What to Do If Your Partner Is Bad With Money

married man holding cash


Even the closest couples can find it difficult to talk about money, but it’s so important—because money is the number one cause of relationship stress. “Studies show that couples fight more about money than sex,” says Priya Malani, co-founder of wealth management company Stash Wealth. “We often joke at Stash, that in working with couples, most of our job is therapy before we even get to begin the money stuff. But when you enter a serious relationship (we consider moving in together a good indicator) it becomes vital for a couple to start talking about money and at least attempt to begin speaking a similar ‘money language’.”

Meet the Expert

Priya Malani is the co-founder of Stash Wealth and the resident financial expert at Refinery29. After building a career at Merrill Lynch, she left Wall Street behind to start a company that would change the way millennials think about money.

But if you and your partner naturally have very different ways of handling money, it can be a challenge. And if your partner is irresponsible or lies about money, it can feel really overwhelming and hurtful, because it’s a huge breach of trust. “If someone is outright lying about money, it's usually not about the money—there are almost always other (perhaps deeper) issues at play,” Malani says. “If it's related to overspending, it's likely the person isn't considering the repercussions of their actions which usually indicates fear, denial (being out of touch with reality) or perhaps unrealistic optimism.”

So what can you do if your partner is lying about money or is irresponsible with their spending? Well, there are a few tactics you can try. “But before any of this, you must first address whether your partner acknowledges that they struggle with money,” Malani says. “If they don't acknowledge it or don't see it, there's nothing there to change.”

If they won’t come around, you may need to see a couple’s counselor or bring in a third party. But if you can get them to at least admit that there’s a problem, here’s how you move forward.

1. Discuss Your Goals

Reminding your partner of your financial goals is important because it can help your partner visualize and understand why they need to be better with money. “Saving for the sake of saving is NO FUN,” Malani says. “But deciding what your saving for, can be. Do you guys want to buy a house someday? Do you want to upgrade your lifestyle? Take more vacations? Plan for a family? Relocate? Quit your job?

If you don't know where you're headed, it's impossible to measure if you're making progress towards your destination or see the impact of your crappy financial habits. While it sounds cheesy, having a conversation about your financial goals is critical to see if you and your partner prioritize the same things in life. Don't just talk about your goals, take it one step further and define them as high priority or low priority.” Write down your goals and put them somewhere you can both see them, so they work as a reminder.

2. Role Play

Often people who are bad with money don’t like to think about how it hurts other people — they just put it to the back of their minds. So make it clear how it’s affecting you. “How would they feel if you were lying about money?” Malani says. “You both work really hard for it and by putting them in your shoes, they may think twice about their actions. If they don't....you might need to consider if they are neglecting you in other aspects of the relationship.”

3. Involve a Third Party

If your partner isn’t respectful of your opinions or it’s turning into an impossible topic for the two of you, engaging a third party can help. “There's nothing worse than being the ‘bad guy’ or ‘nagger’ in the relationship,” Malani explains. “At Stash, we often take the brunt of being the bad guy so that you don't have to. If your partner won't take advice from you, maybe they'll take advice from an independent third party.”

4. Sympathize

If your partner is bad with their money — or bad with your money — it’s normal to feel frustrated and angry. But try to take a step back and look at how it’s gotten this way. “Most of the time, bad money habits come from either a lack of education because this stuff isn't taught in school — which isn't your fault of your partner’s,” Malani explains. “Seek out education and advice so you can see the financial impact of current behavior on your future self. At Stash, in a client's first meeting with us, we show them their ‘Millionaire Status.’ It motivates them to get their financial sh*t together and start working as a team towards making smart financial choices.”

If they’ve never had an opportunity to learn how to handle money or if they've had bad examples, it may take a little longer for them to learn. Try to be patient with them.

Dealing with money in a relationship is difficult because people can become angry and defensive very quickly. But if your partner is willing to admit they have a problem, there are steps you can take to get on track. If they won’t admit they have a problem or they refuse to improve even when you’ve tried everything, you may want to look at your relationship as a whole. If they don’t respect your money, then you need to ask yourself if they’re really respecting you.

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