Money. It is one of the top reasons for relationship struggles. When things are going well with a spouse or significant other, money seems to be totally irrelevant. Eventually, however, problems can arise if money is not discussed before the relationship becomes permanent.
A whopping 80 percent of Americans surveyed confessed to hiding purchases from a spouse or spending money their spouse didn’t know about, according to a 2016 study commissioned by Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) Debt Solutions, a nonprofit organization founded in 1998.
What are your spending habits, and how do they correlate to what your long-term financial goals are?
MORE NEWS: Kamioner: All Politics Is Personal
“I’m not proud of it, but I hide my shopping bags in the car until my husband is gone and then I run out and bring them in,” said one wife and mother from Clovis, New Mexico. “Our feelings on money differ — he is a saver who plans for that rainy day. I am a ‘live in the moment’ type. Back when we married in 1985, you didn’t factor each individual’s relationship to money into your future plans together.”
Our culture has an aversion to talking about money, yet it is critical to talk about both spending and credit well before a relationship becomes permanent. The CESI survey noted that 30 percent of the survey respondents think financial infidelity is just as bad as sexual infidelity, according to Creditshout.com.
Counselors, therapists, and financial planners have different theories on how to handle money issues — so many decisions revolve around the unique personalities of the two people involved. The best thing to do is to address these issues before marriage — and to do so purposefully.
What’s the rush? Once you are a married entity, your credit rating and debt is tied to that of your spouse. This may cause some uncomfortable conversations before the wedding, but if you can’t talk about something this personal and this big to your intended, perhaps the relationship has bigger problems.
“My husband and I were Pre-Cana leaders [a course for couples preparing to be married in a Catholic church] for about two years back in the ’80s. And we couldn’t believe how many couples focused on the wedding itself and where they were going to live,” said one Boston-area wife and mother of three. “Money and even children were not discussed nearly enough, until we raised these issues in the class.”
One idea that works well for some couples is a prenuptial agreement. While it may be a scary concept — it’s a form of insurance. If you have an agreement to state that both the money brought into the marriage and any money earned during it is sole and separate property, then you are both protected in case the other person turns out to be a spending addict.
To protect everyone’s financial interests, each individual should perhaps hold their assets in separate accounts. Make a budget — monthly is best — and each person can put an agreed amount of their income into a monthly pot to pay the bills.
MORE NEWS: DeSantis Defies PC, Backs Gadsden Flag
Alas, not everyone has the foresight or courage to try these options — so let’s assume that neither a prenup nor individual accounts exist and you have one big pot of co-mingled money. One day, your Visa bill arrives — and you are floored to see that your usual charges are six times higher than normal. Maybe you ignore it; you don’t want to upset your spouse. But like a bad dream, it keeps happening.
You have to address this with your spouse on a macro level — not go on a personal attack. Lay some needed groundwork.
Now is a good time, if you haven’t already, to talk big picture. What are your spending habits, and how do they correlate to what your long-term financial goals are? Read over the credit card statements together. Identify the purchases and, without attacking, ask what’s going on with them. Importantly, ask about your spouse’s feelings on spending and debt. There’s a “why” to every question. You have to get to the bottom of it.
Many people are simply financially undereducated. They literally don’t have a concept of what charging a credit card means — and they don’t realize charges build up and it costs interest to float the purchases.
Money is deeply tied to our psychology and our feelings. Perhaps your spouse was always told by his father to save for a rainy day, or felt his parents were cheapskates who never gave him what he wanted — and is now spending his own money wildly as subconscious revenge. Or perhaps your spouse grew up lonely, and has an opportunity to fulfill deep-seated material desires to make up for a mother who didn’t show love and affection.
The stories are as varied as life itself; it can literally be that specific and that complicated. That’s why you need to tread lightly when dealing with a spouse and spending issues.
What if the rational approach does not work? Get to a therapist or other mental health professional. Financial problems can end a marriage, saddle one individual with loads of debt, and undermine life goals. You may need to find a debt counselor as well.
This can serve as a splash of cold water, shaking your spouse awake. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting that there is one, and it is important to try to remain measured, but to be honest with your feelings. Debt can make one feel like things are out of control, and create anger and resentment.
There’s a lot at stake — but keep the faith and find help. Working through a financial crisis lays a strong foundation for meeting other life challenges not separately, but together.