Engaging the Uninvolved Spouse ~ Part 2: The Spoiled Child

The Spoiled Child


In last week’s blog post, I talked about how to engage your spouse in the financial decision making if they are “The Clueless One” when it comes to money.    What if your spouse isn’t clueless, but rather is like “The Spoiled Child”?  Honestly, this scenario is worse than the first one.  When there is a parent/ child dynamic between spouses, it creates an imbalance in the marriage relationship which will cause friction and fighting between husband and wife.  Let’s take a look at how this scenario might play out.


Scenario #2 – The Spoiled Child


Meet Jenna and Rick.  They have five year old twin girls, Aria and Anna.  Rick is the Vice President of Sales for a major manufacturing corporation, while Jenna is a volunteer at the girls’ school.  Rick makes a great salary and handles most of the bill paying, but not because he wants to.  He feels as though he cannot trust Jenna to take care of the bills because in the past, she was always racking up late fees and overdrafts.


Jenna is an only child and, growing up, her wealthy father and mother rarely said “no” to their little princess.  Unfortunately, Jenna’s parents did not teach her the value of a dollar or proper money management, as Rick’s hard-working middle class parents did.  Here’s just one example: Jenna was given a brand new car for her sixteenth birthday, completely paid for and fully insured by her parents.  Rick’s parents sold him his mom’s old car, at a discount, once he proved to be a responsible driver, several months after he was legally able to drive. 


Rick feels like he has three little girls to take care of, not two.  He does make good money, but he’s not wealthy like his father-in-law.  Rick doesn’t disclose amount of money he’s putting into his 401k or savings account to Jenna, because he knows she’ll want to spend it on another vacation, granite counter tops, or something else to “keep up with the Joneses.”  Rick wants a wife who is a partner in the family finances, not a spoiled child whose messes he is constantly cleaning up.


Wow, this type of situation is really tough.  I know from personal experience.  Before my husband, Nick, and I started dating, I had been engaged to a guy who had a lot of these “Spoiled Child” behaviors.  I remember feeling angry and resentful that I had to be the responsible one and felt like my ex-finance was more like my teenage son than a true partner.  So, what’s the solution? 


First and foremost, I would recommend both financial coaching and marriage counseling to a couple in this scenario.  The “responsible” partner, like Rick, is probably harboring some anger and resentment towards their spouse and this needs to be dealt with in a constructive manner.  The “spoiled child” needs a financial coach and marriage counselor to help see the error of their ways (in a non-judgmental environment) and learn the baby steps necessary to become a full partner in the family finances.


Just as you wouldn’t hand over the keys of your new BMW to an inexperienced teenaged driver, we don’t want to set up the family finances for disaster by having the recovering “spoiled child” take on too much responsibility too soon.  Here’s how I would counsel a couple like Rick and Jenna.  I’d suggest that Rick turn over responsibility for one area of the budget to Jenna, like groceries.  If Jenna admits she probably can’t be trusted with a debit card yet, Rick would need to give her cash or a pre-paid Visa card for purchasing the family’s groceries for the month. 


This will provide a microcosm environment for practicing the budgeting skills that Jenna’s learning from her financial coach. She’ll need to track her purchases, pay attention to what she’s spending, and ensure she’s got enough funds to last her the entire month.  Rick is also going to have to prepare himself to say “No” if Jenna asks for more grocery money before the end of the month. It’s important for recovering “spoiled children” to learn that there is a finite amount of money and when it’s gone, it’s gone.  So Rick’s got to be okay with eating hot dogs and macaroni and cheese for the last week of the month if that’s what it takes to drive this important lesson home.  As Jenna learns that it’s much more satisfying to be a responsible financial partner with Rick, they can transition to a more balanced division of handling the family finances.


The Parent/ Child dynamic is not an easy one to overcome, but it can be accomplished if both spouses admit their shortfalls and enlist the help of a good financial coach and marriage counselor.  Have you dealt with this scenario in your current or past relationships?