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My husband and I are in debt with student loans, credit card spending, and a mortgage. We've both made mistakes from when we were younger, but I am working very hard to dig ourselves out. On paper, he agrees, but he doesn't seem to be able to say no to himself when it comes to purchases. It's usually small stuff, but it adds up quickly. He spent three hundred dollars in the past two weeks on food delivery alone (compulsive eating, and other compulsions, are also an issue).

I am not the best with managing money either, but I work hard and we make salaries high enough that we should be moving in the right direction. I'm getting desperate and looking for strategies to curb his spending. I can't police everything he does (and don't think it would be wise even if I could). Even if I hold onto all debit/credit cards, he can still use anything that's auto-saved in our browser (hence the outrageous food delivery bill, for example). I don't think I can do away with those completely, although maybe.

Any ideas are greatly appreciated. We are 40 years old and sinking further into debt every day.

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    Hello and welcome to Money.SE. You may want to post this question on Interpersonal.SE as well since it deals mainly with communication. – Michael Nov 5 '17 at 15:14
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    Do you pay all the bills? One thing that made it much easier for my wife and I to get in alignment on spending was for her to take over our banking. It could just be that he doesn't care? Many people budget discretionary spending and allocate cash or a separate account for that purpose. Tools to help stick to a budget are only helpful if there's an actual desire to get out of debt. – Hart CO Nov 5 '17 at 15:21
  • Marriage counseling. The counselor can then recommend whatever other counseling is needed, whether that is financial counseling for both of you, or some sort of addiction counseling for your husband. Ask at your local church for counselor recommendations. – Ben Miller - Reinstate Monica Nov 5 '17 at 19:58
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    Delete that credit card information from your browser and make it difficult to get to - like put the cards in your safe if you have one. If you have one with numbers, you can choose a code so that each of you only knows half the code so you can only open it together. Then sit down together, make a budget with some small amount of pocket money for each of you that you can spent however you want and the other won't complain about it. Also include some joint spending money in the budget, which you can spend together, so you learn to talk about your spending decisions before you spend this part. – Sumyrda Nov 5 '17 at 21:32
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    "On paper, he agrees..." How would he answer this question: "Do you have a spending problem? Are you a compulsive eater?" If he answers "No", or "sort of" or "kind of", you can't solve this yourself. If he emphatically answers "Yes, please help me", then you might be able to solve this yourself, but outside help is still recommended. – TTT Nov 6 '17 at 15:49
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compulsive eating, and other compulsions, are also an issue

If this is true, then this is not a money problem. This is a psychological problem that manifests itself in overspending. I would make an appointment with a counselor or therapist ASAP to start dealing with this problem before the symptoms get any worse.

That said, here are some practical things that you can do to reduce overspending:

  • Start with a discussion on where you want to be (financially) and how you want to get there. There's no way that the path to your financial future is built with credit cards.
  • Put together a written budget. Write down (or put in a spreadsheet) all of your known monthly expenses in order of importance (food, mortgage/rent, utilities, car/gas, etc. ) then estimate how much per month you currently spend on each and see how much is left. If there is nothing left (which there shouldn't be) then start cutting back until you're only spending what you bring in.
  • Get rid of credit cards. Cut them up and cancel the accounts. Switch to an all-cash budget such that once it's spent, it's gone. It's SO much easier to overspend using credit cards. Even debit cards would be dangerous right now, since there can be HUGE consequences for overdrafts. If food delivery is a necessity, find someplace local that will deliver for cash.

The most important thing is that this be done TOGETHER. You cannot dictate to him how yo spend your (plural) money, you cannot take away credit cards and give him an "allowance", etc. It mush be something that you both agree is important. If you cannot agree on a plan to get on a budget, then counseling would be in order.

  • He's been in and out of counseling and group therapy for years for this and other compulsive issues. I can't see how we'd live without some sort of credit or debit card. We live in a city and don't have a car; non-online shopping (including groceries) is very difficult. – user64445 Nov 7 '17 at 2:41
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    @Kermit Then use a debit card or prepaid credit card with just enough cash in the account to cover your budget. If the compulsion is as strong as you indicate, and therapy hasn't solved it, then you need to cut off the means to overspend to stop the behavior. Keep very good records of how much is left to avoid overdrawing the account, or your $20 meal will turn into a $100 meal after penalties. – D Stanley Nov 7 '17 at 15:43
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Based on the conversations in the comments, I believe a pragmatic solution would be the best immediate course of action, while still working on the long term addiction issues. The first step is to get your husband to agree to give you all of his credit cards and let you manage the money for a set period of time, say 3 months, to see how it goes. (In my experience people are more likely to agree to being uncomfortable for a finite period of time, rather than indefinitely.) Step 2 is to provide him a means for making purchases on his own, but with a limited budget. Here are some examples:

  1. You can purchase pre-paid credit cards. For example, each month you purchase $100 (or $500 or whatever makes sense) in pre-paid cards and give them to him. Once he's out of money he will have no choice but to ask your permission for future purchases for the rest of the month. Pros: easy and you can start tomorrow. Cons: there is usually a nominal fee for these types of cards.
  2. You can obtain a type of credit card that allows additional users to have set spending limits. Very few personal credit cards have this feature (Amex is one), but all small business CCs do. More info here. Pros: pretty much just like pre-paid cards except that you still get to easily see the itemized bill/history and you can earn points or cashback. Cons: you may have to apply for a new CC to get one with this feature.
  3. You can obtain a type of credit card that has "Virtual Credit Cards" feature. BofA and Citibank both have this. I used the Citibank feature many years ago and it enables you to create a virtual CC number with a pre-set spending limit and expiration date that can only be used for a single vendor. (I assume today the feature is the same if not better.) Pros: you can be more granular by limiting to specific merchants and limits. Cons: this requires you to possibly get a new card, and you must be more involved. Anytime your husband wants to purchase from a merchant you haven't set up yet, he has to ask for your help which could be annoying to him. More info on Virtual CCs here.

Perhaps a combination of the above options would work best.

Another thing to consider is to set up alerts with your bank so that you are notified of certain purchases (or all) that are made by your husband. This varies by bank, but nowadays most will allow you to receive text/email immediately when the purchase happens, and can be set to certain amounts or categories. There is a definite psychological difference between, "If I buy this, my spouse will find out at the end of the month and berate me." and "If I buy this, my spouse is going to run in here in 30 seconds and berate me." The latter might actually be a deterrent on its own, and you may likely have the opportunity to undo the purchase if you wish to.

As a side note, it's important to realize that the above suggestions are still allowing for some limited amount of enabling and temptation to occur. If the addiction is such that it is hazardous to one's health (for example drugs or alcohol addiction), then I don't believe this would be the best course of action. These suggestions are based on my impression that the biggest concern at the moment is financial, and I believe these ideas help to mitigate that.

Good luck.

  • He doesn't make big purchases--it's the nickel-and-diming that adds up real fast. Also, I'm not his wife. – user64445 Nov 10 '17 at 16:26
  • @Kermit - sorry about that! I fixed the wording. Approximately how many small purchases does he make per month, and is it many different vendors or just a few? – TTT Nov 10 '17 at 19:12
  • I'm not sure. He does them somewhat secretly. – user64445 Nov 11 '17 at 1:30
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Perhaps it seems harsh, but I would get separate accounts: credit cards, savings, retirement, all the way down the line. Your only joint account should be for paying mortgage/rent and other bills. And as another poster said, delete all your saved info from browsers &c. Perhaps you even need to set up separate user ids.

If this really is a case of compulsive spending, curing it is likely to be a long, hard process, if it's even possible. You need to put yourself in a position where you won't be dragged down with him.

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