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Some context to begin with: My wife and I have been married for two years now. I earn around 2500€ after taxes, and she used to earn around 1500€ after taxes. We both share one bank account, by the way.

I come from a working-class family. While I wouldn't describe us as "poor", reckless spending was frowned upon. Larger investments were discussed and alternatives sought after. Impulse purchases were limited to very small amounts (e.g. a bottle of Cola).

She also comes from a working-class family, but with far less responsible parents. Her parents divorced during her childhood. Her father, who raised her, spends money without any thought for the future or savings. This always lead to them having financial trouble at the end of each month. Her mother doesn't exhibit any care for the future either. A while ago, she took a loan for a luxury car, which she would never be able to pay off. All her money goes into that car, yet she claims that she is doing just fine.

What has happened

My wife recently decided (without asking me about my opinion), to switch from a 40h/week position to a 20h/week position, bringing her overall income down significantly.

At the same time, her spending habits have increased significantly. During may, she spent almost 1500€ on various luxury goods like perfume, shoes, clothes, etc.

When asking her about it, she responded dismissively at first, akin to "That's all in your imagination. I don't spend more than usual.". When I then showed her how much she was actually spending, she then claimed that I should "Let her have some nice things".

I'm afraid that this behavior could intensify, leading her to spend ever increasing amounts of money for unnecessary things. Furthermore, I feel a bit hurt from her assertion that I wouldn't let her have "nice things". I personally feel like spending a quarter of your monthly income on one pair of shoes leaves the realm of "nice things" and starts becoming irresponsible. It's as if I would spend 625€ on a bottle of wine.

How can I effectively communicate with her that her spending habits are unsustainable with our current income and that I'm worried it could lead to more problems down the line?

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    Hi Lucas! Interpersonal Skills are behaviors used when interacting with people, to achieve a certain goal. So we can help you with your interactions with her, and focus those on things like trying to convince her to spend less. We can't really help with 'make sure this doesn't happen and she spends less', unless this is about your interactions with her. Just to set some expectations: Don't expect answers to focus on anything but interactions with your wife :) – Tinkeringbell May 29 at 13:23
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    @Tinkeringbell Thank you for your input. This question was originally written for personal finance, hence my focus on money. I will edit my question to reword it. – Lucas F. May 29 at 13:24
  • To narrow down your goal a bit: Is this about communicating that fear to your wife or about generally handling the next time she overspends, and setting some boundaries on the amount of money you feel is reasonable to spend? – Tinkeringbell May 29 at 13:24
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    @LucasF awesome. Good luck on the editing, perhaps our meta on good questions can give you some ideas on what's useful to include. – Tinkeringbell May 29 at 13:26
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    In case somebody gets across this question, my wife and I had several serious, albeit unpleasant, discussions regarding this topic. I feel like her overall mood improved, and her spending has gone down significantly. While she still buys what I would label "luxurious" goods, we now live far more within our means than before. I'm very thankful for the answers provided here, as well as the answers linked to, specifically this answer. – Lucas F. Oct 3 at 13:15
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You have two problems here, and you've only identified one of them. The first thing you need to figure out is why she felt the need to reduce her hours, spend more, and not tell you about any of it. Is she stressed or overwhelmed at her job? Does she have some goal you don't know about and is afraid you won't support? There's definitely something going on there. Sit down with her and tell her you want to understand what she's thinking and feeling. Let her talk without getting angry or judging her. Your goal at this point is to understand, not to change anything or convince her your way is better. You don't have to agree with her position, but you do need to be able to see the situation from her point of view.

Once you've done that, acknowledge how she feels, then explain how you feel. That could be something like "I understand you need the freedom to spend some money every month on things I don't consider necessities, but I'm concerned we'll start spending more money than we make and going into debt. The idea of living paycheck to paycheck or having a huge credit card balance hanging over my head is incredibly stressful."

Now here's the important part: work together to find a solution you can both live with. Can you both agree to put a certain amount of every check into savings and that amount does not get touched without discussion? Eliminate the use of credit cards? Let her spend a specific amount of money per month on whatever she wants? Both of you knowing the goals of the other will help you figure out a solution you're both happy with.

I've personally been in your shoes a couple of times (in a serious relationship with someone who spent more than I did). My solution was to have a joint account for joint costs (including extra for savings) that we both put an agreed amount of money in every paycheck. All money we made beyond that was kept in a personal account that we could save or spend however we chose. This gave me peace of mind knowing the bills were paid and we had a fund for unexpected expenses, so I didn't have to stress when they spent $200 on Magic cards. If they never had an extra dime to their name, that was their problem, so it wasn't a source of friction between us. You don't need to agree with every purchase they make; you just have to agree on what money is available for them to spend freely.

One big caveat to all this: in both of my (relevant) relationships, the other person racked up a lot of credit card debt without my knowledge. Obviously that can affect your ability to buy a house and that sort of thing, not to mention they could fall behind and end up getting their wages garnished, leaving them unable to contribute their agreed amount to joint expenses. I also had to make crystal clear I was not going to financially support them if they impulsively quit their job and had no savings. So the separate accounts thing will only take you so far, but it's definitely better than fighting over every purchase larger than a soda!

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Back when we first got married, money was tight for both of us. Both my wife and I kind of had a "head in the sand" mentality and we were constantly running short of money.

The solution for us was to decouple our finances. We got rid of the joint account and decided who would be responsible for what bills. Then, it didn't matter how much she spent on lunch out - paying her bills was her problem and not mine. And I smartened up about hobby spending when i couldn't rely on her to make up the shortfall.

That's our solution to one problem. The second problem you have is more serious. If she won't decouple finances, insists that you pay all the bills, or otherwise won't negotiate, then it's time to have the both of you decide exactly what you want out of this marriage. Financial stress can ruin a marriage and if she won't agree to financial counseling with you, then it's time to have a serious talk about whether she wants to remain married or not. It never got that far with us, but that would have been my next step if my wife hadn't turned it around.

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