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Spouse overspending on cards? Here's what to do

Erica Sandberg

August 8, 2014

QHi Erica,

Every time I pay off the credit cards, my wife runs them up again. She makes promises, says she's trying. We have been married two years and everything is great but this. This is a major flaw that is causing me great worry. Our MasterCard has $4,000 on it again, and I will pay it off again. She says it's for us and the kids, but she's not working and doesn't know the stress it puts me under. Any advice is appreciated, Erica. Thanks. –Richard

ADear Richard,

If your wife doesn't fully understand the depth of anxiety that her overcharging activity is causing you, it's high time you told her!Ask Erica

Then again, I have a strong suspicion that you have talked about the emotional side of the issue, and either she's not listening, has different priorities, or is incapable of changing the way she uses credit cards. Here's what you can do for each of the reasons.

Not listening. Somewhere along the line, communication has broken down. You explain that living in debt makes you feel terrible, but she is not fully grasping why or the magnitude of the problem. In this situation, I strongly suggest that a qualified third party facilitate the discussion. Start with a credit counselor who works for an accredited consumer credit counseling agency. Sessions are free and that person can directly address the ramifications of large credit card balances. Still, these professionals are limited, so if they can't get her to open her eyes and ears, a couples counselor or therapist is in order.

Has different priorities. Perhaps your wife is spending more than she should because that's what it costs to support the household. You see the resulting debt, but she sees the need, and that's more important to her. Besides, you managed to pay the debts off before, so what's the problem now? To solve this dilemma, you'll have to step into her shoes. She could be doing her best to make ends meet. What does she get in return? You moaning about the credit cards! If this sounds like it may be the case, the two of you must develop a real budget together. When you discover where all that cash is going, you just may find out why she “doesn't care.”

Incapable of change. It is possible that your wife has a shopping addiction. She can't stop and access to a credit card is the worst thing for her, as it makes acting on unhealthy impulses far too easy. If so, she is as unhappy as you are. People who are compulsive spenders (and chargers) often get a rush of pleasure when they're in the process of buying things, but quickly experience depression afterwards. Thankfully, she can find support via Debtors Anonymous, a 12-step fellowship. There, she can meet with others who have the same impulse control troubles, gain insight into why she does what she does and begin to adjust her behavior. I would also recommend that you take part . You've bailed her out in the past, so you may be an enabler.

In the meantime, I suggest you monitor your accounts closely. Is she paying the bills? Take control. Go online and check your statements every week, check one of your credit reports for free every four months at AnnualCreditReport.com, and address concerns as they happen.

I wish you both the best of luck.

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