The B-Word: Budgeting in Marriages with Dual Incomes

One of the most baffling things I’ve ever seen on the internet (and I’ve seen my share of baffling things) was when my friend Hillary posted a video on TikTok about building a nursery for the baby she and her husband Josh were expecting. She was pregnant at the time with their little girl, Marsaili, who they had just learned was very medically complex.

In her video, Hillary began by saying, “Several weeks ago, Josh gave me a budget to start buying some things for our daughter’s nursery.” Although the rest of her video was about preparing for their new baby despite the hardships and anticipatory grief, it seemed that the viewers of her video couldn’t get past that very first sentence. The comment section was filled with women criticizing her for “allowing her husband to control her” by giving her a budget, and calling her husband abusive and controlling. Naturally, I was offended for my friend, and angry that people would speak to her this way when she was sharing something so vulnerable and hard. But aside from that, it also spoke to just how deep our hatred of budgeting actually goes. I think many of us despise the idea of budgeting, and we especially despise it when we are women who earn our own money but operate in a marriage where budgeting is necessary.

I have had a job since I was 15 years old. You’d think by now, budgeting would be old hat for me. But the truth is, I never really learned the skill. I’ve navigated life by the seat of my pants — spending when I felt like it and worrying about the consequences later. Now that I’m married and have two children to prepare a future for, I have to be more responsible. My dear husband, Charlie, is helping me with that. We recently decided to combine our separate checking accounts into one and begin budgeting from that account.

It was needed. Having separate accounts made it difficult for us to know exactly how much money we had between the two of us. It also enabled my irresponsible spending. So, reluctantly, but with hope, I agreed.

It’s already been a frustrating journey.

Like a lot of those women in my friend’s comment section, I feel like I’m being controlled when my husband enforces our budget. Having a budget is nice in theory, until I want to make an impulse purchase and my husband tells me it’s not something we can afford right now.

But I’m looking at the account and there’s plenty of money in there! What do you mean, we can’t afford it?!

My husband has to remind me that most of that money is already allocated toward other things — things that will either be automatically deducted from our account when a bill comes due, or things that we have allocated for savings other areas of our budget. “We’ve used up our budget for discretionary spending, my love,” he tells me. “You can buy that thing, but it’ll have to wait until next week when the budget replenishes.”

I have to swallow down the bile that rises from my stomach and burns my throat. I do not like being told no, especially when it comes to money that I have helped earn.

But this is part of it, right? This is exactly why budgets exist, to help me and my husband prepare for a future that we and our children deserve. I agreed to this! I want this! I just happen to hate it most of the time.

I think one of the most difficult things in marriage is learning to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and to allow each other to lead in the areas where we excel. I suck at budgeting. I loathe everything about it. But my husband is great at it! He’s not only great at setting up the budget and allocating money where it needs to be; he’s also great at helping to enforce the budget when I’m feeling impulsive and not thinking of our goals.

It is not controlling for him to enforce the budget we agreed upon. In fact, my husband choosing to say no when I want to go against our budget is an act of great love. He is stopping present-day Amber from robbing future-Amber. He is preventing me from wrecking our long-term goals for some momentary impulse.

When I do things that go against my goals, I cheat myself. I act in opposition to what I truly want. I also damage my self-esteem because after the momentary satisfaction of that impulse purchase, I am ashamed and disappointed in myself. I do not like feeling that way, and my husband knows it. What better act of love is there than for him to protect me from those feelings?

There are plenty of areas in our marriage where I excel, and therefore, I lead. Charlie seems to have no hang-ups or ego around me leading in those areas, because he understands that we are best utilizing my strengths. So, I am working on learning to feel the same way.

Rather than feeling controlled, I remind myself that I am voluntarily surrendering. I am choosing to let my husband lead because I need guidance when it comes to our finances.

Instead of feeling resentful, I choose to feel grateful. My husband is helping us work toward our agreed-upon goals for the future and stopping me from cheating myself out of what I really want, not what feels good at the moment.

Instead of going into a feminist rage about how some of this feels a bit too much like the “husbands are the head of the household” dogma that I learned in my southern Baptist church, I remember that there is strength in vulnerability. I don’t have to be strong all the time. I don’t have to be constantly in control. And why would I want to be? Why do I want all of our burdens on my shoulders? I got married for a reason — to have a partner, someone to share life’s hardships with me, to help carry the heavy load. There is nothing anti-feminist, anti-woman, or anti-progress about letting my husband lead where I fall short.

In fact, I think recognizing my strengths as well as my weaknesses, and allowing my husband and I to properly utilize our strengths in the most beneficial way possible is one of the most progressive, feminist things I can do.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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