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Question for Discussion: How Much Can You Spend Without Telling?

This article was written by in Family and Life. 27 comments.


This is a question mainly for readers in a relationship in which finances are mostly combined or you rely on one another for income and make spending decisions together. I am wondering how much you can spend — whether as a percentage of a total budget or a hard dollar amount — without discussing the details with your significant other. Do you hide any spending from your spouse or partner? (Don’t worry, you can answer anonymously.)

Perhaps you each knowingly keep some separate funds to surprise one another, but I’m more concerned with the little things that may go unnoticed. Can this type of deception be harmful? If so, at what limit would it hurt you or your partner?

Also, do you have or would you consider having a secret bank account? If so, what is it used for?

Published or updated March 19, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar chrissv

As part of our budget, my wife and I give ourselves a set amount of money every week, and we don’t have to justify / document where it went. If I want something bigger than that amount, I need to have the discipline to save my weekly amounts.

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avatar savvy

We don’t have a preset amount in regard to how much can be spent unilaterally. Income is split between a joint account and individual accounts. Personal spending money comes from the individual accounts therefore there really isn’t any ‘oversight’ by the other person. Joint purchases (for the house, etc.) are generally shopped for/purchased together.

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avatar GBlogger

We don’t have an exactly set amount — but it came up one day when we were doing a quiz in a personal-finance magazine. I think I had about $1,000 in mind, and my wife had about $500 in mind. So I guess we’re somewhere in the $500-1000 range!

Past that, we kept most all of the accounts that we had before we got married — but we added each other to all of our accounts (and ultimately moved those that we could into our living trust).

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avatar Steve R

My wife and I use a single joint bank account and a joint credit card for everything. We do have a second bank account and a few spare credit cards but those are for emergencies. I make about 65% more than her but we don’t make any distinction between my money and her money. We don’t have allowances.

This works mostly because everything we do is together, and we have similar spending habits and goals.

We both direct deposit our paychecks to the account, and our mortgage, student loans, auto loan, power, utilities, and monthly Roth IRA contributions are all automatically withdrawn.

Just about evertything else we buy is for both of us. I would say 90% of our other expenses fall into expenses for our children, clothing, groceries, gas, home improvement projects, gardening, vacations, dining, or gifts for family. It wouldn’t make sense to break up any of those costs per person.

At the end of each month we add up our expenditures, and it is typically below our budget unless we had a major project. If we were really to analyze our expenditures and pick out which items were for just one of us, I am sure it would be fewer than $50 a month.

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avatar That One Caveman

In our house, we maintain a system where we run all purchases by the other before we make it. A dual-approval system slows down impulse purchases and makes sure we’re always buying the best deal. This applies for all non-essential items regardless of price except for the occasional fast food run for a quickie lunch.

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avatar Pete @ biblemoneymatters

My wife and I have individual accounts that are linked to our joint savings. for the most part we split the bills (i get the mortgage and a couple of other bills, she gets the scraps). As far as how much we can spend, I think it tends to vary, but if we’re spending more than 30-50$, we try to check with the other person. We also try not to hide anything from each other – which for me is a no-brainer anyway because I couldn’t hide something from my wife if i wanted to. I’m a horrible liar.

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avatar FR

My situation is similar to #4.

Married, single joint account, with no distinction on whose money is whose.

We budget very carefully, at the beginning of the month we immediately put away ‘monthlies’ which include retirement account contributions (equal to both of us), emergency fund contributions, monthly payments for utilities/insurance, vacation, house down payment, car downpayment/payment,etc. Any major purchase (anything over $1k) is preplanned and saved for, bought with credit, but immediately paid off.

With whatever is left (about $400, discretionary/unbudgeted) it’s free spending for either of us. We do / spend most of our weekends together, so any expenditures are always joint.

One uber rule though: any single purchase over $100 must a collective decision before buying.

P.S. No kids.

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avatar matty dread

my wife and I have our own accounts but only for direct deposit of paychecks, then our money is moved to a main account and shared. we load all our data into microsoft money, so there are no secrets…it can be looked at at any moment (our government should try this!).

I think purchases over about $1000 are reason for discussion….more so to understand who has a plan for something in our house or for our child than to discuss the expenditure….

secret account…i think that would indicate other problems with the marriage if it came to that…..seperate accounts may work or be necessary for some…

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avatar Me

My husband and I have a joint account to pay the bills and for savings. We both put in all of our paychecks minus an allowance for each of us that is the same. We do not have to get permission for our allowance money. Regarding the joint account, we really don’t have a rule on purchase price. Basically if the house needs something, we discuss it and one of us purchases it with the joint account money. I guess, everything is discussed.

Recently I told my husband we have to watch our spending closely as the early months of the year have large bills and our 20% fluff that is budgeted gets eaten up by these bills. I saw Costco had an electric toothbrush for a great price and we need to replace our current one of 6 years. Before I bought it, I called him and explained why I was getting it now. He approved the purchase, so I got the deal instead of waiting.

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avatar Becca

We have a rather interesting system. We have a joint account, but we also both have two separate checking accounts and savings accounts. My husband has two checking accounts- one is left over from when he was a landlord, and the other is his personal money. He tends to keep money he doesn’t want to spend in the landlord account, and transfers what he needs to his personal account. I don’t know and don’t really care how much he has in there, because I know he isn’t hiding a lot of money from me. I have two checking accounts also. One is at a brick-and-mortar bank, the other is online. I tend to spend money if it is in front of me, so I have to hide it, or at least make it inaccessible. I set up the online checking account so that I could more easier pay my bills after my paycheck is direct deposited into my online savings account. We each get $20 a month cash to spend as we like. I pay the mortgage, my car payment, my CC (though that is paid off now!), my student loans, and put any extra money towards my hubby’s CC. He pays for all the utilities- power, water, natural gas, gas for the cars, groceries, pet supplies, cell phones, and his credit card. I work full-time and he goes to school and works part time, so my chunk is a lot bigger. I’m in charge of the finances, so I work on building up the emergency fund and other savings goals. I make sure the bills get paid on time. We are working on paying off all of our consumer debt. We have quite a bit of student loan debt and mortgage debt as well. It all works out in the end, but we both end up with about $10 in our accounts at the end of the month.

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avatar Bill

My wife and I set a limit of $100 that we were free to spend without even mentioning it to each other.

If it’s over $100, we owe each other the courtesy of mentioning it. Discussion might follow if we disagreed on the need or wisdom of spending it.

It’s generally worked well. The only hiccup I recall is recently my wife spent $250 repairing an heirloom ring that was damaged. She was so upset about the damage she didn’t even think about our agreement, so I don’t hold it against here. 1 “slip” in 7 years isn’t bad.

I feel guilty spending over $50 without mentioning it.

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avatar ntguru

I wonder if total household income levels play into this at all? That is, does a household with $50K in annual income tend to have a lower threshold than one with $150K?

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avatar Kimberly

Well, I see everything, because I download it all in to Quicken every month and categorize the expenses. I end up asking, “What did you send $x.xx on at so-and-so place?” So to be fair, I tell my husband everything I spend money on over $10. Now that we’re debt-free he asked if he could have his own discretionary funds that he doesn’t have to be accountable for. He still had his old checking account that is in his name only from before we were married, so now he gets his “blow” money, allowance, whatever you want to call it, in there each pay check. But I know about the three vices he spends it on so it’s not that big of a deal; now he just doesn’t feel guilty about it.

We discuss all purchases over, say, about $40. That’s just a guess. Neither of us are huge spenders, and we’re used to not spending wildly from when we were getting out of debt, that we have a habit now of saying, “I want to buy something” to each other before the actual purchase is made.

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avatar savvy

For those who only have joint accounts/credit cards, how do you handle gifts for your spouse? I wouldn’t necessarily want my husband to see the card/account statement and know ahead of time what his gift was.

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avatar Tom

We don’t sweat the small the small stuff. My spouse and I both spend without asking or telling one another. However, if a big ticket item or repair is needed, anything over $150.00 – $200.00, we always discuss it.

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avatar FR

@13,

Good question. All gifts (at least to each other) are budgeted (for my wife and I, about $100-$150 per gift). Fortunately these are almost always bought in the store so we’re allowed to withdraw cash when the time arises.

The obvious problem is that if you find a gift online, you must use a credit card in most cases. We have multiple credit cards (one main one we always use, as well as emergency ones). In this case, I would probably agree not to see the statement, use the emergency card, and instead have her open the statement and write the check.

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avatar AJC @ 7million7years

This is a really good question; I have a passive income WELL IN EXCESS OF $250k per year … you’d think my wife would cut me some slack when I play a little online poker … not so! And, I mean winning or losing just $1k a month – c’mon, give me a break!

Luckily I have a couple of businesses as well, and I find that they are just fine for ‘salting off a few dollars’ into my personal loan accounts – all accounted for legally/correctly, but my wife hasn’t figured out how to read the balance sheets, yet ;)

She doesn’t mind me teaching others how to become millionaires … she just doesn’t like me to act like one (all in all a good thing, because she still hates using the credit cards!)

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avatar FR

@12

Also a good question, my wife and are are under the $50k incomes, with discretionary expenses of $400 per month and no consent for purchases under $100.

One person may say that if we were making more that those numbers would increase.. relative percentages though. For example, 400$ per month is about 10% of our income, we’d like to keep that 10% regardless of total income throughout our lives. Some may say this is too much already?

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avatar Kent Irwin

We have a $50 limit, and many times we don’t spend over $25 without checking with the other one. This helps us to keep our budget in line and avoid impulse purchases. Several months ago my wife called me from the check out line to see if she should buy something, when I reminded her, that we already owned one.

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avatar Roman

The amount is equal to about what ever my bonus is…. Thats not the best way of doing it but thats is what i am allowed to spend without being yelled at. I normally don’t spend more then that on things that are not needed in the house.

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avatar Dariaclone

We are with #1 and #2–separate “allowance” accounts with everything else going to joint saving/spending. But having said that, even within that we tend to check in with each other on purchase of probably more than $100. Just because I think we like a second opinion on the quality of the item, the necessity, etc.

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avatar Kevin

We do the same as several on here have mentioned. We each get 2% of income for the previous month to spend this month. I can save it and buy tools or cars or computer parts… she can buy clothes.

We also use that money to go on ‘dates’.

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avatar Bryce

Our situation is almost the same as Steve R in #4. Accounts are mostly shared, except that my wife has a second credit card she uses for her own private purchases. I still see the payment amounts come through when money is transfered from the checking account to pay that credit card. Amounts are always small (something like $50 every few months). We never carry a balance on that or our joint credit card.

She says she wants the extra credit card because she uses it to buy stuff for me, and doesn’t want me to see what she bought. I imagine she may put a few of her dinners out with “the Girls” on that, as well.

Other than that, we pretty much always tell each other if we want to spend more than $100 on anything that is not an essential expense. Just yesterday my wife was on the phone and asked, “OK to do our usual donation to UC Davis?” I answered, “Of course.” She knew I would say yes, but she checked anyway.

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avatar Zachary

My wife and I don’t have secret accounts, but we do have separate accounts so we can basically spend or save as we see fit.

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avatar Twiggers

My husband and I share a joint account, with no distinction as to whose money is whose. In addition, we are currently on an ‘allowance’ system as we try to pay down debt. Therefore, ANY purchases must be cleared with the other. Prior to this arrangement it was around $100.

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avatar Clever Dude

When we got married, the amount was set at $50. Four years later, it’s the same amount, but we’re less strict about enforcing it. However, we still do run bigger purchases by each other to let the other know that $50 isn’t in the account anymore.

For example, I had to spend $52 on a book last night for a potential new job. I didn’t ask for permission, but then again I scouted for the best deal and saved $16 off the original price, plus another $16 on overnight shipping (I joined Amazon Prime for the free month).

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avatar Ginger @ Girls Just Wanna Have Funds

I can probably spend about $300 without telling him but its usually for a REALLY good reason like furniture or something we need for the house. If Im having a spa day or something like that he knows ahead of time as I make sure to tell him.

He doesnt spend in large chunks at all so im not worried about him in that area…

I dont have a secret bank account and both our names are on all bank accounts. I cant imagine either one of us hiding money from the other.. *shrug* We have no reason to because we are both pretty level headed when it comes to spending money. We just need to tighten up spillages here and there..lol

Well his talks of a 60inch DLP TV might cause a problem if I see a $3500 purchase on the debit account.

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