Dear Helaine: My husband refuses to make and stick to a family budget. He resents the idea of limiting himself, and his idea of budgeting every month is “we just need to spend less.” We both work full time at state jobs with mediocre salaries, have one of our two children in day care (which is like a mortgage payment), and basically live paycheck to paycheck with no cushion. I have $8,000 in credit card debt, and $25,000 in student loan debt. My husband has $8,000 in credit card debt, too.
We do not have an extravagant lifestyle, hobbies or other large money pits that can be eliminated. Our house is fully paid off. My husband pays the bills because his salary is slightly higher than mine, and every month I basically transfer over my whole check minus my student loan payment and a pittance toward the credit card. That leaves me no cash for personal expenses each month, and as a result, I charge more debt on the card. I know I need to stop using the card if I am ever to pay it off.
I recently came to the realization that if I am ever going to get out of personal debt, I will need to come up with a financial plan that only I will stick to and doesn’t depend on my husband’s participation. Short of divorcing my husband, how do I get my own finances in order so I can get myself out of debt without his cooperation? -- Fed Up
Dear Fed Up: It sounds to me like you are doing some first-class enabling here, as they say in recovery programs. By turning over so much of your paycheck to your husband that you cannot get by on a day-to-day basis without racking up more debt, you are, for all intents and purposes, granting him permission to carry out his less than financially healthy ways.
My advice? Work out how much money you need to get by on a monthly basis. Inform your spouse of that number. Then, the next time you transfer money over to your spouse, make sure you add that to the amount of funds you keep back. Over time, you will, if you remain disciplined, pay down your own debt, and improve your own personal finances. At the same time, you will be giving your husband a choice. He can continue on with his undisciplined spending patterns. Or, with less money at the ready, he can finally get a grip on his own spending. That would almost certainly entail working with you to come up with an approach to the family spending you can both agree on.
And one other thing: While child care expenses are not forever, other child-related bills will continue to pop up. It sounds like you and your spouse could stand to discuss whether one -- or both -- of you should attempt to find a more lucrative position with another employer. This will be a much easier conversation if you are in agreement on how to spend money going forward.
(To ask Helaine a question, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)