings are yours and your paycheck is yours. This is harsh, be maybe he married you for your money. He may have lots of good qualities, but, in my opinion, that doesn't really matter if he is financially irresponsible. anon
Given the financial times, how much small businesses are suffering, and how banks are pulling waaaay back on financing, I'd say, don't expect the paycheck anytime soon. Protect your $, your son's financial future, and yours, too. It would likely be verrrrry difficult to build up these reserves again. Talk with a lawyer to protect your funds and other assets, to the degree you can.

If your husband gets argumentative when you talk money with him, he is likely feeling very insecure that you'll cut off the flow. Before you cut him off, change all your passwords (bank, computer, credit cards). Put your paper bank statements and credit card statements elsewhere. Keep your credit cards away from him, and your check book too. He may get really desperate if you turn off the money tap. Do your best to keep the house and car. Yet have a place to go and hide if you need to get away from him in a hurry. If he argues when you want to talk money with him, you absolutely need to have a plan just in case he flips. anonymous


How to deal with partner's serious financial problems

Aug 2008

My partner has serious problems with money. She lives way beyond her means, is always in debt, can't get through the month, constantly borrowing money from friends and family, though she has a secure well-paying job. I have heard of counselors who can talk to people who have these kinds of issues but don't know how to go about finding one. I've tried to get her to go to Debtor's Anonymous meetings -- in desperation I went to one myself -- but she gets extremely angry if the subject is ever so much as suggested. Any suggestions on how to deal with this problem would be greatly appreciated. Anon


I could have written your post a few years back! You already know this- your partner is never going to change. If your partner does (I personally don't believe most people can) change, it will be on his/ her own time. Having been in not one, but two relationships of this type in my lifetime, I can honestly say two things. 1. Your personal finances and security are in serious danger while you are in this relationship even if you keep your finances separate. This is because your heart is in it and naturally lines will get blurred here and there. 2. These financial problems are an addiction. In my experience, both relationships with financial problems of this sort were linked to addictions- in the 1st alcoholism, in the 2nd pornography. Either way, it's an addictive cycle. You have to decide if this is behavior you can live with and be linked to. I didn't realize how bad it was until years later when I was in a healthy relationship where the contrast was blatant. What a weight off my heart! Relieved

Husband is terrible with money!

June 2002

My husband seems to have no financial management skills! It's starting to be a big problem because we have recently begun filing joint income tax returns (our accountant says it will save us money). Both of us are self-employed so we are responsible for paying our taxes at the end of the year (as opposed to payroll deductions) and my husband never has saved up enough money to do so in April. This year I'm trying to get him to pay his quarterly estimated taxes but he ''doesn't think that's a priority'' so he's not ready and has no money set aside to do so. I'm going to pay them this quarter myself because I don't want to be hit with a huge tax bill again next April.

My husband goes to his job every day and works hard but somehow never has enough money to make ends meet. He also doesn't pay any of his bills on time and when they arrive he doesn't even open them (''no money so why bother?''). I've taken over paying all of the household bills so that our electricity stays on - my husband is supposed to pay me back for half of the bills but never seems to have enough money to do so. We don't live extravagantly and in fact I try to save money wherever possible (hand-me-downs, eating in every night, no fancy vacations).

He is otherwise a loving, considerate and wonderful spouse and father and he feels very guilty about not having enough money to pay me back in a timely fashion. But I'm starting to feel like I'm enabling his poor money management skills by picking up the slack all the time. I can ill afford it as I'm a poor abused part-time academic but I like having electricity and groceries so I can't just let the bills slide. I'm worried that my meager savings will start to dwindle if things continue the way they do but I'm at the end of my rope and I don't know what to do. Any advice is welcome! Anonymous


I recommend the book ''For the Love of Money.'' The book is in a workbook format and it gets to the root of why couples argue over money. It has you look at how you were raised, what your values are, etc. I couldn't find on the web, I guess it is out of print. But you might want to check the library. Good luck! Helena
My husband is terrible with money too. Our solution has been to recognize that financial management isn't his talent and to divide household responsibilities so that they reflect our individual talents. I happen to be very good at paying bills and managing money, so that is my sole responsibility. My husband happens to be very good at cleaning toilets, so that is his sole responsibility. I think it's a good tradeoff, but it took a lot of trust and constant conversation to get to this point. My husband willingly gives me his paycheck and I deposit it and give him a set amount each month for his own spending. I divide the remainder between our joint household account (for ongoing expenses like rent and food), our major expenses account (for big ticket expenses) and his personal savings account. I make him sit down with me once a year and map out the months where we'll have major expenses (insurance, car registration, taxes, school fees, etc.) and determine how much of each of our paychecks will be set aside each month for these things. Then I put that amount into a separate major expenses account. I also put some aside for his savings, but he can access it at any time. He can't save worth a darn, but at least there's effort. If one of us buys something for the household, we never pay each other back, it's just a contribution we make to our well-being. But we try to keep household expenses separate from personal expenses by keeping that money in separate accounts. Whatever you do, don't insult him or make him feel bad that he can't take care of money. He sounds like a great guy, so look for a positive way to deal with it. Anonymous
It sounds to me like your husband has a problem you do not know about, perhaps substance abuse or possibly gambling. Or he needs to get a regular job where he receives a paycheck and they take out for taxes. You may wish to spend a little money starting some couples therapy to address this issue, since security sounds like an important issue to you (as it is to me). He does not recognize that this (being broke) is as a problem, or is not admitting it. Do you know how much money he receives each month? See if he'll allow you to look at his ''books'' to help him, assuming he has some. If he balks, then you'll have some clue that something is not right. Good luck. You may even want to consider making an agreement that your income is your separate property and his income is his separate property (which can be done during marriage as well as before marriage). That may gve you some protection if some huge gambling debt or some other debt arises. anonymous
Your post implies that you are not new to marriage, yet your financial arrangements (separate checking accounts, splitting household bills in half, etc.) sound more like roommates than spouses. I am wondering whether you understand your rights and obligations under California marriage law? such as that spouses have mutual obligations for support (in the financial sense), each spouse is entitled to full access to the other's earnings and accumulations during the marriage (''community property''), and both spouses have a ''fiduciary'' duty to one another (that is, not to act to the financial detriment of the marriage). Legally speaking, there is no such thing as ''his'' bills or ''his'' money -- both yours and his are a single ''ours''!

If he is unable or unwilling to develop reasonable skills and habits, one alternative is to insist that you take over all financial management for the marriage: that means managing your COMBINED income and expenses. I strongly urge you to educate yourself as to your legal rights. The California Family Code is the authoritative source, and you can read through it at: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/calawquery?codesection=fam&codebody=&hits=20 You might also want to encourage your husband to attend some financial-management classes (available through community college courses, private workshops, etc.) together with you. Good luck! Noni


Somebody once gave me these words to live by: ''The secret to a happy relationship is three bank accounts.'' I'm starting to believe it. My husband is also self employed, and I'm a poorly-paid academic. The difference is that I'm terrible with money, too. We've set up a joint account that we use for household expenses, like rent, utilities, groceries, and stuff for the baby. We estimated a rough budget (nothing fancy, and it only took us about 20 minutes to figure out), and each deposit a fixed amount to cover that into the joint account each month. Instead of a fixed amount, you could work out a percentage to deposit to the joint account from each check you or your husband receive, and include your husband's tax payments in that percentage (in effect, acting as an employer does and withholding the tax). That way, you could avoid arguments at the end of the month that he just doesn't have the money he's supposed to pay--it's much easier to swallow payments if they never end up in your own account. My husband's slightly better with money than I am (e.g., he actually opens bills and pays them), so he's largely in charge of paying bills from the joint account. In your situation, you'd obviously want to take on that responsibility--it will preserve your sanity. For us, it's made household accounting much simpler. We don't have to calculate how much we each owe each for each bill, and there's no resentment that one of us pays for more groceries than the other. We use our individual accounts for our own clothes, credit card payments, etc., and are free to manage that money as poorly as we wish. Hope this helps!
Technically, if you're married in a community property state like California, all money earned from work by either spouse belongs to both. My husband isn't too good with money either, and like yours, he has his own business. Our solution has been to set up joint bank accounts, out of which I pay our household bills and we both take money to pay for joint expenses such as groceries. We each also use money from the joint accounts for personal expenses like clothes and coffee purchases. I also have my own separate savings and investment accounts in which we keep our savings. When my husband's business generates income, he pays his business expenses and then transfers any money left into our joint accounts. I put my income into our joint accounts and also into savings if possible. All of our taxes, including the taxes my husband's business income requires, get taken out of my paychecks by my employer. I've recently taken on more work and generate most of our income at this point. So, in other words, we've decided that I take care of our money because I'm better at it, and my husband takes care of other things that he's better at. Also, our solution requires that he trust me with our money and give up a lot of control over it even though it belongs to both of us. As far as income, we've decided that it's his turn now to do more interesting work, and later on it will be my turn for that and his turn to generate income. anon
I'm not sure if this will help or not - I'm not sure if you are living with your husband or not. I'm not sure how your husband borrowed money from you, but you can either take him to small claims court to get your money back or try a payment plan (written on paper).

If this is an old debt from before you got together, why not forgive it - you are married, no?

In our house, I do all the financial stuff. IRS, bills, checkbook, etc. We have a strict budget (cause we're so poor :)) but sometimes Jamie will make a purchase that he just ''has'' to have and we adjust. :)

AFAIC, it is simple give and take - I remind him about the budget when he overspends - we're all quite human and I am tempted to spend money at times also. We all have our strengths and weaknesses - I am good with numbers and meeting deadlines (well, usually :)) and he is good in many other ways. Kathy


Dear Anonymous,

I sympathize completely and am glad to know there are other wives out there with economically-challenged husbands. Your situation and concerns sound eerily identical to mine! Here's how I have come to terms with it. Our original money arrangement, when first married, was a straightforward separate-but-equal, ''yours, mine, and ours'' , ''I pay my bills and you pay yours'' method. I should have realized then that this arrangement enabled his bad money habits. After seven years of paying his late bills, counseling, yelling, pleading and finally a bankruptcy (!!!) I realized that he was not going to change. Either we continue like this or I change.

So, I've done what I should have done to begin with - I am our mutually recognized household money manager. I resisted this role because I (naively) believed that he should learn to manage his own money, and because I feared I might undermine his self-respect. But that attitude of mine was NOT working. Once I accepted that he was never going to manage his money - I decided that I must manage our money - mine and his.

Now he gives me his paycheck (auto deposit). I combine our earnings each month, pay our bills, put some in savings, and give us both a cash ''allowance'' for the month. It's less stress for both of us and it works! He now refers to me as his business manager and we're financially very secure and comfortable.

I read recently that in 40% of married couples, the wife manages the money. I wish I'd read that sooner! anonymous


My husband is(was) also horrible with money. Before we had our daughter, our finances were separate. When we had our daughter, we decided to merge our finances and that I would take control of the finances. My husband and I both agreed to this arrangement. I pay all of the bills and we both get a spending allowance each week. He only carries an ATM card for emergency use only. I made a list of all of our expenses and all of our income and worked out a budget, with some money allocated for discretionary spending. This has worked out pretty well and greatly reduced our conflict around money. I don't know if your husband would be willing to take on such an arrangement since he is self-employed. A financial consultant may be able to help you develop a plan. There is also a good book for people who are bad with money- ''Your Money or Your Life'' that I recommend you and your husband both read. Good Luck. Anonymous
There were a lot of good posts on this topic. I just want to add one idea. For some people money management is more complicated than it may seem, money is not just money after all it is the tool with which we can manifest self-care. Some people can't seem to keep track of money, or they over spend, or perhaps they can't spend without a lot of anxiety. Often people who have trouble with any of the above may have problems with other self-care types of issues, or even issues of addiction. Many people have found help in debtor's anonymous, which is a 12 step program like AA. I would not venture a guess as to whether or not the poster's husband would be helped by DA, but I thought it was worth mentioning as a resource available for those experiencing problems with money. (BTW, you don't have to actually have debt to ''qualify'' for DA). Their web site is: www.debtorsanonymous.org. Good luck. Anonymous
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