Men and women are equal-opportunity overspenders
"There is a stereotype that the overspender in a relationship is more often the woman then the man," says Katie Dunsworth, co-author of The Smart Cookies' Guide to Couples Money. "A University of Pennsylvania study found that the average man spends $1,800 a year [on shopping purchases] where women spend just over $1,000," says Dunsworth. "Men also spend more in entertainment, spending in areas like electronics, dating, sports and alcohol. Women are categorized more as shoppers and less likely to spend as much on big-ticket purchases," she adds.
"We have often seen one person come in for counseling and their spouse or partner has no ideas about the debts they have incurred," says Credit Canada executive director and credit counsellor Laurie Campbell. Not only have they hidden it from their spouse, she says, they are not looking for solutions to resolve the problem.
Why spouses lie about money
Spouses generally lie about purchases to avoid arguments, Campbell says. "Some feel that if their spouse found out about purchases they would belittle them and tell them they aren't good money managers. There is a real fear of rejection and inadequacy, and this causes spouses to lie. There is also fear of repercussion. One lady, for example, said that if her husband ever knew about how she had spent money, he would divorce her. So the fear is real," says Campbell, who sees these scenarios in her practice as a counselor for the nonprofit agency Credit Canada.
Page 1 of 2 – On page 2, learn how to resolve the spend-hide-lie cycle as a couple.How to resolve the spend-hide-lie cycle
"If you are in a relationship where you or your significant other feel you have to lie about spending, that's an indicator that you need to work on re-establishing trust and confidence in each other's money habits," Dunsworth says. Also, it is important when resolving these issues to not assign blame, according to Campbell. "Is the other spouse hiding purchases because one spouse controls the money and relationship? Is it because basic purchases are ridiculed or is there a deeper problem with compulsive spending?" Campbell asks. When lying is hurting your relationship, Campbell suggests getting professional help to resolve the issue, "or the lying may continue even if the spouse is exposed at one point." Setting goals together that both partners agree on and reviewing them monthly, allowing each other some "fun" money they are allowed to do what they want with, agreeing on a budget and open communication are essential ways to resolve the problem, Campbell suggests.
Dunsworth also outlines some easy tips for encouraging and enhancing honesty in your financial relationship:
• "Lying is preventable if you can keep yourself accountable. The Smart Cookies often encourage couples (and we have done this ourselves) to put all your spending into one account. The numbers won't lie and if you are reviewing them together on a regular basis, you are equally accountable for keeping your spending in line," Dunsworth says.
• Don't label yourself the "good" or "bad" one with money in your relationship. "Just as if you raised a child telling them they aren't smart enough, confidence is key when trying to improve your relationship with money. It starts by having a supportive partner, group of friends (or a money group like the Smart Cookies) or family that you can share your aspirations and achievements with," she says.
• Keep track of your spending together, a tip Campbell also suggests, and be conscious consumers. "The key with our approach to money management centres on knowing your numbers, setting goals and being accountable to them," says Dunsworth of the Smart Cookies' philosophy. "This means at any given point of the month you are clear on what your are making, what you are paying and what you are working towards. Tracking your spending offers the cold hard facts to keep you honest," she says. For Dunsworth and her husband, who review their spending every Sunday, the idea of having to explain why she splurged on a sweater when she already has ten, was enough motivation to keep her spending in line.
• Encourage each other to cool off before making a purchase. "The cool-off period is an accountability checkpoint where you support each other by trying to take the emotion out of a purchase," says Dunsworth. Instead of getting caught up in the idea of something or being dazzled by a deal, you remove yourself from the situation. This allows time to discuss and evaluate if this is something that gets you closer to the life you are trying to achieve together, she says.
Page 2 of 2 – Men or women: Who spends more? Find out on page 1.