Joint decision-making about money

Extreme closeup of golden coins, columns and a heap

Think you and your partner are making joint decisions when it comes to the household budget? What does your partner think? Let’s look at a case study:

Michael is the main breadwinner and Sally works part-time and is the primary carer of their three children. Sally is a natural spender and Michael is a saver. They get on really well, except when they fight over money. He thinks she is totally irresponsible because she spends far more than the money they have “agreed” that she should spend each week. She feels like he is her boss and she has no say in how the money is spent. Sally avoids talking about money at all costs.

When they come in for counselling, they are both feeling frustrated and misunderstood. When Sally explains that she feels controlled by Michael over money (they have joint bank accounts), he responds by offering to “give” her more money if she justifies her expenditure. Sally starts to cry. Michael shakes his head in confusion and looks to me for validation: What else can I do? I only make so much money. There is not much more to spend. We are going backwards.

Sally jumps in and explains that she wants to be part of the decision making: Why is it that you are able to buy whatever you want but I have to check with you? Michael shoots back: I don’t spend much money, so it doesn’t affect our bank account. And I let you buy nearly everything you want. I’m happy for you to go away with the girls for the weekend and shop once a year. I was so supportive when you wanted to fly over and see your mum and I told you to go. How can I be fairer than that?

Michael is not a controlling person, but he is trying to control the household spend. In his mind, without his control, they would lose all their money. Sadly, if they continue to tackle the problem this way, their relationship will be in jeopardy. Sally obviously needs to own her habit of over-spending but the combination of a spender and a saver should balance out nicely if they work as a team.

Michael was encouraged to rethink how he tackled the issue.

Instead of saying: I’m happy for you to spend money on travelling to see your mum. It was suggested he say: What do we think? Are we happy for you to spend money on travelling to see your mum? I know I am, what about you?

Instead of saying: How much do you need for the weekly grocery spend? I’m happy to increase the amount I put in that account. He was encouraged to say: Let’s work out what’s needed for the weekly groceries.

Instead of saying: This credit card statement is outrageous. I thought I told you not to go over $2000 each month. Michael learned to say: I’m a bit worried about our credit card bill each month. Can we sit down and talk about it. It’s our money and we should jointly decide how to spend it.

When Michael started changing the way he brought up the issue of Sally’s spending and made it more about making joint decisions, Sally stopped avoiding the issue and started owning her issue of over-spending. The arguments rapidly decreased and they felt closer and I was out of a job.

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