Before you get married or enter an otherwise serious relationship, your financial moves are solely your own business — but things change. Once you’re in a committed partnership, your spending habits also affect someone else.
Modern Money Etiquette: Answering Thorny Questions About Tipping, Gifts and More
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Therefore, you’ll probably need to start telling your significant other about some, if not all, of your purchases. “Partners need to agree on the answer to your question of whether or not they each need to tell the other about purchases,” said Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S., a licensed marriage and family therapist. “And this is preferably not a subject that should wait to come up eventually when someone has lied or spent money in excess of what the other would agree to.”
O’Neill, who is also the author of several books, including “A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage,” said the question of whether it’s necessary to tell your partner about all your purchases is at the core of your joint values. “We know from research that to have differing values about money can disrupt a couple in serious ways,” she said. “Money is always in the top reasons for relationships breaking up [or] divorcing.”
She said many couples find it helpful to set guidelines for spending. “For example, decide on an amount of money that can be spent without the other’s agreement,” she said. “I have had couples say as little as $50 or as great as $250.” It’s not uncommon for one spouse to be in charge of finances, but O’Neill said the other person shouldn’t be completely uninvolved. “I suggest that even if just one partner handles the majority of the finances, the other minimally needs to read through the bills, the checkbook, the online banking information, etc. periodically,” she said. “Therefore, both will know about their money status and would see purchases.”
If you don’t want your partner to know about your purchases, O’Neill said she would ask what your reasoning is — i.e., if you need to hide something, if your partner will be upset about the purchase and why. “It is easier to deal with that now, rather than later,” she said. “These kind of behaviors always eventually, show up and harm the relationship.” Adam Kol, known as the Couples Financial Coach, said a couple can have a healthy relationship whether or not they choose to share all their purchases with one another. “If there’s an agreement to tell each other about your purchases, then, of course, you should always tell,” said Kol, who is also a certified mediator, financial advisor and tax lawyer. “If you’re unsure of the expectations, then check in with your significant other.”
If the two of you haven’t agreed to share all of your purchases with one another, he said there’s no reason to disclose each transaction. “Many of my clients opt for a shared account for shared expenses,” he said. “They also have separate accounts from which they can spend as they please.” However, he said this approach works best for purchases made for yourself. Of course, there are always exceptions. “Granted, let’s say you come home with a shiny new watch or a gaudy new statue,” Kol said. “In that case, expect questions. After all, our partners are only human.”
If you share responsibility for kids, pets or a home, he said it’s best to talk about your purchases.
“This encourages healthy dialogue around how to handle your shared responsibilities,” he said. “It also can minimize misunderstanding and resentment.” For example, he said one partner may feel like they always give more to the kids or that the other person never contributes to the household expenses. “Discussing your purchases helps you tackle these topics before they become a problem,” he said. Ultimately, Kol said the decisions to share every purchase or not and have separate bank accounts or not are unique and personal decisions each couple must decide on.
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