En español | Are you guilty of financial infidelity or spending money your spouse doesn't know about?
See also: Rein in wasteful spending.
In a recent survey commissioned by CESI Debt Solutions, a nonprofit agency dedicated to debt-free living, 80 percent of married individuals admitted hiding purchases or keeping their spouses in the dark about certain spending decisions. Yet 73 percent of those married persons said they believe that spending more than $100 without telling your spouse is unacceptable.
So what's with all the hush-hush financial habits?
Sharing financial responsibilities can be challenging, especially if your spouse or significant other has a different "money personality" than you, and the two of you are set in your ways. Even many older couples who have been together for years can find it difficult to see eye to eye about money matters.
Use the following tips to improve your finances as a couple — and to open up the communication channels with your mate.
Photo by: Corbis
Schedule Time for Money Conversations
Set up a weekly or monthly meeting dedicated to your household finances. This can make the rest of the week or month less stressful. It also makes it easier to solve problems before they get out of hand.
Unfortunately, too many couples simply fail to communicate about money matters — potentially leading to major financial issues, such as excessive debt.
"Through the act of secret spending, or financial infidelity, debt is incurred that spouses can be legally responsible for, although the specifics vary from state to state," says Neil Ellington, executive vice president of CESI.
"This inherited debt can be quite problematic on the health of a relationship," Ellington adds. "That's why honesty and open communication about money has to be a priority in the relationship."
Address Compulsive Spending Problems
Do you regularly buy items on impulse or spring for lavish gifts for the kids or grandkids? Or does your significant other indulge in expensive shopping sprees?
If compulsive spending habits are draining your bank accounts, consider what is driving the urge to shop. If you're unhappy, depressed or unable to express emotions in a healthy way, you need to find better ways to manage your moods. You and your spouse need to work on this issue together so you don't end up developing an overspending and hoarding habit. You can also bring along a buddy with you if you feel prone to "retail therapy" so he or she can keep you on your budget.
Delegate and Designate Tasks
In planning your household budget, one of you can be in charge of handling the household bills, while the other person can be in charge of developing a preliminary budget or spending plan. Separate money management tasks mean your financial philosophy is a joint effort.
Working together toward a shared goal can put you both on the same page and make it much easier to achieve financial harmony.
Seek Financial Counseling
If you can't seem to resolve money issues together, consider bringing in a third party for help. A meeting with a financial counselor or adviser can help answer your questions and put you on a healthier track with your budget.
Attend this meeting together so that you're both attuned to your overall financial picture. "Couples that won't honestly talk to their partners about spending will open up to us because they feel safe," Ellington says.
Agree to Disagree
Finally, recognize that you and your spouse don't have to agree on everything when it comes to spending and saving money, and you'll likely each need to make compromises.
If your money personalities clash, strive to find a middle-ground solution that makes you both reasonably happy with the outcome. Don't make money matters a competitive winner-take-all contest. Acknowledge that you both have different ways of managing money, without insisting that one person's approach is "right" or "wrong."
If you're the one who's been hiding purchases, realize that it's probably best to come forward and broach the subject of secret spending before your spouse finds out and confronts you over the issue. You don't want your partner to feel betrayed. According to the CESI survey, 30 percent of those polled said financial infidelity is just as bad as sexual infidelity.
But for those of you worried about coming clean with your spouse, take heart in knowing that the odds are in your favor that love will prevail over your past financial indiscretions.
Despite financial infidelity, 60 percent of married couples say they would still forgive a spouse for secret spending.