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Taboo topic among spouses

By Barbara Whelehan ·
Friday, June 11, 2010
Posted: 2 pm ET

What's the biggest source of tension in a relationship? Three in 10 couples cite money as the main stressor, well ahead of the usual suspects: intimacy (11 percent), children (9 percent) and in-law conflicts (4 percent), according to the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker survey.

But the most surprising thing to me is that nine out of 10 couples (91 percent) find reasons to avoid financial discussions with their partner altogether. They are privy to their partner's weight, but not their salary!

Only my health care providers know my actual weight. When my husband asks me how much I weigh, my stock answer is "125 pounds." That figure may be off, but we certainly know each other's salaries.

Here's the biggest shock: 12 percent of those surveyed say they've never discussed money with their spouse. Talk about the elephant in the marital chambers! How can anyone avoid this topic altogether?

Money is the circulatory system in the body of a household. Just like you need to get blood work done every now and then to check glucose and cholesterol levels, you need to take inventory of your assets and see if you're on track with your savings goals, particularly retirement savings.

Playing hide-and-seek

Maybe you've purchased something you didn't want your spouse to know about right away. It happens a lot.

Thirty percent of survey respondents say they have secretly made purchases they didn't reveal to their partner. Some took rather extreme lengths to hide them. Among the crazy things they did to avoid their partner's scrutiny:

  • Put their purchases in grocery bags and lugged them in the house.
  • Purchased an item during the wee hours of the morning and hid them under the bed.
  • Buried their new item in the backyard.

Now, if you happened to be up in the middle of the night and you saw your neighbor digging in the yard, would you assume the motive was to conceal a new item that had just been purchased from the 24-hour Walmart?

I've read too many mystery novels and would jump to a completely different conclusion.

Financial regrets

The most valuable part of the American Express survey: Half of the respondents say they would change some facet of their financial lives if they could go back in time, including:

  • Allocating more to savings and investments (32 percent).
  • Making more responsible spending decisions (27 percent).
  • Arguing about financial goals and expectations earlier (17 percent).

I use "arguing" facetiously; the actual word used in the press release is "discussing." But then, according to this survey, such discussions "lead to arguments among 45 percent of the general population."

Let's learn from other people's mistakes. Forget about arguing. Make an appointment with a financial planner. Hash out your hopes, dreams and financial goals in the presence of a third party if you must so that you can get unbiased advice about how to achieve them.


Do you have any financial regrets? Or crazy stories about hiding purchases from your partner? Go ahead, confess it!

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