You and your spouse created a household budget that you thought worked for both of you. But there are troubling signs that your spouse is sabotaging this budget each month.
Your credit-card balance should be shrinking, but it’s not, and your spouse doesn’t want to talk about all those purchases from the local department store. Then there’s the notice delivered to your mailbox that your utility bill hasn’t been paid on time.
These are all warning signs that your spouse isn’t sticking to your household budget and is — consciously or subconsciously — wrecking your finances. It’s important to identify these signs and to speak with your spouse about the overspending or missed payments.
Those spouses who ignore the red flags? They risk not only the health of their finances but of their marriage, too.
‘When one spouse spends more there can be resentment, distrust and anger,’ says financial attorney Leslie Tayne, author of ‘Life & Debt’ and owner of Tayne Law Group in New York City. ‘Financial honesty is a key factor in happy marriages.’
Worried that your spouse is sabotaging your monthly household budget? Here are five warning signs to look for:
1. Hidden credit card accounts
John Inhouse, managing director and market executive at the Atlanta office of Merrill Lynch, has worked with clients who discover that their spouses have a secret credit card account.
This is a huge red flag that your spouse isn’t committed to your household budget, Inhouse said, and is using a hidden credit card to make secret purchases.
‘Sometimes spouses have different mindsets,’ Inhouse says. ‘One might be more conservative when it comes to spending money, the other more aggressive. So one opens an account on the side without telling the other. They want to be able to spend money without getting a lecture from their spouse.’
Often spouses don’t discover this secret account until they are taking out a mortgage or auto loan together and notice their other half’s credit report. And when they find out the hidden credit card account? It can be difficult for the shocked spouses to trust their partners again.
To avoid this kind of surprise, make sure that both you and your spouse each year order the free credit reports available to you from AnnualCreditReport.com. You and your partners can order one free credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — once every year. Spouses who don’t want any unpleasant surprises should share their reports with each other. Reports will list any open credit accounts, including any secret credit card accounts.
If your spouse won’t agree to this sharing? It’s time to be wary.
2. Secret purchases
You and your spouse have agreed not to spend more than $400 a month on discretionary purchases and entertainment. Then when your monthly credit card bill arrives, you notice that your spouse spent $500 at the electronics store, purchasing a tablet that you’ve never even seen.
Such hidden purchases are another sure sign that your spouse is secretly sabotaging your household budget and draining your savings account.
If you’re finding these purchases every month, it’s time to schedule a meeting with your spouse. And be prepared to work out a solution during it. Maybe your household budget isn’t realistic, and you need to set aside more money for discretionary purchases and entertainment.
‘It comes down to the whole issue of communication,’ says Jim McCarthy, certified financial planner with Directional Wealth Management in Rockaway, New Jersey. ‘You need to understand why your spouse felt the need to make that secret purchase. You might have to adjust your budget. In any kind of relationship, there needs to be some form of compromise on both sides. The sooner you catch those things, the better.’
3. Your spouse tells you about big purchases … after making them
Some spouses don’t hide big purchases. They just fail to tell their spouses about their big buys until after they’ve made them.
This is another red flag: Ideally, you and your spouse would discuss whether that flat-screen TV fits in your budget before purchasing it. A spouse who buys first and tells you later is one who doesn’t care about your household budget.
4. No time to talk budget
Household budgets are not static. They need to evolve as your household expenses, savings accounts and incomes rise and fall. But what if your spouse is never willing to make time to talk about household spending and budgeting? That might be another warning sign that your spouse would rather spend freely than stick to any budget.
‘It is very important that you and your spouse work together to make the household budget,’ Tayne says. ‘You need to agree on where the money is going and what you are spending [it] on. Working together will promote financial transparency and help to discourage any arguments about money.’
5. They’re overly defensive
You notice an unusual purchase on the credit card account you share with your spouse. But when you ask your spouse about it, an argument immediately erupts. This is yet another red flag.
Spouses are often overly defensive when they feel guilty about making purchases that they know fall outside your household budget. If you can never have a calm discussion with your spouse about overspending, it’s time to make a change.
‘It’s not always easy for spouses to talk about budgets,’ Inhouse says. ‘It’s not fun. It can be uncomfortable. It’s why many couples spend more time planning vacations than they do their household budgets. There can be arguments and hurt feelings. The key is to have a plan upfront so that both spouses know why this budget is important and why they are trying to save money.’