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Sometimes opposites attract, but when it comes to money and relationships, that can create tension and arguments. The good news is that conflict decreases as we age, according to a survey by CompareCards.com, a subsidiary of LendingTree.
Key survey findings
- Arguments over money decrease with age. Some 15 percent of all couples surveyed said they fought about money in the last month with their spouse/partner, but money fights seemed to peak around middle age, according to our findings. Gen Xers, ages 35-54, were most likely to say they fought (20%), followed closely by millennials ages 18-34 (17%). Baby boomers and seniors, or those ages 55 and up, were least likely to argue (9%).
- Money could be a sign of larger trouble brewing for partners. Eighty-two percent who didn’t fight about money at all were extremely satisfied in their relationships versus those who did fight about money last month were satisfied (59%) with their partnerships.
- Many were willing to hide purchases from their partners. More than one-third (37%) admitted they bought something and hid it from their spouse/partner. Just one in ten (11%) admitted to keeping a secret credit card, bank account or loan their partner did not know about.
- Women have to ask more often before they spend. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of women said they didn’t have to ask before spending $100 (or less) without asking their partner, versus 77 percent of men.
Middle-aged couples feel most money tension
Couples face a variety of challenges and demands around money. That can include disagreements over how to spend or invest it, or the failure to adhere to or even have a budget.
Baby boomers fight less than millennials. This could suggest that younger people are still figuring out their finances, juggling spending, saving and planning to meet their goals, while baby boomers have settled into a financial routine.
Middle-aged couples fight the most about money. Generation X couples between 35-54 reported the highest incident of money conflict over the past month at a rate of 20 percent, the CompareCards.com survey found. Midlife can bring greater demands on a couple’s income, especially if they have children. Increased pressure on family finances from braces to ballet and summer camp could contribute to more money strain.
Many hide purchases from their partner
Hiding a purchase from your significant other may be more common than you think. Thirty-seven percent of those surveyed admitted to hiding a purchase from their partner, the survey found.
Age, gender and geographical differences emerged in secret spending.
- Middle-aged women hide the most. Women between 35-54 were most likely to have bought something and hidden it from their spouse (42%).
- Men become more likely to hide a purchase as they age. Only 23 percent of men between ages 18-24 reported hiding a purchase. But, that number climbed to 43 percent by the time they were 55-64.
- People in the Midwest were least likely to hide a purchase at 32 percent, versus 39 percent in the Northeast, 38 percent in the South and 40 percent in the West.
It’s not just purchases that couples hide from each other. About 11 percent admitted to having a secret credit card, bank account or loan that their partner did not know about.
What drives financial infidelity?
Money represents much more than a medium of exchange and can be intertwined with emotions.
Shame and fear are the main reasons a spouse would hide a purchase or credit card bill from their partner, says Lauren Drago, a licensed psychotherapist in Old Saybrook, Conn.
“My advice to those couples is to come clean,” Drago said. “These are the types of behaviors that are indicative of larger problems, that if they’re left unattended, over time can lead to the demise of a relationship.”
Spending limits can help
Bring spending out into the open by setting a limit on how much you can spend without asking your partner first. The CompareCards.com survey found that 20 percent of couples said it was acceptable to spend between $100 and $299 without checking with their partner. Women, however, ask more often before they spend $100.
Over half, or 62 percent, say $500 is too much to spend without consulting your spouse first.
If you aren’t already married, take the time to learn about your partner’s money habits. Get naked, financially that is. Take a Saturday afternoon and lay it all out. Student loans, credit card debt, your savings amount. How much are you contributing to your retirement account? The survey found that 11 percent regret not knowing more about their significant other’s money habits before becoming partners.
Communicate and compromise
“We know that a successful marriage comes with compromise and the willingness to adapt,” said Michael F. Kay, president of Financial Life Focus, a fee-only financial life planning firm in Livingston, N.J.
Here are some tips to ease the tension. It starts by talking.
1. Identify your shared goals. Money represents a resource that couples have available to reach their goals. Talk about and pinpoint your common goals.
“Whether that is a vacation, a house or saving for college. These conversations fall apart when one person in the relationship tries to change the other’s ways. Focus on things that you both want and drive behaviors to help get to those desires,” said Matt Reiner, CEO of Atlanta-based Wela, a firm that offers financial planning software.
Money is personal, Reiner added. “How we deal with money is built on how we were raised and what we saw during our early years. Nobody really takes it well when told we are doing it wrong.”
2. Create a financial plan to achieve those goals.
If one is a spender and the other is a saver, there is an easy fix, says Tiffany Welka, accredited wealth management adviserwith VFG Associates in Livonia, Mich. “Give each other an affordable allowance to be able to spend or save as they wish.”
3. Switch up the money chores.
Sometimes when people are living together or married, one person takes care of the finances. If one partner consistently pays the bills each month, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. When you turn over the reins for a few months, you can quickly see cash flow in and cash flow out. That can be an illuminating experience that could transform spending and saving behavior.
The Bottom Line
Even when partners have differing financial goals, varied levels of understanding around investments, money management or budgeting, open and honest communication is the key path forward.
CompareCards.com asked 1,000 U.S. adults who were married or in a domestic partnership about their household finances. The survey was conducted Aug. 29-31, 2017.