How to Stick to a Budget When One of You Spends Impulsively

Why is it that many of us fail to follow a budget and keep our impulsivity spending in check? Budgeting is pretty straightforward, isn’t it? If we map out our money, shouldn’t it be easier to keep impulses in check?

It always seems to go something like this …. First you write out a column of expenses balanced against an income stream. Then you reduce a few expenses and maybe plug a few leaks. Finally, you take steps to minimize taxes and maximize your take home pay.

But, what’s this? $400 for a new set of tools! OR $380 for the latest HD TV! Where is THAT line in the budget? Then just like that, your budget is compromised and out the window. The stage is set for another relationship damaging “discussion.”

Let’s back up for a moment... Why did these thoughts manifest? How did a thought become an action? Why did one partner violate the agreed-upon budget? Are needs not being met? Are old habits that tough to break? Is there a degree of passive-aggressive behaviour going on? Is impulsivity to blame? Was the purchase reasonable and the budget wrong in this situation?

At RenaFi we’ve seen, thought of, and addressed, all of these complications (and more). Often this type of budgetary diversion is a matter of boundaries.

Now hang on a moment. Boundaries aren’t so bad!

When boundaries are consciously set, mutually agreed upon and respected, the team (that’s you and your partner) function better. Think of a sports team..they need to learn their teammates strengths and weaknesses, and while they are practicing their skills, they have guidelines to keep them on course. These are your boundaries. They are here to help you do your best.

Here are the best solutions for keeping impulsivity in check when you’re in a relationship:

Confrontation breeds communication, communication is the heart of intimacy. - author unknown

Obviously, how you handle confrontation matters. Listening with respect and an open mind matters. But without confronting the problem, communication is absent. By the way, the overspending is the problem, not the other person. So make sure to keep the conversation a judgment-free zone!

Properly set money boundaries look like setting your budget based on the life you’re actually living and not some ideal version of life.

Sure, it sounds doable to forgo all entertainment for a year while you build your savings accounts. Does that work in real life? Will that keep you happy AND sane? The fact is that you have to budget realistically for entertainment and fun. Otherwise you will not stick to your budget. In order to make a budget work, you have to be in mutual agreement. Did you both wholeheartedly agree? Or did one person simply “win” the argument when it came to setting rules and boundaries on money?  Make sure you are both in agreement when it comes to decision making. Bullying doesn’t encourage honesty, nor does passively appeasing your partner. Both partners have to be open to hearing each other, and agree on the final decision.

Boundaries respected means keeping your promises to each other, even in the form of a budget.

We’re all adults here. We have to act accordingly. If we’ve properly set and mutually agreed to a plan, we must have the respect to adhere to it. That involves respect for your relationship and respect for yourself. Be a person who keeps their promises.

Have compassion and understanding for your partner.

Life happens. A bad day comes about or some unique opportunity comes along. We are all human and we make mistakes. If that person who went off budget is met with contempt, how likely are they to remain vulnerable enough to continue to try and work to fix the problem?

These types of issues are far more complex than can be addressed in a single blog post, but I hope this can serve as an outline and starting point. Achieving and maintaining financial stability just might be the most important aspect of building a great relationship and living a life of your own design.

Richard Webster, the author of this article, is the CEO of RenaFi, Inc., a financial literacy platform. At RenaFi, we’re in the business of improving the lives of people with ADHD through financial literacy education.