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How to rein in a spending spouse

By Paula Pant ·
Friday, February 7, 2014
Posted: 1 pm ET

You're a saver, but your spouse is a big spender: How can you manage your finances without killing each other?

Here are some tips on how to compromise with a spouse or partner who is more inclined to spend the big bucks.

Review your budget

Carve out an hour or two to review your budget. You'll need to prep for this meeting: Keep a stack of all your bills (including mortgage, utilities, insurance premiums and credit card statements) so that you can see how much you and your partner spend every month.

Don't forget to include the concept of "paying yourself" as one of your most important bills. You should pay into your retirement accounts and your emergency fund with the same level of urgency you use to pay any other bill.

Once you complete this step, you'll have a better idea of how much money is left in your budget for "fun" expenses like clothing, restaurants and other discretionary items.

Decide on a limit

Pick a limited amount of money that each person can spend for his or her own amusement. For example, you might decide that each partner can spend $100 or $200 per month on anything that suits his or her fancy: Starbucks lattes, pedicures, restaurant meals.

If one partner wants to buy something "big" like a motorcycle, he or she can save for that purchase from accumulated "fun" money.

Yes, it's a bit similar to having an allowance as a kid -- but that's fundamentally the nature of budgeting. We have limited funds and need to decide how we're going to spend our finite dollars.

As kids, we don't have access to credit to get us into trouble. As adults, we shouldn't resort to debt to pay for our discretionary purchases, either.

Earmark some 'us' money

Create some space in your budget to enjoy shared joint expenses -- like "date money" or "vacation money" -- with your spouse.

You might decide to set aside $75 per month to dine at a posh restaurant together, or to place $100 per month into a vacation fund. This will help you and your spouse share in the expenses of something that you'll both enjoy -- each other's company.

Paula Pant helps people ditch the cubicle and live on their own terms. She's traveled to 30 countries, owns six rental property units and hasn't had an employer since 2008. Her blog, Afford Anything, is the gathering point for a tribe that refuses to say, "I can't afford it." Follow Paula on Twitter: @AffordAnything.

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July 12, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Went to Olive Garden two weeks ago. Soup and salad (all you can eat) was about eight dollars---including bread sticks. We had water to drink. Their soups are all delicious--you can have more than one. About twenty bucks for lunch for two. Way less than seventy five.

March 29, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Whether a marriage or a live-in relationship, common bills must be paid and if two people co-habitate together, they are a small business. I keep a physical written ledger, recording all bills, their due date and amount and when paid, enter the date and check number (unless online) to indicate payment made. I have a sit down with my spouse and let him know what the status of what we owe and that way, the pressure and worry is evenly distributed. Over 50 years together and we don't fight over money. A small business like ours has survived so far, thank God. I'm also not a big spender, but we discuss spending before I do it.

Paula Pant
February 13, 2014 at 11:44 am

@Alan - An entree at a posh restaurant is $25 - $30. Add tax and tip, and you've got $75 for two people. Obviously if you want to drink lots of alcohol, that will cost a lot extra, but you can enjoy a glass of wine at home before you dine out.

And $1200 is MORE than my partner and I spend on the vast majority of our vacations. I suggest that you take a hard look at your finances and your spending habits before you start dismissing frugality as "not realistic."

February 13, 2014 at 9:26 am

$75 for dinner at a "posh restaurant"...for TWO people?!!? Really?! Two people can barely go to Olive Garden for a $75 dinner! And $100/month for TWO people to go on vacation??? That's $1200 a year you're suggesting - for TWO people?? Where's this vacation taking place??? Your budgeting concepts are nice and have a basis in common sense; however, the reasonableness of what you're suggesting i.e., dollar amounts, is unrealistic in today's economy!