Are You Committing Financial Infidelity?

I’m sure you know that money is a frequent topic of dispute between husbands and wives.  And new research shows that the issue is not exactly going away.

The Star Tribune reported on an American Express survey in which 50 percent of married people acknowledged making a purchase their spouse was against, and 30 percent admitted to actually hiding what they bought.

Bundle mentioned a CESI Debt Solutions survey in which 15 percent of married people said they have a bank account their spouse doesn’t know about.  Over 18 percent said they have a credit card their spouse doesn’t know about.

Divorce attorneys I interviewed for my new book about money and marriage, which will be published next March, told me that when money is the issue driving couples apart, the specific issue is usually that the spouses were living separate financial lives.  Over time, one had taken their finances to the edge of the cliff, and by the time the other found out, all trust and respect had been lost.

It’s for these reasons that I encourage engaged couples to talk about their finances in detail before getting married: how much debt each person has, how much money in savings and investments, their credit score, and more.  And it’s why I encourage married couples to set up their finances in a way that promotes transparency and teamwork: joint checking and savings accounts, and a central system for tracking all income and expenses.

By the same token, I encourage husbands and wives to each have separate budgeted amounts that they can control.  My wife and I do this for clothing.  As long as we stay within our budgeted amounts, we can buy what we want.  Other couples do this for lunches with friends or hobbies.  This provides some financial freedom, while keeping both spouses accountable to the overall household budget.

If you’re married, what do you do to make sure you’re both on the same financial page?  And by the way, if you’re engaged or newly married and live in the Chicago area, there’s still time to sign up for the MoneySmart Marriage workshop.

5 Responses to Are You Committing Financial Infidelity?

  1. Jonathan October 14, 2010 at 1:43 PM #

    Yes. Both accounts are joint so either of us can pay bills, and of course spend. But even with the spending account, our communication is very important especially when it comes close to being low. We make sure to share purchases regularly to make sure we do not overdraw on the account.

  2. Matt Bell October 12, 2010 at 4:06 PM #

    Interesting idea, Jonathan, and one that sounds like it works well. I assume that both of the checking accounts are joint accounts. Is that right?

  3. Jonathan October 12, 2010 at 3:57 PM #

    My wife and I have two checking accounts. One that pays bills and one that is strictly for spending. It has been an easy way to manage our money. We make sure all our bills are covered in one account, and use bill payer to make the payments, and then the rest is in our spending account so we know exactly how much we can spend (which includes Tithe, gas, groceries, eating out, etc.)

  4. Matt Bell October 12, 2010 at 3:39 PM #

    Kevin – Sounds like a great plan to me. Simple, straight forward, effective. It doesn’t have to be complicated, does it?

  5. Kevin October 12, 2010 at 1:53 PM #

    We keep our budget on a spreadsheet that we both have access to. We revisit the budget twice a year and make mutual decisions on any changes that need to be made.

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