Hello YNABers. My name is Jesse Mecham and this is podcast number 87 for You Need A Budget, where we teach you four rules to help you stop living pay check to pay check, get out of debt and save more money.
Today’s podcast is dedicated to the reluctant spouse. I don’t have one, so I can’t speak from experience here. But if I did have a reluctant spouse when it came to the budget, I think I would start very, very slowly and I would start on a very positive note.
When people first decide they want to eat better or maybe exercise more, they depend on their excitement for the new thing as their drive. Mark mentioned in a blog post a bit ago about how he lost 25 pounds and he’s been able to keep it off because he made some structural changes instead of just depending on willpower to get the job done. Willpower doesn’t get the job done for any long period of time. And BJ Fogg from Tiny Habits, who we’ve had on the podcast, he would say the same thing. You just have to change the structure of things and make it easy.
So, when you first start on an eating program, for instance, everyone wants to go all in. “Monday is the day I’m going to start. Monday is the day I’m going to banish all of my bad habits and never see them again.” And they just don’t stick. With a reluctant spouse, that problem of having something stick is multiplied. You’re dealing with friction from the get go. So not only do we have you trying to perhaps change the finances of your family, but you have a spouse that’s pushing against the entire process.
So, if I had a reluctant spouse, this would be my strategy, and it would take a long time to get them fully on board with YNAB – or any positive financial change. This topic came about from hopping on the forums and reading lots of different threads about marriage and money. Sometimes what we need to think about is maybe some marriage counseling, to be honest. I am no counselor, and that’s about as much as I can say about it; but that type of communication could go a long way. So that’s something to consider, but a little tactic nonetheless.
Let’s pretend that Julie is reluctant. She has seen me try again and again to get excited about this or that financial thing and she’s thinking, “Oh, here we go again. Jesse’s on the rampage. He’s going to want to take away all of our fun and restrict my spending.” This is all hypothetical, remember. So I wouldn’t approach it at all like that. I would go to Julie and I would say, “You’ve been wanting to redecorate the master bedroom for a while, right?” She’d agree – that’s not hypothetical. And I would say, “I really think we should do that. Let’s pick an amount that we want to spend on it and let’s save for it. Let’s do this. Let’s do it as fast as we can. Let’s really focus on it, and let’s get it done.” That would be my angle.
Maybe the reluctant spouse is, “Well, let’s throw it on a card,” and you have that issue to deal with. But the idea is you find something positive that the reluctant spouse wants and you focus just on that. And that’s your first rainy day fund. That’s your first following of Rule Two. You don’t need YNAB to do this. You could make a little chart on the fridge or something. And you basically say, “Okay, let’s do this. How soon do you think we could save up the money for it?” They say, “Maybe four months.” “I think we could do it in three. Let’s get this master bedroom looking great.” So they’re thinking, “Okay.” And then you say, “Okay, based on that, we’re going to need to put away X amount per month for it. I think we can do it. I absolutely think we can do it. Let’s go all in.” It might be a vacation, it might be as simple as some new shoes, it could be something for their hobby, but it’s something that they’ve wanted. Something that they will really enjoy. Something really perhaps only for them. Something that maybe fund money would eventually be used for.
So you have that positive thing. You have the goal, you start setting aside, and maybe, just maybe, if you can reach that goal you give them a little taste of what it would be like to have most of their financial life operating that way. A little bit of delayed gratification, some goal setting, taking small bits and baby steps, and getting it to a point where they’re feeling good. This might be the first time that this reluctant spouse – and I’m saying this honestly because you know people like this – this might be the first time this reluctant spouse saved up any significant amount of money and paid for something. And that is a significant mental breakthrough for a lot of people.
I honestly can list people that I personally know that have never felt that fantastic feeling of delaying something, saving for something and then acquiring that thing guilt-free. Actually purchasing something and feeling good about the purchase instead of feeling guilty. And that maybe… if you can just give them a taste of that with one item – don’t worry about what you’re spending on groceries, restaurants, anything else – but just one line item in this budget that’s as simple as setting up a savings account and setting up an automatic transfer, whatever. Implementation is not nearly as important as execution. But just giving them a taste of that might open up their eyes.
And then maybe you say, “Man, that was awesome! The master bedroom is furnished, we paid all cash. High fives all around! What else shall we do? You know what? You know what we’re always at each other about is Christmas. What if we did the same thing for Christmas? What if we decided here in June…” or July or whatever, February if you’re crazy, January if you’re right on top of things as a YNABer. You come to them and say, “That felt so great. Let’s do this for Christmas. What shall we spend?” They say, “I think we should spend $600.” “$600? I think we should spend $750. I think we should really kick it up a notch for Christmas, don’t you? Don’t you think that would be fun for the kids? Don’t you think that would be fun for the family? Maybe we could do XYZ with the extra money.” Surprise them. Because they see you as the one that always takes away, the one that always says, “No, we can’t buy that. No, that’s too much. We shouldn’t spend that much. We need it for this.” You’re always the enforcer, and you don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be that, no one does. But by default you’re in the enforcer because you feel like you have to protect the situation.
So, you surprise them. When they say $600 for Christmas and you bump it up to $750, and they’re thinking, “Okay. So you’re saying $750. Alright. Let’s do it.” Maybe say $720 for easy math. And then you say, “Okay, $720. That means we need to put away $60 every month and we’ll have enough for Christmas. So, I’m going to set up a savings account, we’ll just roll that in there. Man, come Christmas time this is going to be awesome! We are going to love it!” And maybe because they had that taste of the master bedroom that was furnished with cash, maybe they’ll want to taste that again and they’ll say, “You know what? Yes, let’s do this.” Totally on board with it. “Man, I didn’t even feel it when we saved up for the master bedroom. $60 a month – that’s nothing. We sneeze and we spend $60.” So they buy into that.
A few months later, before the Christmas goal is even reached, maybe even just a few weeks later, you say, “We need to do something fun with the kids,” or, “We need to go out as a couple. We need a weekend getaway. Let’s go somewhere really ritzy. Let’s do something fun. How much do you think it would cost?” Maybe you’ve even already looked it up. Grand America is this really swanky hotel in Utah, so I’d go to Julie, “You know, Grand America is REALLY swanky, REALLY nice, and it runs $150 a night. What do you think about let’s just going and maybe spending two nights?” “Two nights? Are you crazy?! That’s $300!” “I think we should do it. And when we’re there I think we should order breakfast in and I think we should get massages. I think the whole thing will be pretty expensive. It will probably cost around $500 or $600. But don’t you think that would be fun if we did that in a few months?” Maybe for an anniversary, a six month anniversary or something – it’s not for the anniversary, it’s just out of the blue. You’re showing them that things that you want are achievable by setting a goal, breaking it down and then going for it.
Anyway, these are just some ideas. Run with it. Start positive. Don’t do the property tax/rainy day fund for a long time. Don’t do the car repairs fund for a while. Those aren’t fun. Do the car improvement goal right away – let’s soup this up. Or do the riding lawnmower one right away. So keep it positive and upbeat, and give them tastes of saving for things and letting them experience just how good that feels. Pretty soon you’ll have a YNAB fan in your spouse and you’ll be able to start doing things like, “Hey, what do you want to spend on groceries?” “I don’t know. What do we normally spend?” “About $650-700.” “That sounds fine.” “Okay. You know, if we bought more bulk, we could probably get it down to $600 and then throw the $50 toward X awesome thing.” “Oh really? Oh yes, let’s do that. Let’s do it.” That kind of communication that starts around really positive things like planning a vacation, that kind of communication eventually can morph into not so positive fun things like medical bills, life insurance premiums that need to be paid, that type of thing.
So, food for thought.
Until next time, follow YNAB’s four rules and you will win financially. You have not budgeted like this.