I’m going to start this thing with a little truth bomb — sometimes it’s you, not them. And no, this isn’t an attack, it’s just a fact that many of us need to come to terms with if we really want to help ourselves and improve our finances.
So, you’re having trouble getting your spouse or significant other on board with becoming debt free and I totally get it! A lot of people are struggling right along with you and with that said, allow me to make a confession of sorts…
This year will mark the ninth year of marriage for me and I’m just now getting through to my husband how we need to kill our debt as a team because it’s keeping us from living the lifestyle we love to dream about together. But when it comes to putting in the work together that’s the challenge right there.
And you would think, the lady who writes about personal finance and loves coaching others about their money would’ve had her husband on board the entire time. Yeah, that’s my dirty little secret, but the thing is I didn’t give up on him getting on the same page as me. But see, I can’t put it off entirely on him either.
It was me. In the past, my approach completely missed the mark. He would have realized this a lot sooner if I’d reconsidered my stance with our household finances. I finally realized that if I was going to ever get him on board with side hustling to pay off our debt, I would need to address my own issues first. Once I did that, getting him to see my perspective was a piece of cake.
My problem was that I’m a control freak. While I don’t nag my husband, I have a tendency of just taking over things to get them done if they aren’t being done to my liking. So, that’s what I did with our finances.
He had no experience with managing money beyond savings and took no interest in learning how to manage our money together as a couple. Therefore, I took over our finances, paid the bills, reconciled the accounts and complained the entire time about having to do them by myself.
He would listen to my complaints (at least I like to think he did), but he thought it was something I had to do because he wouldn’t do it the way I would. After all, I’m the money coach and Certified Financial Education Instructor. I knew what I was doing, right? He just felt like I didn’t need him to handle that aspect of our lives.
In order for us to move forward and actually achieve our desired lifestyle, we had to get on the same page and start working towards the same thing. I needed to start communicating and presenting the information in a way he could understand.
Now, maybe this sounds a lot like you. You just can’t get your spouse interested in anything you have to say about your finances. You darn sure aren’t bringing up a budget and you sweep your debt under the rug and live in total denial, hoping it will get better someday.
Well, today we’re going to discuss an approach that will work much better than what you may have already been doing. There are four simple things you can do to get your spouse to join you in your pursuit of financial freedom.
I’ve also reached out to women who have gotten their spouses on board and crushed their debt, many of them echoing the same things I plan to share with you. So, just know that these strategies work, but it all starts with you!
How to Get Your Spouse on Board to Pay Off Debt
Before I share the testimonies from these seven amazing women who have gotten their spouses on board and paid off their debt, here’s my two cents on how you can work on getting your spouse on board with your plan to achieving financial freedom.
1. Rethink your approach if you want them to get on board and pay off debt.
No one likes being nagged, judged or attacked. If you approach your financial situation by throwing blame at your partner, you won’t make any headway in convincing them to join team debt-free.
Instead, you should ask some thought-provoking questions that will navigate the discussion you need to have about your finances. I’ve created a free pdf with twenty-questions to get you started. Click on the image below to grab your copy.
2. Lead by example and pay off debt by yourself.
Your efforts aren’t in vain just because your other half isn’t on board (yet). It’s easy to preach to someone about what they should be doing with money, but if the preacher ain’t taking their own advice…umm, that’s not going to work.
You have to lead the way and be an example. If you want to get out of debt, put yourself on a budget (one that doesn’t affect them) and work on making progress by yourself. Yes, I realize it’s not fair, but it’s not fair to you to stay in debt.
You can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to do and that includes your spouse. Therefore, don’t use your spouse’s unwillingness to get on board as an excuse to keep you from working your way out of debt. Sometimes you gotta help yourself before others will.
3. Create some shared (fun) money goals to work towards together.
Maybe your spouse simply needs to be convinced that pursuing a debt-free life isn’t going to bore them into oblivion. This is a common reluctance. No one wants to feel like they can’t have a life because of debt.
You work hard all week and sometimes you want to enjoy yourself. That’s okay to do regardless of the amount of debt you’re in. You just need to create some goals and craft a plan for some fun. Working on these goals together will steamroll your efforts into getting your spouse to join you on a reasonable debt-repayment plan.
4. Paint the picture for them and be patient.
Understand it’s not personal or anything against you. A lot of us have serious money blocks that prevent us from approaching money in a way that’s conducive to building wealth. There are several factors that come into play such as your upbringing and environment.
Your partner may believe that financial freedom isn’t possible for them because they don’t see any real-life examples around them. Paint the picture of debt freedom by Introducing them to some of your favorite podcasts and blogs that show them that debt-freedom is possible.
Lessons From Those Who’ve Done It…How These Women Have Paid Off Debt When Their Spouses Wasn’t On Board
Here are thoughts from my personal finance peers who have managed to pay off hundreds of thousands in debt and get their spouses on board to achieve financial freedom….
“I honestly believe that women can set the tone for the household. Once I finally got tired of being stressed and broke, I caught the financial freedom bug.
I knew that I wanted my husband on board, so I began dreaming with my him. During our alone time, I would ask him questions like…how would our lives be different if we didn’t have so much debt and if we had a pile of cash in the bank?
Also, I asked him questions like what kind of legacy do you want to leave for our two sons? Do we really want them to start their adult lives off behind the 8 ball burdened with student loan debt like we did?
Those questions got to his heart and the answers became our why. So answering your question, he was never hesitant, but I’m not sure he truly thought it was possible. However, he was willing to give it a shot.
I’m the money nerd and he’s more free-spirited, so once we faced our harsh money reality it was all about goal setting and execution. Every single month I created a budget with his input. Once I finished crunching the numbers, he had to review it, approve it, and commit to it.
We definitely encounter some friction some months, and when we fell off the wagon we had to reconnect with our WHY. We used the debt snowball method which was nice because we were able to celebrate some quick wins. However, what really set him on fire was when we paid off his Tahoe!! That’s when he began to see that debt freedom was within our reach.
Lastly, one thing that really helped us stay motivated, for 6 long years, while we plowed through our ($200k) debt was compromise. As I stated earlier, I was the money nerd, but he wasn’t. We made sure he always had cash in his pocket and that we incorporated date nights and occasional modest family vacations into the budget. Those things were essential to us staying the course.“
Germaine – GermaineMartina.com
“I was actually the spouse who was in debt. My husband has always been really good about money and I literally remember crying at his table when I told him about all my consumer debt.
The FIRST thing that he did to get me on board was the remove the shame I was carrying about the debt. As I was crying, he assured me by saying that one day I would laugh at the fact that I thought this was a big deal and proceeded to help me do the math on a payment plan. He was right! I can laugh at it today but at the time it was very difficult.
So from my experience, it’s safe to assume that if your spouse is not onboard to pay off debt, then money is an emotional issue for them and you’ll need to address it from that perspective. You have to find ways to show them how to relate to money logically, instead of emotionally.
There are probably a lot of ways to do this, but for me it was a combination of cutting up the credit cards (ALL of them), moving to debit/cash only, and breaking up an annual payoff plan into lots of short-term 2 week plans that aligned to my pay cycles. All of these things turned the payoff into a math exercise vs. a money one.”
Kiersten – www.richandregular.com (Kiersten and her spouse eliminated $200,000 worth of debt in 5 years!)
“During our debt repayment journey my husband and I both weren’t on the same page and that’s partially because we got married right in the middle of it. Prior to that, we had separate finances and thus, his debt and my debt. When we got married, we put our money together to pay off my husband’s $4,000 of credit card debt in just a few months.
One of the main issues we’ve had has been different mindsets. I had a mindset of abundance and my husband has a scarcity mindset because he believed we didn’t earn enough to pay off debt and save more. In order to get my husband on board, I had to explain why I wanted to improve our finances and help him visualize the benefits we’d have.
I was writing about money every day and learning about it but didn’t realize the fact that he wasn’t sharing the same experience so I recommended he read certain books (like The Millionaire Next Door), blogs, and even check out personal YouTube channels.
I lead by example and focused on aggressively paying down my student loans to show him what was possible. I also pitched him the idea of getting a side hustle and choosing something he liked to do. He doesn’t like to write as much like I do, so we came up with the idea of driving for Uber and he loves it. He was able to pay his car loan off last year thanks to Uber side income.
For anyone who wants to get their spouse on board: I recommend starting slow and not attacking or belittling them and their positions. Whenever I gave ultimatums in my relationship, it either made things worse or made the process miserable for us.
Lead by example and offer outside resources and tools to help. Allow your partner to feel like they’re making their own decisions like how I encouraged my husband to choose a side hustle.”
Chonce, mydebtepiphany.com (Chonce recently paid off her $30,000 worth of student loans in 3 years. Read more about it here.)
“One of the things that helped my husband and I get on the same page, financially, was discussing our future goals together. Anytime I brought up money, or the need to budget, or cut back expenses, or something he spent ‘his money on’ that would throw our budget out of whack, it only lead to anger, irritation, and bridged a gap further between us.
Instead, I set up a day and time to discuss our short and long-term goals, and when we would like to achieve them. This lead to suggestions by him on how we could reach our goals even further: home ownership, starting a business, investing in real estate, vacations, college savings, retirement planning – you name it!
Since debt was a silent partner in our marriage, he quickly realized that we had to eliminate it completely and expeditiously, in order to start actively working towards the goals that stirred our souls.
End result, in 3 yrs we overcame cancer (3 rounds), being over a half million dollars in debt (primarily medical debt), purchased a few real estate properties full cash, and now work full time in our financial education services firm helping other learn how to master their money.
Netiva, The Frugal CreditNista
“We paid off over $30,000 of debt. When we were first engaged, we had different approaches to money. I had the trifecta of debt (credit card, car, and student loan), but I also was saving a bit and had some retirement contributions. My husband had little debt, but he wasn’t saving for long-term plans.
For us, we had to compromise on certain goals. We made paying off certain debts like the credit cards and car loan a big priority, but for the student loans, we slowed down just a bit. I wanted to go at it at 120% (seeing the difference with my and his debt, I became intense, but my husband is much more mellow.)
It’s allowed us to not only knock out this debt but allowed us to be on the same team and still have fun during the journey.
I did a recent show about getting your spouse on board with a budget and many of the hesitations/fears apply with debt. I found two big reasons spouses weren’t on board:
- They don’t see the why behind it. Getting out of debt is a worthy thing to work towards, but for some spouses they need a more meaningful why. More time with kids, greater flexibility with work, maybe a chance to travel more – those can be fantastic motivations to get on board.
- They don’t agree with the intensity. Besides taking care of finances, we all have other goals that we’re working towards. Sometimes it can be that one spouse is gung-ho and wants to dump the debt ASAP, but the other wants to have some fun now.”
Elle Martinez, couplemoneypodcast.com/
“There’s nothing more defeating than getting excited about cleaning up your finances only to discover your spouse isn’t on board.
Unfortunately, this is a common scenario, and it’s one I was in when I wanted to pay off my debt. My husband was not only not on board, but he was also convinced that nothing was wrong. I tried to get him to read the personal finances books I was reading and to learn what I was learning, but he wouldn’t.
So for years, things got worse, all while he felt we were fine and I knew we were not.
Frustrated, I decided that I was just going to move forward without him and started implementing changes on my own. But doing this actually added more problems to our situation. It brought dishonesty and resentment into our marriage. Dishonesty, because I started hiding savings from him and resentment because I felt I was being mature and grown up while he wasn’t.
Also, because we weren’t “in it together,” whatever progress I thought I was making was eventually reversed. When I fessed up that we had a little money saved, you know what we did with it? We took a vacation we couldn’t afford. The savings wasn’t enough, so we put the rest of it on our credit cards!
Trying to turn your finances around is hard. I was attempting to do the work on my own with no accountability, so it was easy to be convinced to slip back into old patterns.
My husband finally got on board. After years of trying to get him to read books about money, he decided to listen to the audio version of one of them. Once he did, he realized we had a problem, became inspired, and started believing we could fix it. We began working together and quickly picked up momentum as we paid off our debt.
The moral of the story is not to get your spouse an audiobook. It’s that your spouse needs to get on board on their own terms. Meaning, how you discovered that you need to turn your financial situation around and how you got inspired and motivated may not work for your spouse. They will only “wake up” when something “speaks” to their unique personality and to how they are wired.
When they do, it will change everything. If you are struggling with a “reluctant spouse,” here’s what I encourage you to do.
1. Dream with Your Spouse
If you only focus on what you need to do to get out of debt that’s not much for your spouse to get excited about. But if you focus on why you want to get out of debt and what you would do if the debt were gone, that’s a lot more motivational than, “We have to cancel cable.”
2. Find What Appeals to Your Spouse
If books are their thing, great introduce some books to them. But maybe books aren’t their thing. Maybe they need to become inspired by watching a video, taking a class, or hearing from a friend they admire who turned their financial situation around. Maybe they need a visual picture of where you’ll be in ten years if you don’t start doing things differently. You get the idea…They need to become educated and inspired in a way that appeals to them.
3. Keep Your Motivation Up
Having a spouse that’s not on board doesn’t mean you’re doomed and destined to be in debt forever, but it does mean you may not see the progress you’re hoping for until you both are working together. In the meantime, continue to educate yourself and expose yourself to others who have paid or are paying off debt. It’s important to keep your eye on the prize while you are waiting for your spouse to come around.
4. Be Patient and Don’t Give Up
This isn’t the most exciting advice, but it’s probably the most effective. Our human nature means we may need to hear things repeatedly before we act on them. Your spouse hears you; be patient. Keep trying new approaches and don’t give up.
Above all, let your spouse know through your actions and your words how much you love them, how much you care about your future, and that the sooner you begin working together, the longer you have to enjoy that future.”
Alaya, HopeandCents.com (Alaya and her spouse paid off $74,000 in 2 years)
“My husband was never hesitant about getting out of debt and he is not a spender at all. But, he has a much more laidback approach to money and has little interest in the day to day activities of actually sticking to a budget and managing the household finances.When we got married we were both fresh out of undergrad and didn’t have any money to manage. Things were actually simpler then. But we both had student loan debt after completing Bachelor’s degrees, with me owing three times as much as his.I then went on to earn two more degrees and when it was all said and done, I had about $87K compared to his $10K. I took the lead in paying back the debt because most of it was mine and I moved forward with a strict budget, even though hubby didn’t fully participate, so that I could aggressively pay off the debt faster.He trusted me with the money matters and I naturally took the lead on things but I eventually became resentful that he wouldn’t really engage in the money management. Then, a couple of years ago I went into the hospital with complications during my third pregnancy.During that time I was completely out of commission and on bedrest. My husband admitted that he didn’t like feeling out of the loop and not knowing where all of the important documents were or where to send the mortgage payment.Gradually the budget has become a way of life and my husband realized that debt free, frugal living is really important to me so he became a more willing participant. We now have monthly budget meetings and discuss our finances regularly.Now that we are debt free (other than the mortgage) and able to travelmore he seems to embrace the budget more because it allows us to prioritize spending our money on the things that really matter to us most. Oh, yeah…and I finally talked him into getting rid of cable. It only took me 13 years to convince him.
The advice that I give typically is…
1. Be patient and don’t nag.2. Pick your battles and choose your timing wisely. It’s best to avoid discussing money when you’re already angry because it won’t lead to a productive conversation3. Initially frame the money conversation around shared goals and desired outcomes instead of the actual nitty gritty of the budget. For example, I recommend asking open ended questions like…So where do you see our family being financially in 5 years?What does your ideal retirement look like for you?These seemingly benign questions are less confrontational compared to …Why did you you spend _____ on _______ (while wagging your finger)?The latter question will automatically make him defensive. Discussing the future will hopefully get him to open up more.
4. Get started (somewhere, anywhere) even if he isn’t on board.“
Nicole, FrugalChicLife.com (Nicole paid off $90,000 in student loans!)
Wrapping Thangs Up
As you can see, I clearly know what needs to be done to get your spouse to get on board. However, it feels awesome to see those strategies at work and how they’ve paid off for all of these wonderful ladies.
It’s important that you allow your spouse to come to terms with paying off debt in their own way. It’s obvious that forcing the issue doesn’t work, so take heed to the advice given above if you’re struggling to get your spouse on board with your debt repayment plan and remember, sometimes it’s not them, it’s you.
Rethink your approach and this year may be the year you start inching closer to financial freedom.