Reader Question — How to Get a Reluctant Spouse on Board?

by Katy on December 13, 2011 · 27 comments

Reader, Jennifer posted this question on the Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook wall:

“I would love tips on how to get your spouse on board. Even when times are tough, my husband’s mind-set is to EARN MORE instead of SPEND LESS. <sigh> (He would rather take a second job than cut back our expenses.)”

This is a hard question, and there is certainly no simple answer. There in an inherent societal pressure on men to provide for their families, and to have to scrimp and save at home can easily be equated with failure as a financial provider.

My experience has been that a frugal lifestyle is more appealing when it’s presented as a means to an end, rather than a stand-alone goal:

“Yes, we are going without cable TV/an expensive vacation/gifts for one another, but look at the money we’ve put aside to pay off our mortgage/fund the kids’ college funds/erase all our student loans.

Right now, my family is putting every extra penny aside so that we can send the boys on their class trips to Japan without incurring any debt. (I also just found out that I was chosen to be one of three chaperones for the eighth grade trip, which is fantastic news, even though it means I suddenly need to come up with approximately $1500.) Altogether, it’s going to add up to around $7500. Needless to say, this is our main current financial goal.

Keep in mind, I would be totally fine with a frugal life without these goals, but for my husband Dale, the goals are key.

How about you, what advice do you have for Jennifer? What has and has not worked for your family? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land December 13, 2011 at 8:55 am

I think you’re right, Katy! My husband was okay with saving money so we could pay off our house, and, by the time we got it paid off, he was used to it.


Samantha December 13, 2011 at 9:19 am

Anxiously awaiting the answers! My husband has a hard time getting on board. He is a techno-file and always wants the latest and greatest. He really needs to recognize wants vs needs but can’t seem to get on board with it. He is frugal in some areas (he drives 93 PINK corolla to work every day), but when it comes to electronics and expensive food I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.


Lisa December 13, 2011 at 11:12 am

Samantha- I’m waiting for those answers too.


Ellie December 14, 2011 at 6:53 am

Without knowing more about your husband than what you posted, it sounds to me like computers and food are his priority “wants”. Rather than trying to fight that, can you work with it? When you try to talk to him about budgeting, approach it as “I’d like to talk about what we can cut back on so that we can afford what you (and I) each really care about.” Maybe you already tried that…But I think its worth mentioning again that except in extreme situations, budgeting isn’t just about “how can we deny ourselves as much as possible so that we save all of our money”, but rather a matter of “how can we balance needs (including bills and savings) with the “wants” that matter to us, while cutting back on the stuff that matters the least?” The fact that he drives the pink car suggests he IS willing to cut back where it doesn’t matter to him – so I doubt he’s hopeless 🙂


Diedra B December 13, 2011 at 11:13 am

if you believe in prayer, try it. . . I encouraged my husband to pray about some changes we planned on making. . .we prayed together, and he prayed on his own and asked for a sign. Well, he saw the sign and so far, we are going forward.


Heather December 13, 2011 at 11:32 am

I suggest each spouse making a list of what their priorities are in life (e.g. health, education, debt free living, etc) and then share them with each other. Then based on those lists you can make a set of what the two of you deem as your financial goals. You won’t both have the same priority lists, but once you know what each other’s is you can respect what is on the other’s list and both work together towards your goals…spending your money (or not) mindfully of those priorities. My husband and I did this and learned a lot about one another, spending money is less of an issue now because we now know why we are doing it.


Megan December 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Katy- way off subject, but any idea why I can only see your old site when using my phone and home computer, but I can see the new one at work? Is it still having issues?


Katy December 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm




Kristen@TheFrugalGirl December 13, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Can you clear your cache or something?


Megan December 14, 2011 at 7:51 am

I did clear the cache and history- well on my home computer anyway. Funny thing is I didn’t clear cookies on my work computer.

As for my phone- That’s beyond me! I’ve updated my software since then- which usually resets things. Next time I see my brother, I’m going to have to have him look at it. He thinks I’m really dumb, lol.


Elaine in Ark December 14, 2011 at 11:14 am

I thought clearing the cache and deleting the history were the same thing.

How do I clear the cache on my laptop?


Megan December 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

On my mac once I go into Safari- I click on the bold safari in the right corner, and click clear cache.

I clear the history through the history tab.

On my work computer I clear the cookies- it’s in the settings tab I think?

Ann-Marie December 13, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Check out the website Have your husband answer the 7 random tiles they choose for him and it will give you (for free) what his money motivation is. There are 3 types of money minds, Fear (both my husband and I are this type), Commitment and Happiness minded. Fear minded folks are motivated by the fear of the worst things that can happen and so having cash in the bank is king because it will give you the ability to care of those you love. Commitment focused are more focused on how they can make others happy with money. Happiness focused people focus on how money can be spent to have a good time. If you try to approach your financial goals with your money mind he will never quite get it. If he knows his money mind he can use that to make his goals. One thing that helped us, when my husband and I seemed to have different financial goals in the early days of our marriage was to have a decent “allowance”. If he has to spend “his own money” and not the “house money” to purchase the latest electronics he may think twice.


Samantha December 14, 2011 at 6:54 am

I think that is our plan in the new year is to each have an allowance. We already do this for small expenditures like coffee or lunches out (just $20/week), but I’m going to lump everything together and give him $300/month to cover EVERYTHING for himself. If he spends all his money on a new tablet then he can’t buy coffee, or a new shirt, or pay his cell phone bill.


Kate December 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I think it’s important to get them to see that you are just trying to be wise with the money they are bringing in, no matter how much it is, and responsible. It’s not as if it’s not enough money (that they are a failure) but you want to make sure you are getting the most out of it that you can, which is really what being frugal is all about, making the most of it. I would also suggest trying to find some stories about very wealthy people who still are very frugal. I know they are out there, including some celebrities. I used to have a lot of disposable income when I lived in a very-low-cost-of-living area but I still was very frugal with my income and the point is it allows you to do things above and beyond what is thought possible.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land December 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley.


Megg December 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm

One of the ways I got my husband on board was “sneaking” in frugal things. For example, I do almost all the grocery shopping, so I cut back on that, and started cooking a lot more so we weren’t tempted to eat out. We did have trouble canceling cable, but I just wore on him long enough, explained the benefits (we don’t watch anything good, we have Netflix, etc.) that he was finally on board. I found that by cutting expenses in a few areas that I could “control” (and I don’t mean for this to sound like I’m going behind his back, he doesn’t care what I buy for groceries) there was more flexibility for other things.
Another thing that helped us was setting up together. It was an easy way to see what’s going on with our finances, and we were able to set up goals (vacation, furniture) and I think that helped both of us see where our money is going, and where we want it to go.


Lisa Under the Redwoods December 13, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Maybe if you figure out his true hourly wage (salary minus taxes minus commute expenses minus any other work related expenses) divided by (hours at work + commute time) he can start figuring out if the newest techno bauble is truly worth X hours of his life. This one calculation really slowed down my spending.


Elaine in Ark December 14, 2011 at 11:11 am

This worked for me, too! It really helps determine what *IS* worth x amount of hours of my life at work.

I read this quote somewhere:

“You work hard for your money – make your money work hard for you.”

Maybe it was Donna Summer…


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land December 14, 2011 at 12:40 pm

The book “Your Money or Your Life” explains this. An interesting, motivational read, for sure.


Kristin @ KlingtoCash December 13, 2011 at 8:53 pm

My husband and I use a football analogy. We play offense, working to get money into the house but defense is important also. We need to protect the money we have so we can have the big win at retirement. My husband is not a big spender anyways and would much rather spend time with me than work to accumulate stuff. He’s a good frugal husband.


L in the Boston burbs December 14, 2011 at 5:07 am

This is somewhat related to today’s post but more of a topic I’ve been hoping you’d write about for quite some time. What kind of financial forcasting did you do when your children were born and you cut back from full-time work? Were you already employing many of your frugal ways? Did these skills become more honed with time? I’m expecting twins (our first and second children all at once!) this spring, and I have a lot to figure out on the financial front. We’re in good shape on the no-debt-except-a-mortgage and cash/long-term savings front, but the loss in my income (either by staying home or exchanging for child care) will be a huge shift. There are expenses we’ll need to cut and some percentage of savings we’ll need to forgo. I’d love to hear some stories about working through this joyful, but somewhat uncharted, period in one’s life.


Jana December 14, 2011 at 5:21 am

I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with him wanting to earn more money rather than cutting back. He still recognizes that they can’t afford certain things and is willing to do the work to make sure that they can. That’s a pretty admirable quality considering how many people would rather not do either (cut back or earn more).

To get my husband on board, I did two things. First, I showed him how much money was wasted every single month of small, convenient purchases. Then I told him that if we continued down that path, he’d never be able to own the boat he so desperately wants to own. It seemed to work. He’s pretty frugal in a lot of areas but there are certain things that he isn’t frugal about. Now that we’re in a better place financially, we’ve learned to prioritize.


CanadianKate December 14, 2011 at 10:19 am

Perhaps having him read the Millionaire Next Door (or you read it and read parts to him) will help.

That showed my husband that the people he wanted to be most like weren’t those who believe in showing off affluence. We have our own company but kept it small so we had the freedom to do what we wanted and not have to scramble to keep staff paid in economic downturns.

There was a rough time when our son was in private school, we needed a new car and dh wanted a particular BMW. I said no. We had the cash to pay for the car but it would cost more for insurance and repairs and then we’d probably have to get an alarm system for the house because people casing the place might assume (incorrectly) that a house with a BMW might have things worth stealing. So we continued to be the only domestic car in the pick-up lane at the private school.

Last month we met on the street another entrepreneur friend while just hanging downtown last week. He’s our age but his kids are slightly younger. He’s a serial entrepreneur, starting and growing companies and then selling for a good profit. He’s run off his feet now, incubating his companies and handling staff, trying to balance family and work expectations.

We, on the other hand, are headed on a month long cruise up the coast of Africa.

All those years of scrimping are paying off for us big time now. We only have one car, we only eat out at cheap restaurants, I reuse everything, I belong to the Compact and buy most things used and I continue to live in our middle-class home, longing for a smaller one but it will cost more to downsize than stay put so we’ll stay put.

My flooring is vinyl, my counters are laminate. My kitchen is from the 80s and I love it but a style guru would shudder to look at it. My appliances don’t even match in colour, let alone style!

My dh has semi-retired at 52, with a comfortable life paid for by our savings. The travel, which is our one weakness, is paid for by work he is still doing. Once he isn’t working all the time, he’ll probably be too old to travel as much so that should balance itself out well.

All of this is traceable back to the Millionaire Next Door which spelled out the traits the author found among self-made millionaires and taught my dh that affluence doesn’t equal wealth.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land December 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm

We don’t make much money–far below the median income in the US–but have just discovered we are in the top 2% of household net worth. Frugality makes a HUGE difference. We’re saving for our son who has autism, so he will have a trust fund and not need to rely on the government. We still have joyful lives, and we enjoy frugality.


Nina Nelson December 14, 2011 at 3:39 pm

My husband has effectively been converted to a natural home remedy-using, frugal-shopping minimalist. And, I can tell you with certainty, that my nagging had nothing to do with it. Not that Jennifer is a nag, but I certainly am quite skilled in that area and have used said skill with no success for many years. (Why do I keep trying???)

I had to show my husband that it was worth it. Having goals to work toward together really helped, too. If there’s any part of the budget that you can cut down on that he’s not that involved in (maybe the grocery budget, child-related stuff, clothes, something) do it. And then let him see the benefits – happier you, more money for fun stuff that you all really enjoy, a growing savings account, etc.

Ian didn’t begin taking note of what I was doing until I showed him over and over (and over!) again that it worked, the effort was worth it and it positively influenced our family in a huge way.

Good luck!


Maniacal Mommy December 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Sometimes it just comes down to seeing is believing. When I brought home a practically new desk I found on Craigslist that would have retailed close to $200 but paid $25 for? My husband loved it. When he realized that he was able to talk just as much on his Tracfone (prepaid with bonus code) for way less than our previous cell phone plan, he was very pleased.

I also brought home one of those game tables, a 6 in 1. I found it on the side of road for free. He had wanted to get our kids one for $100 at Sears, but I scored a way nicer one just by being in the right place at the right time (dad ready to get rid of when his kids left for college). Going price on Craigslist is $200, for one that looks as nice as what I found.

We keep our thermostat low, and seldom use the clothes dryer in our basement, instead using the drying rack. I tell him our utility bill cost and ask him to compare it to his coworker’s utility bills. Needless to say, he hung our family of five’s socks on the drying rack, despite that being one of my “we can use the dryer for THOSE!” exceptions. He still slips, but he has the greater goal in mind for the most part. The cost/benefit ratio appealed to him, especially when it meant more sleep!


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