Money Top Source of Stress

Money Top Source of Stress for North American Couples, Survey Finds 

Partners go to extremes to avoid fighting about finances

American Express 6/16/2010

What do American couples fight about most? It’s not so much about the kids, the in-laws or who’s in charge of the remote. It’s about how they handle their finances.

That was the finding of the May/June American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, which surveyed consumers about the role finances play in their personal relationships. The research sample totaled 2,008 adults, broken down into two categories: the affluent (defined as having a household income of $100,000 and up) and young professionals (those under 30, college educated, $50,000 in income).

Finances triggered the most relationship angst (30 percent of respondents), followed distantly by intimacy (11 percent), children (9 percent) and in-laws (4 percent). Money is such a sensitive subject that the vast majority (91 percent) of couples find reasons not to talk about it.

The survey unearthed plenty of other nuggets about couples and money:

Avoiding conversations about money is so common that couples are more likely to know their partner’s weight than their salary.

Subterfuge: Whether it’s guilt or fear of triggering a fight, 27 percent of respondents have lied about what they paid for something, and 30 percent have hidden purchases from a disapproving partner.

Avoidance: “Conversations about finances seem to be avoided like the plague by most couples,” said Pamela Codispoti, American Express senior vice president and general manager, Consumer Card Products. Only 43 percent of the general population remember discussing money before getting married. (Among young professionals that number jumps to 81 percent.) Twelve percent of the general population says they’ve never talked about money with their spouse.

The other one is worse: Forty percent believe their partner spends more money than they do. The same number (40 percent) consider themselves more diligent than their partner when it comes to saving money and budgeting.

My money, not our money. Young professionals are more likely to maintain individual checking, savings and retirement accounts than older generations.

Debt? What debt? One-third (31 percent) of respondents do not know how much debt they carry as a couple.

Share and share alike—or proportionally alike. Most couples (66 percent) share all monthly expenses, while the remaining 34 percent divide their bills each month, with methods ranging from paying certain bills individually (as in, I’ll pay gas and electric if you pay cable) to splitting household expenses based on income ratio.

Rules for big-ticket spending: Most Americans set a dollar threshold for major purchases. Anything above that amount, and the buyer is expected to consult with their partner before buying something. The average threshold: $275 ($395 for affluents).

Regrets: More than half (56 percent) of couples feel they have made a financial mistake in their relationship, ranging from spending too much on their wedding to buying a house at the top of the market. Exactly half (50 percent) say they would do something differently to manage their financial situation if they could go back in time, including putting more into savings and investments, spending more responsibly (27 percent) and discussing financial goals and expectations earlier (17 percent).

Strife: Discussions about household finances lead to arguments among 45 percent of the general population. The rich don’t fight more than the average couple; but the young do; 72 percent of young professionals argue over money versus 44 percent of affluents.

Admissions on Facebook: When American Express fans were asked on Facebook if they ever hid an expensive purchase from their partner, nearly 100 people came out to confess that yes, they had. Ramon Perez described passing a $3,000 triathlon bike off as “a $89.99 K-Mart Special,” while Kathleen Banko Freihofer explained how she gets away with it: “Yup!! Just take off the tags and hang it in the closet like it’s always been there…guilty.”

Others, like Chris Whatshappening cautioned against spending deception, “Lying to your spouse is a slippery slope (yes, even with larger than normal purchases). I’ve done it a few times, and the short and long-term consequences of lying have always been far worse than simply telling her what I am doing.”


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