Should you pay your wife an allowance?

Written by
Peter Dunn

I get all sorts of email. I get emails about debt. I get emails about how to ask for a raise. I once even had a Nigerian prince offer to share his family fortune with me. Despite the fact that I opened an account and emailed him the account number, I never heard back from him. But I digress. My point? It takes quite a bit of craziness for an email to get my attention.

My eyes are wide open.

Dear Pete,

Hey. I love your podcast. It cracks me up. You said you take emails, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I've got a problem. My wife spends too much money. It might cost us our marriage...unless you can help. Hahaha. No pressure. I'm the only one that works. She stays at home with our two kids. I make really good money (nearly $120,000 in 2011). But we never can get ahead. Between us, we have over $85,000 in student loans, $30,000 in credit card debt, $40,000 debt on my M-Class Benz, and my wife has a major spending problem. It's got to stop. She makes no money, but wants to spend all of my salary on clothes, and random stuff for the kids. She's at Target like twice per week. Between the medication for our son, and the piano lessons for our daughter, she spends like $50 per week right there. If I was doing the buying at our house, we wouldn't be in the position we are in now. We fight so much on the weekends, that I end up leaving the house and playing golf just so we don't fight for 5 hours. What do you suggest I do?

My buddy thinks that I should put her on an allowance system. I'm thinking about doing it. Have you ever heard of somethings like this? It sounds crazy, but I really think it could work. For instance, if she cooks five meals in the week, then I'd give her $100 to spend. If she vacuums and dusts, then I would give her another $50. I'm thinking she just needs to earn her keep more so that she'll value money. What's a fair price for chores? I figure it's much cheaper than a divorce. Hahaha. Things are just nuts around here. My college buddies are going on a guy's weekend, and I can't even go because the cards are maxed out because of her stupid Target trips. Sorry, I'm just venting. Thanks, man. I'm interested to see what you have to say.


Jeff, thanks for your email. I'm afraid that I'm fresh out of candy-coating today. Therefore you are simply faced with the unadulterated truth.

I'm really worried about you. You're pissed that your wife spends too much on your kid's medication? I would sell all four of my limbs for my kid's medication. I wouldn't golf the rest of my life to pay for my kid's medication. And your daughter's piano lessons are a problem too? You're not supposed to feel that way. I generally don't make a practice of telling people how they should feel, but you shouldn't resent your children's medication and/or music lessons.

Anyone that would think/write the things that you thought/wrote clearly doesn't have a strong grip on reality. I don't know where you come from, but where I come from my buddies call me out for being an a-hole. They don't tell me ways to be more of an a-hole. If you have the sort of friends that recommend that you put your wife on an allowance, then get new friends. Your wife isn't the problem. Your attitude is the problem.

Here's what I suggest you do. Take a week's vacation. Given your salary of $120,000 per year, I figure you have the sort of job that allows you to take a paid vacation. Send your wife out of town to stay with a friend for the week, and then do her job for seven whole days. What you will find is that you are lucky that you currently aren't divorced. My guess is that you will find that your wife doesn't spend nearly as much as you think she does. She simply spends the money that it takes to run a household...without the (non-financial) support of her husband.

Jeff, I'm really concerned for you and your family. To be frank (as though I haven't been), this is the worst situation I have ever seen. You need counseling. I highly recommend that you seek professional help. Dude, seriously? You care more about guy's weekend than your kid's medication. You have got to man up. You are going to ruin your kids' lives. All they will ever know is dysfunction if you don't get help. This is serious. I don't have any financial advice for you at all. I'm just really sad. You don't have any true friends that are pushing you to be a better person, and unless this email strikes a chord, then I'm afraid things will have to completely blow up before there is a resolution. Please change.


This post has caused quite the uproar. I'd like to clarify a few points. First, I didn't address the financials in the question, because I don't think the answers would actually help him. In my professional opinion, although he has significant financial problems, his primary issue has nothing to do with money. I chose to treat the problem, not the symptoms. In addition, the advice is so obvious, that I didn't think it was worth writing. Alas, here it is: Jeff shouldn't be driving a $40k Mercedes. He should be driving something paid for or something with a very cheap payment. The payment on his Benz is most likely astronomical. If he were to do this, the savings should then be used to pay down his credit card debt. He and his wife should sit down and work out a budget together using Pete the Planner's Ideal Household Budget. Any other financial advice would be purely speculative. I don't know his credit card and student loan interest rates. I don't know if he has an emergency fund, though I doubt he does. And I don't know how much they spend per month on their mortgage. My educated guess is that it's a significant part of their income.

I'm not above criticism. When I write advice or give advice that is poor, then please ask for clarification or correction. I will gladly admit when I am wrong. However, in my opinion Jeff was looking for help. He thought his problem dealt with money. I disagreed, and wanted him to see that his family was at risk. Keep calm and carry on.

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