How to Get Your Family On Board When Paying Off Debt

You may be the “nerd” in your family, as Dave Ramsey says, who enjoys creating a budget, monitoring the flow of money and maybe even creating a visual guide to your debt repayment.  Sound familiar?

Perhaps there is nothing stopping you.  If you are fortunate, your spouse and kids are on board and just as excited to scream, “We’re debt FREE!” as you are.

However, for many just embarking on their debt payoff journey, this isn’t the case.  You may be dealing with a spouse or kids who are reluctant to change their lifestyle, and honestly, who can blame them?

Dave Ramsey encourages people to live like no one else so later you can live like no one else.  The problem is living like no one else in the beginning can be a real drag.  Ramsey himself admits during their debt payoff time, his wife, who stayed home with the children, had to endure an entire hot, humid Tennessee summer with no air conditioning because it broke and replacing it was not in the budget.  Yeah, not fun.  Ramsey drove an old beater car that his coworkers made fun of.  Now, he and his wife live in a multi-million dollar mansion that they paid for with cash.

If you are trying to get your spouse on board with your debt repayment plan, here are some steps to take:

1.  Take it slow.

Most people don’t like radical change.  You have probably heard the old saying that the best way to cook a frog is to increase the temperature of the water slowly so he doesn’t perceive that it is getting hotter.  Of course, I am not comparing your spouse to a frog, but the analogy works.  If you take away all the fat from the budget, your reluctant spouse is likely to rebel.  Instead, take it slow.

If you want to cut some luxuries from your budget so you have money for debt repayment, cut your own luxuries first.  If you buy premium coffee, downgrade to the cheaper version.  Let your spouse see you making sacrifices first before you even ask her to make any.

2.  Find cheaper substitutes.

Many times people don’t want to attack debt because they don’t want their lifestyle to change.  This is understandable.  In the beginning of your debt repayment journey, try to find ways to maintain the same lifestyle for less.  If your husband loves cable or satellite television, perhaps you can show him how much cheaper streaming movies and shows can be.  He may agree to the cheaper change if he doesn’t have to sacrifice quality.

3.  Have monthly budget meetings.

Take the time to sit down with your spouse every month to discuss the budget; let him/her have a say in how the money is spent (and applied to debt).  Show your spouse how long it will take to pay down your debt at the current rate and how much interest you will pay.  Then, show her how much less interest you will pay if you ramp up your payments.  Show her how much extra you will have every month if you don’t have to service debt every month.

If you have older kids, you can also include them in the budget meeting.  Many kids have unrealistic expectations of their parents’ finances.  It is fine to show them the expenses and why you may not have money for every activity they want to participate in.

4.  Give the kids an extracurricular allowance.

If you don’t want to take away all the sports and activities your children are involved in, let them know how much you can continue to pay.  They can decide whether they want to drop some activities or find a part-time job to supplement your money so they can continue with all of their current activities.

If you are excited about paying down debt, but your spouse is not on board, take it slow.  Don’t push a reluctant spouse.  Instead, take the initiative and change your own life.  Cut the extras from your spending and sell your stuff.  As your spouse sees your determination, he or she may join you.

Have you dealt with a reluctant spouse when paying down debt?  What worked best for you?

About the Author

By , on Jan 14, 2013
Melissa
Melissa is a freelance writer and blogs at Mom's Plans, where she shares her family's journey to get out of debt, live a fulfilling life on less, and enjoy healthy, allergy friendly foods. She is a mom to three kids, ages 8, 4, and 2.

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{25 Comments}

  1. I am going through this right now. I have decided enough is enough,Im ready to take control. My husband gives me a guilt trip when I put the stop to spending. He is calling me the financial guru! Haha I just want to be freed, and I think he is seeing that…slowly!

  2. I think realizing that you have the same ultimate goal can help you manage the day to day stuff. We have been doing a monthly meeting for the last few months. It was painful at first, but now is always a way to try and do better and plan for the things we know are coming.

  3. Ah, the boiled frog example. Good one! I’ve heard that applied to people staying in jobs too long, but I think it also applies here as well.

  4. My wife and I have been married for 6 years now. When we first started our life together we were on a completely different page when it came to finances and budgeting, which is understandable when you’ve been living at home and spending your money on pretty much anything you wanted!

    Now though we’re completely in sync and it’s improved our relationship no end. Mostly it’s because I took the time to show my wife our true financial position and what every overspend meant in the long run in interest payments. We’re not totally debt free but I know we’ll get there.

  5. We’ve joined the Debt Movement anyway although it is a bit late for us!

  6. Thad says:

    Wow! That last question you asked can sure open a world of stress. But it needs to be asked. Seeing budgeting differently can lead to ongoing problems.

  7. Ruser S says:

    My wife and I recently made a commitment to pay off two of our student loans by the end of the year; this will require us to make almost $600 a month more in loan payments. It will be difficult, but we’re both willing to make the sacrifices we need to make. Also, I think living frugally and more simply will be a lot better for our relationship — and give us some more time with our new son, too.

  8. Mackenzie says:

    Monthly budget meetings are a good idea; I think we really need to do this. Right now, our talks about money are sort of random and sporadic.

  9. My biggest obstacle is that my wife seems to be bi-polar about money. Over the course of the weekend, she went from being worried about us being able to afford our mortgage, our new rent, and the motel for the 2 weeks in between to wanting to go out for breakfast (wound up using the cash that was my allowance for the rest of the month). And then yesterday she wanted to go to Olive Garden for dinner tonight with the rent payment we received and by the time we got home, we was instructing me to put the whole amount in the bank.

  10. Monthly meetings are a fantastic idea! Luckily, I’ve paid off all of my debt other than a bit of student loans (which are at 1.265% so it makes more sense to do other things with my money) and my mortgage, so my future spouse won’t have to inherit my debts.

  11. Pauline says:

    My favorite is the substitute area. I am fighting this one with my BF at the moment. I already make delicious meals at home so he doesn’t feel like eating out like we used to, now I am trying to lower the grocery bill by trying to find meals that he would eat without so much meat. He says he feels like he hasn’t eaten when eating vegetarian! Trying to substitute without him noticing is the best I can do so far.

  12. I am a rabid saver, he is more of a relaxed spender. Thus we do frequent family ‘business’ meetings to ensure our joint finances are running smoothly and we are on the same page regarding debt payoff, saving percentages, financial goals, etc.

  13. Debt RoundUp says:

    Awesome post Melissa. My wife was a little reluctant in the beginning because she didn’t understand the severity of the debt we were in. After getting her to understand, our debt free journey became much easier. I did have to use a lot of substitutes in order to keep her interested, but finally, I was able to get rid of the substitutes and just save even more money.

  14. Great tips! I agree with Joe, though – I hate to say that! I think monthly budget meetings are a minimum. We review our budget several times a month.

  15. AverageJoe says:

    I love the idea of budget meetings, but monthly isn’t enough for me. When we used a weekly budget meeting it was really effective. With a set agenda, the weekly budget meeting helped focus everyone and made the meeting short and enjoyable.

    • Melissa says:

      I agree that weekly is ideal, but when you are dealing with someone who is reluctant, you will be lucky to get them to sit down for monthly meetings.

      My husband always just handed the budget off to me. After 12 years of marriage, he has finally agreed that monthly meetings are good. I wanted to try to do 15 minute weekly meetings just to show him where we are at, but he really isn’t interested. Maybe in another year. :)

  16. Thankfully, my wife has been on board the whole time that we’ve budgeted. That has made it so much easier as I know that she’s on the same page with me. That said, I think a lot of these are great tips. We do the regular budget meetings ourselves still to make sure that we’re on track.

    • Melissa says:

      Having a spouse that sees the same as you financially is so important. I wish more people would consider how their spouse thinks about finances before they get married. They could avoid a lot of trouble later.

  17. Matt says:

    Point 1 is an important one. I’ve read many times that the other half just wasn’t keen on all the cut backs, although it’s very hard if you’re already deep in the mire.

    • Melissa says:

      Taking it slow can be hard when there is nothing more you want to do than pay off debt NOW, but for the long haul with a reluctant spouse, taking it slowly is the way to go.

  18. I really became a saver the minute I wanted to move out of my parents house. Something inside of my clicked and all of a sudden I saw the benefits of saving rather than endlessly spending.
    Then I got into debt for our house and realised just how lucky I was to have started my savings habits when I was younger. My dad has always been an avid saver and was really supportive, but mum likes the finer things in life and doesn’t appreciate saving and paying off debt as much as me or my dad.

    Luckily I married a wonderful woman who shares my passion for becoming debt free, so we are really lucky in that regard.

    • Melissa says:

      That is good that you married someone who has the same values as you. That is so important.
      My mom is a spender, and she still tries to get me to buy things, but I generally refuse now.

  19. Great post Melissa.

    I really like the idea of monthly meetings. My partner and I now really look forward to doing our budgets each month because we get to allocate all our money to savings and investments now our debts are gone. It’s a great feeling and makes the drag period you described totally worth while.

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