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My husband and I have had a joint bank account since we were married 20 years ago. This is such an area of tension that it undermines an otherwise happy relationship and we have two young teenagers.
My husband is the main breadwinner and my job doesn’t allow me much other than paying for housekeeping and vacations. But I like spending money on our girls and I like getting a haircut every few months and buying clothes every season.
I’m far from extravagant but my husband doesn’t like me to “splash” and it causes arguments. I don’t want to stop having a joint account, but I’m also very unhappy with how this happened between us. Please can you help me?
It seems to me that you and your husband opted for a joint bank account, as many couples do, in order to simplify administrative life, but perhaps without discussing values and expectations.
So instead of agreeing on what is reasonable or excessive in terms of personal spending, you are constantly confronted with divergent opinions on the subject.
Vicky Reynal suggests having a conversation with your husband about how you feel when your spending is scrutinized.
And when you do, your husband’s greater contribution to the family finances may feel (to both of you) like it entitles him to have more say in how the family money can be spent. From your email I can tell that the current agreement makes you unhappy because it gives you little financial freedom.
When two people come together in a committed relationship and merge not only their lives, but also their finances, it can expose different views not only on spending versus saving, but also on power and freedom , fairness and equality, transparency and confidentiality. These differences often fuel conflict, but if managed well, they can be an opportunity to learn more about others.
I would suggest having a conversation with your husband about how you feel when your expenses are scrutinized. Remember, you’re trying to help them understand you, so giving them a broader context of why having more financial freedom is important to you can help: Did your family grow up in able to enjoy money in a way that you feel was lost in your marriage? Or does this dynamic evoke painful memories of seeing your father financially control your mother?
As you try to understand him and find out what makes him nervous about your spending, it’s worth asking yourself: What is his family history when it comes to money? Did he grow up poor and experience some of his family’s money-related anxieties? Or was there a parent who “spent” money in a way that created financial problems or caused financial conflict in the family?
Vicky also says: “Having clear expectations will minimize the risk of conflict and compromised trust” (File image)
Sharing each other’s financial history can help you understand each other. This gives you context for how you view each other’s financial conduct in the present, because our family’s relationship with money leaves an imprint on how we, in the present, evaluate things as reasonable/ excessive, fair/unfair, etc.
Recognize the importance of you, as a couple, agreeing on an amount that seems reasonable for each to spend monthly as “personal expenses.” Within this reserved amount, can you give yourself the freedom to make your own choices?
Establish rules about what happens if you don’t spend your entire “personal expenses” budget? Can you postpone it, allowing you to save for a larger expense? How will you track your own spending? What expectations do you have about knowing the details of your partner’s personal expenses? And are you still happy to use the joint account for this?
Having clear expectations will minimize the risk of conflict and compromised trust. It will also give you peace of mind knowing that your actions do not threaten the harmony of the relationship, and it might seem less guilt-inducing to you and your husband to get a haircut, that your expenses will not turn into “splash”. , and reduce anxiety.
Negotiating an amount you can both agree on may mean there isn’t enough for everything you want to spend, but at least you’ll have the freedom to make choices and compromises within your budget mutually agreed.
This is also a good model to use with your teenage daughters: do they have an allowance/budget within which they have the freedom to make choices? If so, have you thought about fairness/equality based on their age difference perhaps and the amount they each receive? As parents, have you been clear about the expectations for transparency or confidentiality that accompany this allowance?
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