Nobody Wants to Be the Budget Cop


We’ve talked before about different budgeting personalities in relationships.

In June’s post about working with an unsupportive spouse, I laid out a few possible personality traits for the partner in the relationship who isn’t the primary budget driver:

  • Supportive vs. Antagonistic
  • Interested vs. Apathetic
  • Tracker vs Non-Tracker

It would be tough, I said, to work with an antagonistic partner, but probably pretty easy if your partner were just supportive and apathetic.

But that might not be true. If one spouse is the budget driver, and the other is supportive and apathetic, I think it’s too easy for the budget-driver to fall into the role of Budget Cop.

Here’s an excerpt from an email I got from “Liz,” a self-described compulsive debtor (in recovery, thanks to her years participating in Debtors Anonymous). Liz and her husband have had an income increase, and she’s been sharing her plans to finally completely the transition from borrower to expense tracker to budgeter to saver.

She made one comment about sharing finances with her husband, who seems to generally stay out of the way, but has his own borrowing habits to contend with:

“Things have been so tight for so long that I’ve been the one to mete out extra spending money… it’s not fun for anyone having your spouse on “an allowance,” so to speak. Or denying yourself to pay the electric bill.

I’m tired of being the Party of No.”

I’m wondering if Liz is alone. Do any of you feel like the Budget Cop in the relationship, in spite of having a spouse who generally supports the budgeting habit? Do you find yourself making personal sacrifices for the sake of the family’s greater financial good, while your spouse goes about his/her normal routine?

In a relationship managed by a budget cop is that everybody loses. The cop always has to say “No,” and the non-cop always has to hear “No.” Sounds like a recipe for constant low-level tension with the occasional blowup. Not ideal.

Real budgeting bliss may require converting the supportive, apathetic partner to full-blown budgeter. The question is: How?