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Ask Dave

It's okay to take control

Meghan's husband is a recovering addict, and she wants to know how they should handle their finances. Dave offers her some advice and encouragement for this difficult situation.

QUESTION: Meghan’s husband is a recovering drug addict. He’s been clean from heroin for two years, but she feels they still shouldn’t keep cash in the house even though he needs some from time to time. Her husband agrees with their precautions, and Meghan says they’re also trying to get on a budget at the same time. Dave walks her through a difficult situation and offers Meghan suggestions for helping her husband, their marriage and their finances.

ANSWER: He’s been clean two years? Congratulations, that’s wonderful! The longer he has been clean, the more he’ll normalize his mechanical activities with things like money. I’m with you on the thought that you’re not going to put him in control of sums of money. But you can’t have cash in your house when he’s been clean for two years? I don’t agree with that.

We work with addicts all the time. I mean, I don’t want large sums of cash lying around that he can get his hands on, but there’s no reason that you can’t run the envelope system out of your purse. If you can’t trust him to stay out of your purse, then you’ve got issues other than cash. The cash envelope system works. He doesn’t need a debit card, just give him the amount of cash he needs weekly or daily — whatever you’re comfortable with. I think you need to be on a debit card and the envelope system for the things you’re controlling, which is probably 95 to 98 percent of the money in the house.

For what he’s doing, I’d do daily cash allowances expanding to weekly cash allowances when you’re comfortable with it, and ask for some accountability from him as to where the money went. Ask him to keep receipts and turn them in as if he were working for a company and taking a petty cash withdrawal. That holds him accountable for spending it on what he said he was spending it on, and that’s healthy for someone who’s a recovering addict. You need to put some checks and balances in. And you might be able to evolve into a separate checking account just for his weekly expenses, and he could have a debit card on that. Just make it a very small amount of money in that account. Then, you’ll know exactly where the money goes because you’d have the debit card receipts showing up on the account. You can even watch it online or have them email you every time there’s a transaction. That’s very accountable.

But I think a combination of being wise and having checks and balances, not putting big piles of cash right under his nose, will work. But if he’s at the point where he’s going to steal cash out of your purse, we’ve still got addictive issues. And I don’t even care whether or not he’s on the household account right now. When someone’s fresh recovering from being an addict, and especially because heroin is so addicting, I probably wouldn’t let him legally have access to the household account for a long time. Now, he can look at it and you two can make good husband and wife decisions together, but you are in control of it. I wouldn’t want it where he can just reach over and clean out the account if he has a relapse.

As you can tell from the way we’re discussing this, we work with a lot of addicts. There are very few addicts who aren’t broke. Eventually, they destroy everything in their wake if they don’t lose that addiction. Obviously, this guy has gotten some healing and I’m very proud of you both. Heroin is a big deal, and this guy is a hero. I give him props, you know? That’s a hard one to bust. The fact that he has done it this long is awesome!