Fighting Over Finances

Sure, two can live as cheaply as one — but only if one of the two isn’t stupid about money. American Express/Echo Research polling finds many couples differing about how to manage their household finances, and suffering considerable stress in the process.

Conducted last month among adults who are married or living with a partner, the survey found 48 percent of respondents saying they argue with their mate about financial matters. The leading topic of such arguments is the partner’s “frivolous spending” (13 percent) — a far more common bone of contention, of course, than “my frivolous spending” (5 percent).

That skew is reflected in the findings when respondents were asked to say which member of the couple (if either) deserves to be labeled as the “spender” (leaving aside joint household expenditures). Forty percent said their partner is the spender in the family, vs. 22 percent pointing to themselves (with the rest saying the two don’t differ in this respect). Likewise, 50 percent identified themselves as the better of the two when it comes to “managing household finances,” vs. 19 percent crediting their partner with that status.

How much money must be involved in a purchase before it merits a consultation between the partners? On average, a $275 price tag triggers discussion. But that’s assuming one member of the couple isn’t buying something on the sly. Thirty percent of respondents confessed to having hidden a purchase from their significant other; 27 percent have “misrepresented” the price of something they bought; 16 percent maintain a secret account or credit card.

Then again, it’s not as though open discussion is any guarantee of harmony. The chart below gives a picture of the kinds of financial decisions most likely to cause dissension within a couple. Whatever the nature of their financial disagreements, couples report enduring more relationship stress from household finances (cited by 30 percent) than from the topics “intimacy issues,” children and in-laws combined.

Little wonder, then, that any discussion of financial matters often leads to argument between partners. Forty-five percent of the survey’s respondents said this is the case in their couple at least some of the time, including 8 percent who said it always pans out that way.