The Debt Panel: 'My new wife has a spending problem'

The Sharjah reader is seeking advice on how to pay off a credit card debt on a monthly salary of $2,995

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I am constantly broke because my wife has a “keep up with the Joneses” syndrome. We are newly-weds and she has been overwhelmed by the glitz and glamour of life in the UAE.

However, I only earn a monthly income of Dh11,000 ($2,995). My wife makes me spend beyond my means and uses my credit card for high-ticket transactions.

I now owe the bank about Dh25,000 in debt because I am expected to spend on holidays, jewellery and other expensive experiences for my wife.

She does not have a job to supplement my income. Our friends, who have high-paying jobs and bigger budgets, influence her and I believe that she is like this because of a fear of missing out.

Can you advise me on how I can change her spending habits and also settle my debt with my small income? RK, Sharjah

Debt panellist 1: Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com

One of the biggest sources of stress and arguments in a relationship is money. There are two people on the finance committee of your relationship (and on the investment committee, but I don’t think you are ready for that yet).

We all know people like your wife and also like you. The problem is very common. But it is a serious problem and, as newly-weds, you must tackle it together and tackle it right now.

Ideally, you discuss money beliefs and approaches before getting engaged, but it is too late for that.

Communication and empathy for each other’s fears and desires are essential, as is being realistic.

You cannot pay for everything and keep up with the Joneses, although you can afford some luxuries with your friends if you ruthlessly chop your expenses in other areas.

Sit down with your wife and explain the problem — that, together, you are living beyond your means and you are already in debt.

If this is credit card debt, explain how dangerous it is due to high interest rates. Show you are taking action by seeking a consolidation loan from the bank to remove your card debt.

Be careful not to blame her for her spending — after all, you are saying yes to these expenditures and you do actually have the ability to say no or lower her card limit.

What beliefs and expectations has she inherited from her family and childhood?

Equally, she should not blame you for not earning enough — she is not contributing any income!

Lay out these rules clearly, so you can have a productive discussion and make it a problem to solve together.

You need a budget to control spending, based on some clear financial rules.

Nothing should go on the credit card that you cannot pay off by the end of the month.

Paying down the debt that has built up is an urgent priority and will require even stricter limits on spending until it is paid off.

Set monthly budgets for all areas of your life. If you want to save towards something fancy, set up a sinking fund and contribute to it monthly.

Sticking to this should be based on co-operation. She still gets a choice on what she wants to prioritise within the budget.

If that is not possible, then you should be clear that you will control spending by other means, such as reducing the limit on your card or cancelling surplus cards.

Discuss how you can boost your income. Can you change job or work overtime? Can she find a job? Can you both develop some side hustles? Every extra dirham will make a difference.

Also discuss how to manage your friends. Can you say no to most of the expensive invites but still attend some?

Will her friends really reject her if she doesn’t spend money all the time and look fabulous, or will they respect her?

You would be surprised how many people are secretly living fake lives loaded with debt.

If they can’t respect her managing her money more realistically, then maybe they are not the right friends and you are both better off finding other friends with less expensive tastes.

This process will not be easy but you must engage in it with all the love, creativity, mental strength and financial rigour you have, otherwise you will end up bankrupt and/or divorced.

Believe in your self-worth and set the pattern for an amazing lifelong marriage. Resolving this urgent issue together may bring you closer and if it doesn’t, perhaps you are not right for each other.

Debt panellist 2: Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

Money is one of the most common causes of arguments between couples, so I would recommend approaching this situation with care.

It is important to have an open and frank conversation with your wife about money and ensure she is clear on your monthly income.

How involved is she in household money management? Is she aware of the implications of her spending?

It is important she understands the debt you now have as a result of the overspending. Often, when people gain this clarity and see the hard cold facts, they easily reduce spending.

It is also very important that you both understand how much you earn, what your basic costs are and how much discretionary household income you have to spend each month.

I would recommend you sit together and create a household budget. This will help both of you understand your financial situation.

Quote
Be open to discuss each other's money mindsets and to understand why you each approach money the way you do
Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

Sit together regularly, at least every month, and review this budget. This is a great accountability tool and can help you to have a shared understanding of your money and a combined focus on your financial goals.

Be open to discuss each other's money mindsets and to understand why you each approach money the way you do. You may find this exercise will allow you to have a deeper understanding of each other and bring you even closer.

Regarding the debt, if you do not have savings or access to cash to pay this off in full, I would suggest speaking to your bank about obtaining a consolidation loan to clear the credit card.

When the debt is paid using the funds from the loan, immediately cancel the credit card to prevent risk of the debt being raised again.

Use only your cash until you have repaid the debt and put aside emergency funds, and you and your wife have developed healthy financial habits.

If your wife would like to live a more extravagant lifestyle than your salary allows for, she could consider finding employment so she can then contribute to both repaying the debt and your household buying power.

Debt panellist 3: Felicity Glover, personal finance editor at The National

It is important for couples to always be on the same page when it comes to family finances.

Unfortunately, only one of you is thinking long term while the other is focusing on the present when it comes to spending — and not worrying about the consequences of the debt they are racking up.

If you find it difficult to discuss money with your wife, as my fellow panellists have suggested, it might help to seek counselling, which will allow you to talk about your concerns in a non-judgmental environment.

This is clearly an issue that needs to be discussed urgently. Trying to “keep up with the Joneses” will do nothing except bring very short-term joy to your wife and a future of financial worries that have the potential to spiral out of control — more so as you are the sole breadwinner.

I wish you the best in sorting this out with your wife and working towards a secure financial future together.

The Debt Panel is a weekly column to help readers tackle their debts more effectively. If you have a question for the panel, write to pf@thenational.ae

Updated: November 23, 2022, 5:00 AM
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