Are You Spending More Than Your Relationship Can Afford?

I read an article in the newspaper the other day which offered the following advice: don’t tell your spouse, “I went through the credit card statements and can’t believe you spent so much on stuff we don’t need.”

Is this good advice or bad advice?

Personally, I think it’s a little bit of both, depending on the couple.

My office frequently has clients send us copies of their bank and credit cards statements so we can monitor the activity in their accounts. On more than one occasion we’ve been shocked by the amount of activity on credit card statements. In one particular case that stands out, the statement averaged more than 20 individual charges per day. What individual needs to make over 20 purchases per day in order to meet their daily needs?

There seems to be a group of people out there who are addicted to buying. It’s important to be aware of this. In most households, one person takes responsibility for the household finances. This can work well as long as the person controlling the finances isn’t the one with the problem. I think it makes sense that if you’re living as a couple and you have joint bank accounts that both partners know what’s going on.

I have to believe that people who make multiple unnecessary purchases a day have to know they’re doing it. There should be no surprise when these transactions show up on the monthly statement. It doesn’t benefit anyone to keep these statements secret. I usually suggest that both partners review bank and credit card statement together, every month. It only takes a few moments and at least everything is laid out in the open.

I started in the financial services industry 35 years ago when I came to understand that the most common cause of stress in most people’s lives involved money. Usually the anxiety was a result of the household spending more money than it made. It doesn’t matter if you earn $15,000 per year or $150,000 per year, if you spend more than you earn you’ll end up in the same situation. There are some very wealthy people who have earned fortunes only to declare bankruptcy due to uncontrolled spending.

The best advice I can give anyone when it comes to money is to talk about it right from the start and be honest and open. Outline expectations and relate them to financial goals and objectives that the two of you share. If you’re going to live with someone there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to discuss money, it’s nothing more than a tool to facilitate the life you are living together.

My other advice is that if there is a problem, be brave and address it. Don’t pretend that there isn’t a problem, or else it has the potential to destroy you and your relationship along with it. If you think your household has a problem with spending and you want to do something proactive, you can always reduce the credit limit on your cards (just make sure you let your spouse know if you do).

Life is a journey, and if you are lucky enough to share that journey with a loved one, it is in everyone’s best interest to have a serious talk about the funds that will help you along your way. If there are spending problems early on in a relationship that are left unchecked, it will be substantially harder to change these habits down the road, and by that time a significant amount of damage may have already been done. The sooner both partners are on the same page with regards to finances, the more likely they are to have a stress free life together.