The Reluctant Spouse

A few weeks ago, we wrote about our debt-freedom anniversary and our journey to get there. This prompted the following comment from Jen:

What would you say made the biggest impact in getting you on board? I ask this as I sit her with almost $40,000 in debt as you once did. My only problem in all this is getting my husband to come around. He just doesn't "get it". How did you finally get it? He won't read any books, he won't change his spending habits. I am spinning my wheels. We are doing better, but I feel like if I could get him more involved he could help me find even more ways to get our debt paid off. Thanks!! Great story btw!!
A very nice comment, and yet you can feel her distress. Mrs. NtJS may very well have been posing questions like this, trying to figure out how to get her reluctant spouse to come around. I wasn't doing any personal finance reading back then either. A book about money management? Ummmm... no. I replied to Jen's comment, but felt it was important to expand on this concept.

So to do this topic justice, I will present my point-of-view followed by the Mrs.'s. After all, I'm sure there was much more going through her head than I was aware of. But isn't that usually the case?

Mr. (the reluctant one)
"What's the problem? We're ok", I thought. It's been said that you can't present a solution without first seeing the problem. Well, fortunately, the Mrs. wasn't bombarding me with Dave this and Dave that (Dave Ramsey, that is). Sure maybe we had room to improve, but but what's the big deal? "We're just like everyone else."

When she first started in with budget, spending, and money talk, I just wasn't interested. She always handled that stuff, and was doing fine with it. I like to think that I was mostly agreeable to what she wanted, I just wasn't interested in getting involved. It was boring and just didn't seem like a high priority. Maybe I didn't want the responsibility? Things were fine. We were both working and making a lot of money. My job especially kept me busy with unpredictable irregular hours. Things at work were getting progressively worse for me though. What was once an ideal job had changed, and changed, and changed, and never for the better. As stressed as I was about the situation, I was starting to see that my wife was even more so. This was tough. What was I to do? I felt trapped in the job (something I later realized was one of the bossman's mind-game/tactics). And we needed the money. We had talked about one of us staying home, but were never able to make the math work. We had made some changes in our behavior already and Mrs. was doing some kind of a budget thing and something about our debt. I listened really well, didn't I?

I had stopped making fun of her for listening to AM radio, but hadn't listened to what she was listening to. And it wasn't golden oldies. She talked occasionally about this guy on the radio and how she was reading his book about money. One day she asked about buying tickets to see him live in a neighboring city. Tickets weren't expensive, but we would need a babysitter, so that would cost a bit, plus the gas to get there and back, and a couple of meals out.... Worst was, it wasn't that she wanted to go, she wanted us to go. I had to sign up for it too, and this thing was 5 hours long! I would have to give up my Saturday for this. She told me how important this was to her, and I could tell she was sincere. After all, the woman who had cut dining-out completely out of the budget was suggesting this that would require two meals out - in the same day! I agreed to go.

Then, a month or so later, it happened. It was over. My boss had played his last dirty trick and I was unemployed. Seriously, it was an employ-at-will state - it could have been easy - but he had to continue his mind-games/ego-trip. Not only was I unemployed, but I felt really bad about it, as if it were my fault. (I can't do work that you don't have, dude!) I had failed myself and even worse, my family. It was my rock bottom moment, but I still had my rock. That afternoon, we sat and looked at the budget again. She had gotten me to look more and more at this, but it seemed less and less about checking math. I was dreading it this time. But this time it worked. We could do it on one income, and for as long as we needed to. I was starting to come around.

Then the day came for the event. The Mrs. - polite as ever - even gave me an out. "Do you still want to go, it is a lot of money for us now on this tight budget." I knew that "no" was not the right answer. We went. At the beginning, Dave was talking bout those 'reluctant spouses' he'd seen in the parking lot and asked for a show of hands, and I was not alone. I'd like to say that the Mrs. turned me. Or that Dave turned me. That they showed me the way and I drank the kool-aide. The truth is that I turned me. The Mrs. gave me the encouragement, and the opportunity. Dave gave me the shot in the arm and the facts. But in the end, I went into it with an open mind, and I listened. Ego was checked at the door. (really, how egotistical could I be? I was out of work and obviously didn't have all the answers) I sat and listened and participated and at the breaks (thank God there were breaks), we talked about it. I had to man-up and make the decision to change my ways and take responsibility.

I've told this part of the story to folks before: I went into the event as a reluctant spouse. At the end when Dave instructed those interested in teaching FPU to gather at the front for a few minutes afterwards, I was the one saying, "We have to do this".

You can't always be told. Sometimes your have to be shown. The frugality proved itself by saving us money. The budget proved itself by saving out butts in a pinch. My wife proved herself and I thought she was the smartest person in the world. I'm just sorry that it took me so long.

Mrs. (the persuasive one)
Since the Mr. NtJS usually writes on our blog you usually don't get to hear my version of some topics. But I do have to say - thanks, Honey, for letting me chime in on this one! I'll start at the beginning so you can have a feel for where I was coming from on this "Reluctant Spouse" topic.

I had a 5 month old baby at daycare, working a job I started 3 months prior, living in a house we bought one month ago. I received a call at work that the baby had a fever and I needed to pick her up within an hour. What am I to do? She had been sick several times since I started my new job including having RSV. I was scarred I'd lose my job but I really did need to take care of my child. Luckily for me I worked with a wonderful group of people and they understood the situation. While sitting in a traffic jam on the freeway I started to flip through stations because I was stressed. The next thing I know I was listening to this guy give financial advise, but he also talked about God. Then he asked the next caller about how much debt they had. As if I was not stressed enough at that moment I started doing the math in my head and realized that we were in to deep. I was stressed about my job because I needed to pay on college loans and a house payment. My baby was coming second... That was the moment I vowed to myself that I had to change the course we were on or this ship was going to sink.

I was leary about telling Mr. NtJS about my new plan because we never talked about money stuff. I paid all the bills and if we wanted something (ie. car, tv) he would just ask if we could afford the payment or the item. I would always say yes. I could not imagine saying no. That must mean I'm handling the money wrong. Since I didn't want my loving husband of just over a year to think that I was a failure I did not tell him about the debt snowball at first nor how much debt we actually had. I just kept dropping hints about saving money and said something to him about our "new" budget, a great book I had just read (Total Money Makeover) about money. He would give his standard "sounds great" line. Which I always had interpreted to mean he could not care less about it if he tried. I kept working under these depressing conditions until one day he started having issues at work with his boss. There was a LOT of tension and he was coming home more disgruntled each day. I saw this as a great reason to get our act together so that if he where to want to take a new job that made us move we could afford it. I was not about to get into any more debt - that was for sure! I was also a little worried about him losing his job since his boss was a loose canon. I started to push a little harder. I would say things like "If we could cut our spending by X dollars a month we could live on my income." Then I would show him the budget hoping for some input. I was still feeling like I was being ignored and that he couldn't care less for the most part. He did cut back on some bad spending habits but it felt like it was more because of nagging then taking interest in our budget. Then the day came when I pleaded my case for going to see Dave Ramesy live in a neighboring city. He actually agreed. I think that it had more to do with it being a date with no child for a whole day then it had to do with getting our personal finances together. But I did not care. I bought the tickets the moment he said yes so there was no changing his mind.

Then came the day when he got back to work after the holiday break to be laid off. Oh yes, the day he came back after the Christmas/New Years break. Thank God we had not over spent on Christmas that year! That day when we got back home HE asked ME to sit down with him and look at the budget TOGETHER to see if we could actually live on my income. We worked out the budget and he stuck to it. We then saw Dave a month and half later. That was the day he officially jumped on board with both feet. From that day forward became an equal partner in our finances. I felt so liberated! I was no longer solely responsible for our financial future. I still to this day do our budget and pay all the bills. But we have agreed to them together. I just write the checks and fill the envelopes. If we go over budget one month then we are both in trouble, not just me.

Jen-- I truly feel your pain and frustration. My heart goes out to you and everyone else who is struggling with a reluctant spouse. Just have faith that God will lead you in the right direction and in God's time your spouse will see why it is so important to you.

This is just our story. Many more of you who are reading this have your own version of our tale.

What advise do you have for Jen and others like her?


Anonymous said...

Great post! Really good insight. It’s always difficult to discuss finances and share money in relationships. Thanks for your advice. I recently stumbled upon this blog like I stumbled upon yours. I think they offer some good points and laughter about the topic: http://burisonthecouch.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/dolla-dolla-bill-yall/

Thanks for the post! I’d like to see more like it.


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