Experts share what to do when couples like Ben and Candy Carson disagree on an expensive purchase – like a $31,000 table.
Treat yourself at your own risk when you’re in a relationship.
Money is one of the most common things that couples fight about, particularly when one partner splurges or goes over budget without consulting the other. In fact, a survey of 500 divorced men and women by credit card comparison site MagnifyMoney found that 30% blamed overspending as the most common money problem in their failed marriages. And a 2015 Money poll found that one-third of Baby Boomers and 45% of Millennials said the biggest cause of conflict in their relationship was “overspending on frivolous purchases.”
Look no further than Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who has been in the hot seat for a $31,000 table reportedly acquired by his office using taxpayer funds. He passed the buck onto his wife Candy this week, telling a House subcommittee that he asked her to “help choose something … The next thing that I, quite frankly, heard about it was that this $31,000 table had been bought.
“I thought that that was excessive,” he added.
While it’s still unclear who signed off on the princely piece of furniture, licensed psychotherapist and editor-at-large of Live Happy Stacy Kaiser told Moneyish that the most common big-ticket purchases that couples fight about include, “giant, fully-loaded TVs for the family, and somebody suddenly deciding they need a new car.”
“It’s often the result of an underlying power struggle and a need for control,” she said. “The spender feels that they should be entitled to do what they want, and the person on the other end tends to feel disrespected for not being consulted, and concerned that this money is not being spent responsibly. And it can be a serious problem on a financial level if it sends a couple into debt or even bankruptcy.”
There are plenty of people venting about their partners’ spending on social media, as well.
“Daniel bought a supercharger for his car yesterday without asking me. Am I planning his murder? Yes. Yes I am,” posted one.
Daniel bought a supercharger for his car yesterday without asking me. Am I planning his murder? Yes. Yes I am.
— Deja (@dejalexandria) February 28, 2018
“The d–k bought a new car without telling me when we’re trying to buy a house. When I already said no. I haven’t calmed down in three house,” ranted another. “If I can’t get a house because he f—ed something up he’s sleeping in a box.”
Splurging on something expensive without clearing it with your mate is also a passive-aggressive way to get their attention. “If a husband is upset with his wife, going out and spending a ton of money on something ridiculous without consulting her is a great way to say ‘screw you’ without actually saying ‘screw you,’’ Cooper Lawrence, relationship expert and host of “The Cooper Lawrence Show” on 101.6 BLI, told Moneyish.
It gets even dicier when someone keeps their spending a secret, however.
One of Kaiser’s client’s used to hold onto dry cleaning bags and hangers, so when she bought herself new clothes (using cash so that they wouldn’t register on the credit card statement) she would take the tags off and walk them into the house wrapped in the garment bags, like she’d always owned them.
“When her husband would say, ‘I haven’t seen these before,’ she’d say, ‘What are you talking about? I just brought these back from the cleaners,’” said Kaiser.
Another would buy her neighbor groceries using a credit card, and then have the neighbor pay her back in cash. She then spent the covert cash on botox, manicures or getting her hair done, with her husband oblivious about what she was spending on herself.
“They don’t want conflict – but the problem is, the truth almost always comes out,” explained Kaiser. “People slip up and get caught, and then it’s a much bigger fight. Now it’s not just the purchase; it’s also the lying and the hiding, which are much worse offenses.”
My husband thought it was a good idea to go buy a motorcycle without telling me first 🙃
— court. (@cooourtney_) March 13, 2018
Lawrence also has a friend who buys shoes and clothes without telling her husband. She hides them in the trunk, and slips them into the house a piece at a time after each shopping spree.
“She will never cop to, ‘I just spent $2,000 on shoes,’ instead, she plays them off like she always had them or she just got them from her sister,” said Lawrence. “It’s ‘their’ money, but her husband definitely makes more than her, and she doesn’t want to have to apologize for ‘frivolous’ purchases. She says it’s not worth the fight.”
But a healthy relationship is worth having the awkward conversations about where your money is going. “Someone spending a lot of money on something without telling the other person … this is a yellow flag that you’re not on the same page about finances, and that maybe you don’t have the same values about how to spend money or how to save money,” said Kaiser.
Moving forward, lay all of your finances on the table. “Talking about how you feel about money, how you deal with money, how your family handled money, is as important a conversation as any you are going to have with your partner,” said Lawrence.
If your partner is upset with one of your splurges, Kaiser suggests returning it. If you’re stuck keeping it, “try getting them to listen to your perspective about why you thought you needed it. This tends to be more effective with useful household items like a new washing machine or a TV to repair one that wasn’t working that will help everybody.”
A sincere apology also goes a long way. “It not only comes with the words ‘I’m sorry’ and owning up to your mistake or lack of respect, but it also comes with the commitment never to do it again, and you have to stick to that promise,” said Kaiser.
“And there needs to be a sit-down conversation in a calm time where you reevaluate how money is spent in your family or as a couple,” she added. “If you’re uncomfortable bringing up a conversation like this, use a similar situation from an outside source to trigger a conversation, like a great TED Talk or an article you saw online as a segue: ‘This made me think about our finances and how we’re going to live.’”
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