My Partner Has Been Hiding a Huge Amount of Debt from Me: Now What?


I feel sick

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

woman with her head in her hands

Q: Before we got married, my now-husband and I talked about our finances (responsible adults for the win!). We both had some student loan debt (mine slightly higher), some car debt (again, mine slightly higher, as I’d purchased my car more recently), and he had some credit card debt (in the $5,000 range). We both agreed that he would stop using his credit cards altogether while working to pay them down, while I would start making higher payments on my car to get that down. I also opened a new (my first ever) credit card a couple months into wedding planning, as my savings were draining due to wedding expenses, and we both wanted the security of a “just in case” credit card.

Over the course of our year and a half wedding planning, my husband finished paying off his car (yay!), and told me that he’d paid off one of his credit cards (double yay). The “just in case” emergency we’d considered ended up happening and I ended up having to put a $1,800 purchase on my credit to get a tent for our outdoor wedding (thanks a lot, last minute rain). Still, I figured this wasn’t so bad, as we were actively working toward paying off our debt, and my husband had gotten down to about $3,000 on his credit cards.

Cut to this week. Our dog got sick, meaning an emergency vet trip, meaning a $1,400 bill. I’ve managed to build up some savings again since our wedding five months ago, but not enough to cover the full cost of the vet. I asked my husband to help me (we keep separate accounts entirely and usually split pretty much everything fifty-fifty), and long story short, I learned that all of his credit cards are once again maxed out. I was completely shocked, having thought this whole time that he wasn’t using them at all and was trying to pay them off. I feel betrayed, not so much by the spending itself but by the fact that he kept it hidden from me. And now, I’m not sure what to do to build that trust back. I can take control of the finances entirely, but I’m worried that will push him into being more secretive in the future if he feels like he has no control over his own money. I’ve tried getting him on board with a combined budget before, but he’s terrible at sticking to it. On top of everything else, I’m definitely the “planner” in our relationship, and I hate the idea of having one more thing to be in charge of because he can’t just get it together and stop spending. Please help!

—Wedded and Indebted

A: Dear WI,

WHAT. If we’re being honest, I’m so curious what he’s spending this cash on! What is it! Some elaborate and expensive hobby? Fancy meals just for him? I want to know specifics, and I bet you do too.

And do you know how you would know all that info and not be blindsided by this news? If you had a joint bank accounts. I know, hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but as you start to clean up this mess, I suspect you’re going to start to see the wisdom of joint accounts very quickly.

Because TL;DR: Unless you have an ironclad prenup, you’re both responsible for whatever financial mess one or both of you get into, regardless of whose account it is. This is your debt, too. You’re not avoiding being on the hook by separating the finances; you’re just removing your ability to know what’s happening.

You mention “taking control” of the finances, and you don’t have to do that necessarily (though it for sure sounds like you should be the lead on this). Instead of setting demands, ask him: What’s going to help him stop spending? Figure out what he’s using these credit cards for, and how you can set some reasonable boundaries for those expenses. If all that money is going to midweek lunch at work, knee-jerk would be, “Pack your lunch everyday!!” But it’s probably not a realistic expectation. If there’s room in the budget, leave a line item for a certain, specific amount for work lunches (or whatever it is he’s spending on). If he uses it all up on Monday, tough breaks, it’s PB&J for the rest of the week. This way he’s got a reasonable level of control over how he uses his money, but a limited amount to use. Like everyone does. This is just how adult finances work.

In order to have that “how do we fix this” conversation, you’ll have to set aside the guilt and shame of spending money unwisely. It wasn’t smart. It’s not doing either of you any favors. But it’s not a moral failing.

That might seem like a semantic issue, but it’s a whole mindset thing. If his spending is “bad” and makes him a bad person, all the more reason to be ashamed and hide it from you. You’re concerned about building trust, so you’ll want to do it by being someone he can confide in when he’s screwed up. If he’s able to be open and honest about this junk, you’ll gradually have less secrecy to worry about.

You might’ve heard similar about eating healthily. Cheese fries aren’t “bad” (um, to the contrary), they’re just not always a great choice. You can totally have them if you want; it doesn’t make you a bad person. But maybe you shouldn’t do it all the time.

And I say this knowing that this is gonna take some real effort. I know I’d personally be frigging pissed if I was scraping all of my extra pennies together to chip away at debt, only to find out my partner’s been throwing money out the window. That’s infuriating. But we’re not talking about who’s right (you are), we’re talking about setting the stage for lasting change, regardless of who’s right (it’s you, you’re the right one).

This situation is hugely dishonest, a betrayal, a bit of a “wtf?” but it also is sort of… normal. Not every partner racks up a bunch of debt in casino losses (eh?), but every partner does have their flaws. And some dishonesty, some selfishness, can be the growing pains of getting used to being in a marriage, where our flaws deeply affect the person we care about most. The money is a bad habit that he can unlearn, you know? The trust thing, oof. That’s bigger. Rebuilding trust takes time; there’s no way to speed through it. A therapist might help, but with or without a pro, there are a lot of conversations to be had, and a lot of expenditures to be added up. Monthly.

He was dishonest with you, you’ve got reason to feel betrayed, and that feeling is only going to go away as he demonstrates more honesty. Give him the room to do that.

And, hey. Check your bank balances and credit card statements. Every. Damn. Month. Maybe there will be a day in the future where you can take your eye off the ball a little bit, but that day probably isn’t coming real soon.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Emily

    Seriously, WHAT IS THE MONEY GOING TO? Vacations? Wine? Strippers? Regardless, this sucks, and I’m sorry you have to be the adult and take on the stress not just of financially running the household, but also getting of of your debt

    • Amy March

      I view this as stealing from their family, and I too think what this money is being spent on matters. And my questions would be things like “oh so you’d have been fine with our dog just dying if I didn’t have the money for it? What was your plan for a life emergency?” Because that’s what is actually happening. He isn’t capable of contributing as a partner to the shared project of your lives, and I think it’s important to tackle this not just as a “how do we budget” issue but as a “wait, are we actually on the same team here” issue as well.

      • Emily

        yes! The “are we on the same team” thing is definitely concerning, especially if they seemingly came to an agreement on what their debt was, and what they were going to do to lessen it. I think not only is a budget necessary but some counseling too.

        • Amy March

          I think for me, to rebuild trust we’d have to really talk about hiding this, and what that says about our values and where our relationship is. And maybe the answer is just that he was overwhelmed, things got out of hand, is embarrassed and wants to do better, and I think there are lots of positive ways to have that discussion, but I’d also really need to share just how hurt I am. Because otherwise I’m doing all the work- I’m protecting your feelings by not being mad and adding to your pain, I’m taking care of my feelings alone because I haven’t shared them with you, and I have to figure out how we budget going forward because I can no longer trust you about money. And that’s too much.

          • Ashlah

            YES. I get that he’s probably (hopefully) embarrassed by his actions, but they are decisions he made, and he has to deal with the consequences, including how his behavior has affected his wife and their marriage. She should not be expected to protect his feelings. No need to be outright mean, of course, but she shouldn’t hide how much it hurts and upsets her either. He needs to comprehend the full reality of the situation.

          • idkmybffjill

            Right. For me, personally, this would be as hurtful as infidelity. I mean, he HAS been unfaithful to their union.

          • CP2011

            Agreed

          • Roselyne

            More. More hurtful than infidelity. For me. Significantly more.

          • idkmybffjill

            For me it depends, long term affair? Not sure, but up there. One night stand? This is WAY more hurtful.

          • Lisa

            Yes to this. I’m wondering if a couple’s therapist or a financial counselor might not be a good option in this situation. It’s a lot on the LW to ask her to deal with both the emotional AND financial repercussions of her husband’s decision. If either is an option for them, it might be helpful to outsource one or the other.

          • toomanybooks

            Yessssss since the LW is feeling so betrayed and unsure of trust, I think a couple’s counselor (and financial counseling!) would be a really good idea.

          • Cellistec

            I logged in just to say the same thing. I think Liz could just run an annual column rounding up all the questions that can be answered with “TL;DR couples therapy, now.” This is one of them. But then we would have missed out on the witty commentary.

          • idkmybffjill

            “Because otherwise I’m doing all the work”

            Yeah. IMO, if my husband effs up this big, he gets to feel his pain because that is a consequence of screwing us over. Maybe that’s not helpful, but I straught up can’t imagine being in this situation. Then again, our shared fiscal views are pretty high on my list for why I married my husband (after love & stuff, ya know), because I think they’re one of the things that make him an incredible partner.

          • LW

            I’m the letter writer, and I know I’m a lil late but just wanted to say, this happened a while ago, and this was pretty much the exact convo we ended up having. Things have definitely taken a turn for the better since. Like everyone, we both have some deep-seeded issues around money thanks to our families of origin and being able to frankly talk about those issues, expectations and things we thought were so obvious (me: you should tell me if you’re using your credit cards again! him: I wanted to handle it and not let you down and was going to tell you once they were back in the paying-off stage), really helped.

      • idkmybffjill

        “And my questions would be things like “oh so you’d have been fine with our dog just dying if I didn’t have the money for it? What was your plan for a life emergency?”

        This. This this this. Financial responsibility is ENORMOUS for me in a marriage. I don’t care if we’re rich, but I care deeply if we’re living practically and within our means. I would be freaking out.

        • lildutchgrrl

          Yes. Don’t you [partner] know how I feel about debt? (Avoid it; when it’s necessary have a plan to pay it back without interest or with minimal interest.) And how I feel about information being withheld? (Much better to know things and deal with them, even if I am upset by knowing them. I will be more upset if I discover a secret.) We have discussed these things a LOT. Finding out about secret debt months later because you didn’t have the forethought to avoid it OR the conviction to ‘fess up/ask for help… not good for the team.

          • Roselyne

            For me (and I want to be clear that this is FOR ME ONLY, other people have boundaries that work for them, etc), there are very few things that would make me immediately go to ‘how to I leave this relationship’. I can’t be a team with someone who shoots me in the foot, and I can’t trust them enough to try, so there’s nothing left.

          • idkmybffjill

            It would be the same for me. Granted, for my husband it would be so enormously out of character that perhaps it’s different. But that shared responsibility for our life is the bedrock of our marriage. I am not certain I would be able to get over it, if I’m being very honest with myself. Particularly if it had some consequence like our dog not being able to get medical treatment or something like that.

      • Meredith

        I agree! I’d have to know what he’s spending it on! I might be crazy, but I’d be all paranoid that he could spend that much money without me noticing? Like where is it? Not a new tv, not more clothes? Where is it? it’s not is he dating someone else?! Again… probably an overreaction of me and there’s probably a *reasonable* explanation…

        • laddibugg

          Facebook games maybe? Just kidding but it could be something intangible, or maybe stuff for someone else (not in a cheating way–could have used his card to help a friend out)

    • Abby

      I’ve got to tell you, I work in NYC and don’t pack my lunch ever because I commute in a ways and a lunch+coffee is easily $20+ /day assuming we don’t go somewhere and sit down (because that includes tipping, etc) If you’re not in control of your finances, that becomes a huge spend in it’s own right.

      (I’m only throwing this out there because it could honestly be spending he believes to be necessary versus luxury items)

      • Liz

        That’s what I’m thinking, too. If you’re not used to budgeting or being broke, just occasional coffee out seems like nbd, grabbing a taxi instead of the bus, and then you do that a couple times a month…

        • Amy March

          Yeah I think my response is very colored by just how much I’d have to spend to max out a credit card- lunches and taxis everywhere wouldn’t come close.

          • idkmybffjill

            This is what I keep thinking, although depending on his income situation maybe it’s a pretty low max? Idk what the lowest max possible could be, but if he’s living a $600 a week life on a $300 a week income, I can see how it would snowball pretty quickly.

          • Lisa

            The lowest max I’ve seen at my retail jobs was about $500 for a store brand card.

          • idkmybffjill

            I could definitely see maxing that out if you’re just being a nut about small luxuries. Like, two coffees a day, lunch out, ubers to and from the office – you could max it in a week. And if your income doesn’t have that much flex room, I can definitely see how it would get out of control.

            I can’t relate to continue to spend once you’ve gone over a surmountable amount, but I check my balances every single day. A friend I’ve known who racked up some really out of control debt mostly just avoided looking at the damage and hoping it would go away on its own.

          • Booknerd

            I don’t think its necessarily luxuries.. I think people who get into debt like this (me) have a different mental process than people who are neurotic about checking their balance.. by avoiding it you can’t see how $4 per coffee every other day or the odd thing you pay on credit if you’re short on cash really impacts the bottom line. Denial and avoidance is exactly how you get to a place where you are so overwhelmed and ashamed that at that point adding $4 for a coffee to an insurmountable amount doesn’t even seem like a big deal anymore.

          • idkmybffjill

            Oh sure, of course. I was just saying that would be the fastest way to rack it up without like, payi8ng for a vacation. I think it’s likely the one or two large unexpected expenditures (say having to buy a suit for an interview or something) that aren’t immediately addressed and then spiral.

            I hadn’t thought about how if you already ahve $10K of debt, $4 doesn’t seem like much at all – but I think that’s totally true. It’s almost like the money becomes imaginary.

          • Booknerd

            Yeah even if you are a couple grand into it, the fear of dealing with it becomes so overwhelming that it can be very easy to say screw it all and just keep spending. Spoken as a NOW neurotic budget watcher and YNABer

          • Lisa

            I hadn’t thought about how if you already have $10K of debt, $4 doesn’t seem like much at all – but I think that’s totally true. It’s almost like the money becomes imaginary.

            This is how my doctor friend was with her student loans by the end of med school. She used her loans to buy a car because, when you’re already $200k+ in the hole, what’s another $20k? Thankfully her loans will be forgiven at some point, but I could see how something like that could happen on a smaller scale.

          • CMT

            Yup! That’s me!

          • CrazyCatLibrarian

            I signed up for Mint once and now I get a million emails that I won’t even open in order to unsubscribe from the service because I don’t want to have to see the email that says I went way over budget on food last week.

          • LW

            This is exactly it.

        • Abby

          COMPLETELY. I’m neurotic about my own personal finances and so when my monthly spreadsheet shows that I spent more money on uber/lyft than normal (when I live in a very walkable city) I’m annoyed at how easy it was to just click “order” and disregard the cost.

          • lildutchgrrl

            Yeah… I was both alarmed and rather ashamed at how much I spent on Lyft rides last year. I had put myself on a budget for that specific item, but only after a few months of “Crap, I’m gonna be late ’cause I missed that bus. Better call a Lyft!” It still think it’s a better choice than waiting for the next bus and being late to work (or walking from the bus stop on my injured leg, or a few other scenarios that were unfortunately common in 2016)… but getting up earlier would have been the best choice.

          • idkmybffjill

            Rideshare is the enemy of my bank account. I love to sleep and can’t abide being late!

        • toomanybooks

          Yeah. Like, absolutely they need to look into what he was spending the money on. And, sure, it could be something that makes the situation even worse. But I can absolutely see him just sort of behaving as usual, and the LW not realizing he was going into credit card debt because he was behaving as usual, but then he hasn’t made any changes to his life and he’s further in debt.

          My dad lost his job in the recession and was unemployed for a long time, with my mom only getting temp editing work (and still doing all of the stay at home mom stuff with my little sister and the household). When he got a new job, a neighbor (they live in a well to do suburb) told my dad that he really admired that my dad never changed his lifestyle while he was unemployed. It really stuck with me because I found it to be such an infuriating comment. But lots of people never learn to budget and don’t really understand it. You get used to a certain style of living, and that style never taught you how to save.

      • Katharine Parker

        Yeah, lunch out, drinks after work, cabs, buying stuff on your phone (kindle books, tv shows, apps), fresh pressed juice at the gym–all stuff that adds up, but your partner wouldn’t necessarily be aware of. Add to that anything that she is aware of, but she thinks he was handling-clothes, haircuts, household stuff, etc. And if your credit card balance is already 3k, spending a thousand dollars like that every month and you can max out a card with an 8k or a 10k limit in 6 months.

      • LW

        Just wanted to say, this actually happened a while ago, so we’ve since talked about everything. My husband has a very low-paying job and we live in a very expensive city. I have a low-average paying job (so I can’t pay for ALL of our combined expenses), but we both didn’t realize his job was paying him approx $300 a month LESS than what he needs to make rent, bills, gas, food, etc. (he’s a very ostrich-head-in-the-sand type person when it comes to money. Obviously, he’s working on it). So, his cards were maxed out thanks to everyday living expenses (obviously, again, he’s working on it) and some deep-seeded issues involving not wanting to admit he can’t be a “provider” (not that I’d ever expect him to!!) or at least keep up his half share. Had a good giggle though over random internet strangers speculating it was money spent on strippers though :P

        • Abby

          That is the beauty and the curse of internet advice! I’m glad you guys chatted and even more so that you could have a laugh over some of your advice.

      • CrazyCatLibrarian

        I have the same problem. I don’t go shopping, gamble, or have any hobbies that cost lots of money, but I work in DC and have a long ass commute. Sometimes the only thing that gets me away from my desk and moving around after 3 hours of commuting and an 8 hour desk job is going to get lunch. And it took awhile for me to fully appreciate the consequences of doing that, because in my head it was just lunch and everyone has to eat, right? But lunch adds up fast, and so I’ve been in the position her husband is in where I’ve had about 3K of debt (not all mine, some household expenses caused by split finances) and been embarrassed to tell my fiancé because I know his reaction would be like hers. But he doesn’t have student loans, a car payment, and he works from home to eating breakfast and lunch at home is much easier and it can feel frustrating having to defend my spending, so we sometimes avoid having money related conversations altogether (we’re working on it, though).

    • rg223

      I actually hope it’s something random and easy to cut out like the things you mentioned, and not that this couple is living outside their means and the husband is going into debt picking up the slack. Good luck to the LW!

      • Lisa

        This was my concern. We still have some separate money because we have long-standing bank accounts at different institutions, but my feeling is we don’t touch those/move around money from them without telling the other person first. My husband has used “his” money to float his spending money once or twice when he hadn’t saved enough of his spending money in the budget. I’ve completely gone off on him both times about it, and I think this last time he finally realized how serious I was. When we were dating he used that money to treat me, and it’s taken some re-programming to realize that treats come from spending money that’s already been budgeted instead of his personal account.

      • MC

        This occurred to me, too – which is all the more reason to have a budget! Like, it’s really hard to understand how much your currently life & lifestyle without seeing exactly how much you are bringing in and spending each month.

      • Meg

        yeah I was wondering if maybe he’s in charge of some of the bills and that’s what it was going towards

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Half-joking, talking about this with my husband, we thought of ordinary things that vary widely in cost. For us, it would be clothes (Does a “good suit” cost $200 or $2,000) and used books ($3 – $300 each).

    • mimi

      Speaking from experience, once you’re in debt, it can be very hard to get out. If most of your income is going towards paying off bills, that doesn’t always leave you with much else to spend when other needs arise – whether it be paying for car expenses, food, medical bills, or even fun stuff. It’s very easy to get trapped in a cycle of paying bills and then having to charge more stuff because there just isn’t cash available since you use it all to pay the bills. I would suggest LW and her husband sit down with everything open to see what’s going on.

      Also, I used a Lending Club private loan to pay off a few credit card bills. The interest on the loan was much lower and it was 1 fixed payment per month. I was able to pay off the loan in 2 years instead of 3. It was very easy to apply for online and took only a few weeks to get the money to then pay off those other bills. Now that I’m done paying off the loan, I have a lot of extra cash every month that can go into savings.

      • Emily

        I ABSOLUTELY agree with this, but the way I took the letter, was that all of the other bills were handled–the issue came down to who was saving and who was supposed to be saving, but was actually spending. I was being sort of dramatic in my post, I assume, like others have mentioned that the spending was much less egregious and more like gym memberships or parking, or too many happy hours which also adds up super quickly.

    • CrazyCatLibrarian

      Based on the letter, and maybe information was missing, it sounds like this happened over a period of the wedding to now, which is five months. She also doesn’t say what the total overall limit of his cards is, so it honestly might not be that high. My credit card limit is only 5K, so “maxing it out” isn’t that high in the grand scheme of things. As someone who has had the same problem, all of my spending was household related: groceries, supplies, pet related items, etc. I’ve been in a position where I’ve gotten my statement and been like “wtf?? How did I spend that much?” but when I look at the line items, it’s all reasonable amounts for things you need to buy and do without thinking. I only buy clothes when some basic item I need wears out, and I don’t have expensive hobbies. So it might not have been an active act of deceit, he might have just been spending reasonable amounts on every day things over a six month period and it honestly just got away from him. It happens. That being said, there isn’t much information here, so maybe he has like 25K of debt he racked up in 6 months, in which case yes, she definitely needs to figure out where the hell it all went.

  • This sounds like a really troubling and challenging situation. Great advice per usual from Liz. I would add that once you’re ready to get to the budgeting phase and the dealing with this new credit debt phase, think about You Need a Budget http://youneedabudget.com . They have a good system for tackling credit card debt as well as budgeting in general.

  • idkmybffjill

    “But we’re not talking about who’s right (you are), we’re talking about setting the stage for lasting change, regardless of who’s right (it’s you, you’re the right one).”

    This sentence is everything.

    • Abby

      Liz’s wit always make me laugh!

    • Arie

      I laughed out loud at this!

  • Amanda Kauer

    youneedabudget.com Seriously. It’s the best $5/mo you’ll spend. That way you can have a category for each of you to have no consequence money while keeping the rest budgeted out. AND DO IT TOGETHER!

    Also, I was that shitty partner with a spending problem. This is what helped me kick it.

    • Angela’s Back

      Good for you, that’s awesome :)

      • Amanda Kauer

        Thanks. It definitely wasn’t easy. Plus it involved an honest discussion of how to define success and failure with my partner. Like, look, I only went over our budget by $500! That’s way better than $1,000 over. It eventually got to the point where I could stay within (even below!) the budget, but it took a couple months. Money is hard. Especially when everything is done via credit cards and you never see anything.

    • ktmarie

      Yes I was going to recommend Mint.com as well (it’s free!). It allows you to put all your individual finances in one place so you can see the entire picture. It’s incredibly eyeopening and it would allow the LW to see what’s happening as well as set up notifications just for some peace of mind.

  • sofar

    I wouldn’t necessarily recommend getting joint credit cards, if he’s doing this. But insist on sharing your logins for all your credit cards so you can check what’s going on. And, if you still want separate checking accounts, share logins for those, too.

    The reason I’d shy away from joint credit cards is that, if he is prone to big impulse buys without clearing them with you first and maxes those cards out, your credit score tanks with his. With separate cards, his spending is a big problem, BUT your credit score doesn’t get affected if he charges to the limit on… whatever he’s buying (I’m curious, too!)

    • Violet

      I couldn’t agree with you more about avoiding a joint cards but sharing log-in passwords. But what if he opens a new card and doesn’t tell LW? How is s/he supposed to monitor that? I’m freaking out about that possibility…

      • Lisa

        This is what I keep coming back to as well. If he was willing to hide the debt before, there’s a strong chance he’ll do it again if he’s not totally on-board.

      • emmers

        Shared credit karma password might be helpful. It’s not 100% accurate, and there’s often a delay, but stuff usually shows up there.

        • Violet

          Oh, I don’t use that. Good to know it could help out in this situation!

      • Eenie

        I’m not saying I think this is a great idea, but he could freeze his credit reports. This would make it more difficult to open a secret account.

        https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs

      • sofar

        Mandatory credit-report pulls every few months. My husband and I do this. You get three free a year. Pull ’em every four months, sit down, and show each other your reports. Nowhere for new secret accounts to hide.

        In any case, AT LEAST her credit score wouldn’t be affected if he opens cards in his name in secret. Sucks, yes, but no credit damage for her.

        • Katharine Parker

          You can also use something like Creditkarma, which uses “soft pulls” so it doesn’t show up on your credit report and you can check anytime.

          • sofar

            Checking your reports via annualcreditreport.com is also a soft pull, every time. But yes, Karma is great and always free!

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          She’s probably still on the hook for that debt, though.

          • sofar

            Depends on the state laws. In most states, you are *not* responsible for your spouse’s card debt unless you co-signed the card/are a joint account-holder.

            Also depends on the divorce arrangement.

          • Katharine Parker

            Just looked this up because I was interested. In my quick determination of this, I live in a community property state, so I would be liable for my spouse’s debts incurred during marriage. In common law states, one wouldn’t be liable for a spouse’s debts, but a creditor could go after the spouse’s share of marital property. Also, a judge could assign a particular debt to either party in the divorce decree, regardless of the original credit card agreement.

            The more you know!

          • sofar

            She still would not “probably” be held responsible, and my post was a bit too simplistic because I didn’t think most people would care to get into the weeds.

            The notion that a creditor would go after *her* property in a common law state to collect on a card debt held in a spouse’s name is iffy. First of all, the debt would have to be pretty big to justify doing that. Second, it’s not like they can just show up and take her car, take money out of her separate bank account or garnish her wages.

            The only time something like this would come into play would be if they had a joint checking acct (which LW says they don’t) or if something they owned together were sold (say, a house). And not even all common law states let creditors come after a spouse’s share of jointly-held assets in that way.

            In addition, even in community property states, and even if the divorce decree dictates that she’s “responsible,” creditors *generally* will pursue the spouse whose name is on the card. They have more leverage in that way because they know the accountholder is on the hook for credit damage. And, well, they signed the credit card contract. The accountholder can say, “Look, guys, the divorce agreement says she’s responsible for half, AND we live in a community property state!” And the creditor/collector will more likely say, “Tough noogies. Now pay us.” Yes, the accountholder could drag the ex back to court and sue but that costs a LOT of money — more than paying a modest card debt.

            All that aside, all this ONLY comes into play if they get divorced. If they stay married, there’s no court order for her to pay anything. She would be *indirectly* held responsible, however, because his debt could prevent them from meeting their shared financial goals and prevent them from getting a mortgage together.

            tl;dr she’s not “probably” going to be held responsible for debt on a card in his name. Lots of factors would have to combine for that to be the case. The main issue here is that his debt could prevent them from a lot of the goals married people have: buying a house, saving up for kids.

          • Katharine Parker

            I didn’t say anything was probable–I’m not sure if that is in response to someone else? But thanks for the more thorough discussion; I agree that the real issue is how his debt affects their ability as a couple to address their shared goals and future.

          • sofar

            Ooops yeah, thought you were the other person who replied to me on this thread. Is it Friday yet?

          • Katharine Parker

            I figured it was someone else :) I live in a state with unusually strong marital property laws (WI), so I’m always interested to see how this stuff shakes out. I just looked at my credit card agreement, and there is a specific clause for married WI residents about how the line of credit is marital property unless notified in writing before it is opened.

          • sofar

            Yay Wisconsin! I lived there for a while. Funny story — my friend got divorced there. And, it being a communal property state, she was given certain of *his* cards to pay off after the divorce. These were cards he opened in his name only and used for all manner of crap like clothes, “business trips” to “conventions” with the woman he cheated on her with, etc.

            So, even though the divorce decree ordered her to pay some of his cards, she decided “nah.” She figured he, already engaged to the woman he’d cheated on her with (and her being pregnant and all), wouldn’t take her back to court. She was right. She didn’t pay a cent.

          • That’s awful what the decree said she should do!

          • Just Me

            This is why I’m really glad we did a pre-nup even though most people wouldn’t think our situation would need one. We live in a community property state as well and discovered this fact about debt when we were researching. Now, we have a clause that all debt is separate unless we are both explicitly listed on the documents, or have a written agreement on a particular piece of debt.

            I really hope that neither of us develops a gambling addition, but if the marriage goes down the drain because of something like that, the other person is protected from it just in case!

        • laddibugg

          we do this. Not to see if the other one is hiding something, but because 2 eyes are better than one.

      • CP2011

        If I was in LW’s shoes and dealt with this situation and THEN found my husband had secretly opened a new credit card, I have to say my marriage would be over. Establishing trust again would be so hard.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          Yeah, fix this once, together. If it keeps happening, and he’s going to greater lengths to dig holes and hide them, I’d walk.

        • Violet

          This would be such a huge betrayal to me, that I’d even have trouble doing even what Liz is suggesting. So if we did all this work to repair it and then my partner did it again… I’m with you, I think I’d be done.

    • idkmybffjill

      Yeah I’m with you. Until he works out his credit situation I wouldn’t hitch my financial wagon to him any more than I already had through marraige. Especially if they need to have good credit for some purchase or event in their life in the near future, if hers is good it could open more doors than combined would.

    • Jan

      This, this, this. My ex and I had one checking and one savings account, which worked fine until he suddenly went off the rails and kept wiping our accounts of every last cent. It went on for months while he was deployed on a ship, and because he was gone and not really contacting anyone at home (see above re: off the rails), I couldn’t do anything about it. I had no choice but to open my own account and start taking small amounts here and there so I could pay our bills and, you know, eat food. (He eventually noticed what I was doing, lost his mind, and accused me of “stealing money”– what a fun time this was.) Thankfully, I was able to stay ahead of the bills, but I racked up a few thousand bucks on a credit card over the five months it took for me to completely extricate myself from our financial entanglement.

      Obviously, mine is an extreme case, but it’s turned me off completely to combining my finances with someone else without a safety net. I knew my ex had bad spending habits and a different view of debt than I. He, like LW’s husband, “didn’t like budgeting” and our differing views and habits on the topic were a struggle between us. But I NEVER would have guessed he would have done what he ended up doing. You just never, ever know what could happen.

      Now, my fiance and I have a joint household account and savings accounts that we both contribute to for shared expenses and goals, and totally separate checking and savings accounts for our discretionary spending. Neither of us has access to the other’s accounts. I’m much more comfortable with this arrangement.

      • sofar

        Wow! That’s insane. Sorry you went through that. Pretty clear why you want to keep things separate. I trust my husband, but we have a similar set-up: Shared accounts for shared goals (and we have a certain, agreed-upon amount that we send to the joint account every month). And separate accounts for discretionary spending. I feel so much safer that way.

        • Jan

          For me, it’s not so much about trust, as that I just can’t go back to the person I was before who didn’t have some way to take care of herself when she needed to. Being screwed over that way really traumatized me. My fiancé is great and I don’t believe I’ll ever need a contingency plan, but it’s easier for me to know I have that independence.

          Our setup is just like yours, except our joint account is the default and we have a set, fixed (and equal) amount that is sent to our individual accounts. It works for us!

  • Abby

    The only thing I can offer here (hopefully just to help you start to let go of the enraged/hurt feelings) is that excessive spending/credit card debt is an easier rut to get yourself into then some people think and everyone I know that’s done it (myself to a lesser extent included) feels like absolute sh*t about themselves when it happens.

    Which could all lead to the fact that he didn’t fess up sooner if that’s how your husband is feeling. Either way, Liz’s advice about talking it through is spot on. Good luck.

    • LW

      Thank you for your compassion!! I guess I didn’t know what to expect when I sought advice over the internet (should’ve known better, I guess!) but a lot of people’s responses on here of “I just can’t IMAGINE my husband EVER doing something like that!” and “SO GLAD I married someone I can TRUST with money” are kind of a bummer. This happened a little while ago, and we did talk, and this was exactly the reason he kept it hidden — lots of shame and weird issues about money that we’re now working on together. Credit card debt can and does happen to a lot of people (myself included!) and I feel like it’s still so shameful to talk about and people can be so quick to judge which just kind of perpetuates the cycle.

      • If I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s that sometimes you have absolutely no control over something that happens to you and that sometimes people do something you would have never thought they were capable of. The good thing is, I suppose, that we can control our own actions, at least, when we end up in these kind of unforeseen situations in life, and LW, it sounds like you are doing a good job based on your updates here on what’s happened since the letter. I think the comments you’ve heard (which I’ve also heard varieties of for a different scenario) are things humans tend to say when they are scared of the possibility that horrible things can happen to anyone without warning… Anyhow, good luck to you as you all keep rebuilding trust and your finances! (And I am super relieved to hear that his spending was not some sort of awful sordid situation! I’ve heard some scary stories, so I’m glad it was more about income and reasonable expenses not matching up.)

  • Me too

    This happened to us, except it was student loans and not consumer debt. It seriously damaged our marriage and took several years to recover. And I didn’t even care about the debt, not really, it was the deception. It took counseling for us to repair the rift.

    For the finances stuff, I recommend a Financial Peace class. I despise Dave Ramsey- I think his politics are gross, I think his views on gender roles are atrocious, and his investment advice is just plain wrong. But the man knows how to teach people to get out of debt as a team. And that’s what we’re talking about- it’s being a team in every aspect of life, including finances!

    • CP2011

      Very similar experience with student loans, though it was fortunately a few years before we got married so I knew what I was getting into. In our case it wasn’t so much secrecy as much as my partner was so anxious and embarrassed by the loans that he truly didn’t even know how much he owed because he completely disengaged.
      It was awful, but it also taught us to manage money sand avoid denial well before we established joint accounts.

    • CP2011

      And I meant to add that I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Dave Ramsey: very helpful and yet horrifying at the same time.

  • Just Me

    I don’t think the burden should be on you to take control but if it were me, I’d definitely want to be more aware of the situation.

    My suggestion: plan a regular date/night finance night. Grab $2 macaroni and cheese, a fresh baguette and salami or whatever your cheapest comfort food is, and block off 2 hours to go over the books. Do this 1x/week as you’re building up trust and eventually space it to 1x/month. Spend this timediscussing your bank statements and credit card purchases for the last week and talk about what things were in line with your goals or not in line with them. (You might even find that some things can be returned!) You can be proactive in discussing the choices that you made during the week and talk about areas that one or both of you are succeeding or struggling (i.e. I really wanted a smoothie yesterday but I remembered being able to care for the dog is a priority for both of us so I grabbed a glass of water and went on a 5 minute walk to shake of the afternoon slump instead).

    I’m also a huge fan of YNAB but I think even just talking about it, or writing down everything you purchased is a good way to ease into conscious spending without having to feel like you’re on a budget right away.

    • Abby

      This sounds like a great idea! Doing it together repeatedly would definitely make it less awkward.

      • Just Me

        Yep! For me, having this discussion often and coupling it with some reward (food that I like, sitting outside if the weather in nice, etc.) is key to establishing finances as an area of good communication in my relationship.

        My husband and I are actually both very good with money but we still have different priorities and that was stressful to me at the beginning of our marriage. I would notice charges at the cafe by his work every day and panic that we were going to go broke over his afternoon cookie habit. When we first started doing this, it was hard to let go of the judgement but when we both had to talk through our purchases, I realized that I was spending just as much throughout the year on frivolous things but they followed different patterns. Now that we both trust each other more, we are both OK with his cookie habit and my power tool needs. And if/when we need to cut back, we both realized that we would need to give up different things to contribute. Some people might suggest just not eating out when times are lean but now I know that would be more of a sacrifice for him than for me and we can adjust accordingly.

  • emmers

    This recently happened in my marriage, on a lesser scale. My husband had been planning on a larger bonus than he ended up receiving, so he essentially spent some of the bonus he did not get in advance, which slows down us paying down some cards that we’ve been working on. He initially felt really bad. It took me a few days to process feelings, but it was important to me to tell him how this made me feel, and how it impacted my life (planned international trip- delayed, feeling like it was unfair because I’d been scrimping to help pay stuff off, and he wasn’t). As a result, he’s now making it his mission to throw extra $$ towards the cards to help make up for it, and I’ve also asked him to point out to me when he does this, so I notice, so it’s not just lipservice. I did realize something was going on because it was a joint card, and I saw the balance creeping up in credit karma, but we’ve had talks about transparency and needs vs wants. I’m also still contributing $ to keep paying things down, but I’m also giving myself more latitude to not pay extra, since it did feel really unfair.

    TL:DR talking and transparency are key when something like this comes up in finances, and it does hurt if you’re on the receiving end.

    • Meg

      did he do the ol’ forget about taxes thing?

      • emmers

        No, just had a more optimistic view of what he’d be getting.

  • Guest

    I was this person almost exactly, My fiance and I were joining finances and we got a joint loan that took on both our debts, mine credit card, his line of credit, and I just didn’t handle it well. He was making way more money than me (and contributing proportionally to the household account so it was all “fair”, but he still ended up with more cash at the end of the day) and I slipped into such a hole of credit card spending to try and “keep up” with my portion of date nights, and fun activities, and honestly just stupid stuff like shampoo and conditioner and basic clothing needs and everything just snowballed to the point where I was hiding my balances and lying to my fiance because I was so embarrased and really really thought I could fix it before he ever found out. Which of course didn’t happen, and we had a major upsetting discussion when he did find out. Luckily we were able to move past it, and look at the reasons why it happened besides just concluding that I’m a shitty person who can’t be responsible, set up our finances much more equitably and use YNAB religiously. I still have compulsive spending issues, and I wish I had handled myself differently but all we can do is move forward. I am still “in charge” of administering our budget and savings plans so I’m very happy to say it didn’t cause any damage to our relationship but it really could have.

    • CMT

      I have credit card debt that wasn’t from anything outrageous like strippers or gambling, just, you know, trying to stay afloat. (With some instances of irresponsible spending, like buying new clothes I shouldn’t have and things like that.) That’s what I assumed happened with OP’s husband, but she should definitely find out.

    • Amanda Kauer

      I’m still in our budget negotiating that the “pink tax” exists. No, we can’t have the exact same amount of money set up for personal care and clothing! Your haircuts are like $15 and I can’t get mine done for under $40! Same with clothes, makeup (which he doesn’t need), etc. It’s so frustrating!

      • Lisa

        Yup, we definitely had that discussion, too. My husband married a woman, which means he gets to pay the female tax as well! Some of it comes out of my own spending money (if I want a new lipstick or something “fun”), but most of my woman-expenses come out of the family budget.

        • Roselyne

          A good bra that supports things is 80$. I need 2-3 (one beige, one black, ideally one sports bra) and the elastic wears out after a year. My husband needs 0 bras. Like HELL do we have a similarly-sized clothing budget.

          What actually happened for us is that I got pregnant, and then matenity clothing/nursing bras/’oh crap I somehow lost weight while pregnant and all my old clothes are falling down off my hips I need new jeans’ made me blow my clothing budget for actual REASONS. And so we now have a joint clothing budget, and discuss individual purchases with each other prior to them occuring.

          Our general agreement is that things that are needs (“This sweater has a hole in it large enough that I can’t darn it, I need 3 sweaters to make it through to laundry days, and I found a similar one I like on sale for X amount” or “the elastic on this bra is worn out” or something) come out of the joint budget, as does basic make-up, shampoo ,etc. Wants (“I don’t need another shirt, but this one is super cute!” or “I like this band and want the concert tshirt” or whatever) comes out of personal entertainment budget.

          Immediate effect: equalized the pink tax. Long-term effect: forced us both to come up with user cases for clothing purchases, which severely restricted clothing purchases overall, which had a really nice cashflow impact. :)

          • lildutchgrrl

            I think the discussion factor is important. It gives each person a chance to build their case and either check themselves or get the help of another (possibly more budget-minded) person in pointing out why it’s not a good idea right now… or getting all green lights and making a necessary purchase instead of being overly concerned or ashamed about spending. Our household resolution about “no extras” comes with a rule about discussing any purchases beforehand in case we DO need something and can afford it. (Buying extra Plan B came up, for example, because we can get it through our insurance provider and feel that it’s something we should have on hand for us or for others, just in case. And we might not be able to after January 20th. I wasn’t sold on the $25 a pop until I learned that they last for 4 years. Cost suddenly amortized! Green light! Add to the emergency kit.)

          • BSM

            Cannot upvote buying Plan B not for post-Jan 20th emergencies enough. If you can afford it, please do it.

          • Katharine Parker

            For anyone who has had a prescription for the pill, it can be used instead of Plan B. My doctor actually suggested this to me once–they’re the same hormones, just packaged differently. If you switch pills or decide to stop taking it and have any leftover packs, don’t throw them away!

            Here is a list of BC pills and how to use them as emergency contraception: http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/dose.html#dose

          • Roselyne

            It’s also a good idea for finding deals! Like, one of us will say something like “I’d really like a black v-neck wool sweater because it would expand my wardrobe options for work really significantly, and I think it would be reasonable to spend this much, and I’d need it within the next few months”, or “I’m going to need another pair of warm winter boots soon, I’m going to check out post-Christmas sales”, and then the other partner runs across a really nice example of it,or a huge sale, or whatever, and we get it then. Shared concerns = shared bargain hunting, basically. :)

            And +++ing buying Plan B just in case. Especially while you know insurance covers it.

      • Booknerd

        This!! It was hard for my husband at first as well and I do still have to justify wardrobe purchases (sorry I can’t wear the same 3 pairs of dress pants and own 5 shirts with 5 ties and call it a work week) but as long as I don’t go overboard and there is enough money in the budget for it, it works out. Things like pads, basic makeups that I need (sometimes contouring is a need ok) just get lumped in with the grocery store categories.

      • laddibugg

        I pay less for my haircuts than my fiance because the shop has a special rate for women, even though we get the exact same cut ;-)

  • Hazel

    Oh man this sounds so hard. Money and emotions get so tied together and can be so difficult, I would feel super betrayed by something like this and I’m not sure what I would do about it. I agree with the others who suggested that some therapy might be helpful and it isn’t fair for you to carry all the weight of this.

    My husband and I have been trying to ease in to joint finances but haven’t manged to get our act together to open a joint account yet (I know). I was freaking out initially because I needed to be able to reassure myself that we were spending within our income and didn’t have any way to do this. What worked as a temporary measure was the he let me add all of his accounts and credit cards to my Mint account. Its not perfect, but it lets me monitor our combined income and spending in a way that made me feel more confident that we were on the right track with spending and saving.

    We are still planning to open a joint account and make our finances combined, but this is something that was relatively easy to set up and wasn’t schedule dependent. Opening a bank account is harder with the hours for banks in our area and also laziness keeps winning.

    • JJT

      My husband and I opened joint checking and savings accounts with Ally. It’s an online bank, and the savings account earns 1% interest – the highest I’ve seen.

      • Lisa

        Barclays offers similar interest rates on their accounts. We have 1% on our typical savings and 1.05% on a second account that earns bonus interest for every month their is a deposit (no minimum) and no withdrawals.

      • BSM

        I love Ally. We have like a million accounts with them because they’re free and you can open them from your couch :).

  • Lisa

    I read this letter and immediately went to a panic place. Financial insecurity is one of my biggest fears, and I can’t imagine how shocking that must have been for you, LW.

    You definitely need to become more aware of your finances because your financial futures are tied together now that you’re married. If you’re still averse to combining bank accounts, I’d recommend getting an app like YNAB or Minted where you can sync all of your cards and accounts to automatically populate in the budget. That way you have more transparency on your end and can see the transactions even if your husband is still spending.

    I think you also should look into whether one or the other of your insurances covers couple’s counselling. I mentioned this elsewhere, but the financial issues are creating major trust issues as well. You’ll need to come up with a game plan for budgeting, but I think you’ll still have a difficult time feeling like that’s working if you don’t sort out the trust problems first.

    • Eenie

      My stomach flipped the entire time I was reading this!

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      Yep. My first thought was, “Thank goodness PADude and I are on the same page about money.” Followed quickly by, “So were they, they had a plan and everything.”

    • Violet

      Yeah, this one really hit me in the gut.

    • LW

      Unfortunately, our insurance doesn’t cover counseling of any kind :/ but we’re really good about having honest discussions, and we’ve since had many. Thank you for your advice, though, I am curious about looking into YNAB as so many people have recommended it. The only hurdle is that it costs money, and it feels silly to spend money on something that’s supposed to help you… not spend money. Maybe that’s just me! But I think Minted is free, right? So maybe we’ll try that at first.

      • Lisa

        I’m sorry to hear that! You might be able to find free counselling services through a religious org or a university if that’s available to you.

        What I like about YNAB compared to Minted is that Minted is a retroactive program (it tells you what you have been doing), whereas YNAB is proactive (what *should* we be doing). It also works best with some input from the user end and is great for talking about/setting priorities. If you’re only looking for a product to pull your account info and aggregate the data, then Minted will probably be fine. If you’re looking for a great, user-friendly budgeting tool, YNAB is your bag. They even have free on-line classes and support staff who can help you get going with the budget. We’re currently on the free student version (my husband is a doctoral student), but we’ll gladly pay for it when his program is done.

        • LW

          Yeah, I did try Minted before just by myself and I wasn’t a huge fan. I’ve been using Every Dollar but I hate that you have to plug in all the info on your own (tedious, time consuming = nah). I think it might be time to just go for it and get YNAB. I’ve only heard great things, so I think it’d be worth it.

          • Lisa

            I’ve seen a lot of early retirement bloggers plug Personal Capital, but I don’t have any experience with it myself. It’s another free program that you could look into.

            With YNAB, you still do have to sort all of your transactions into categories if you don’t use the app to log them at the point of sale. We had an older version of YNAB that didn’t sync with our accounts and are still in the habit of doing it every time we use our credit cards. It’s fairly intuitive though!

          • LW

            Ooh, good to know!! Thank you, Lisa!

      • CP2011

        I said the same thing about YNAB but once i finally forked over the $50 I have never regretted it. I find it vastly more helpful than other tools I’ve used.

  • MC

    Ooof, reading this gave me huge anxiety, my sympathies to the LW. I definitely agree that a combined budget is important – I know you say he’s not good at it, but the way I see it, you’ve tried to have loose financial goals without a specific budget and it’s clearly not working, so you need a new plan for your family finances. And you clearly need to be able to see what money is being spent and where it’s going so you can plan for emergencies as a family.

    If you don’t want to have a joint bank account (I sure wouldn’t until I could trust him more with his spending), you can always get a Mint account and link all of your accounts & credit cards so you can see all of the transactions. Also, does your husband understand the consequences of his spending habits? I’m thinking about the big thinks, like his credit score might not be great after maxing out multiple cards, which affects interest rates for mortgages… but also, it is causing you stress, making you feel like you can’t trust him, putting your dog at risk, etc! All those things are really important! You don’t necessarily need to guilt him about his spending but you do need to show him the effect of his decisions – maybe that will make him more inclined to budget and spend more considerately.

  • Eenie

    The one thing I hate to hear is “I don’t like budgeting” or “I can’t stick to my budget”. No one really likes budgeting, but the people who stick with it find a system that works and that provides value to them. This was my husband. I told him we needed to figure out something that works for both of us because I didn’t want to end up in a situation where we had an emergency but didn’t have the money to cover it. He moaned and groaned and is horrible at money management. Then, as we were trying to live off only his income, he realize how important it was to actually make a budget and stick to it. He is now better than me about logging purchases in our budget app of choice (YNAB). He needed to give the budgeting process time to make sense for him and see the need for it to exist.

    If the previous budgets he used didn’t work, he needs to try something else. Cash only. Separate debit cards for household expenses vs personal expenses (so when the balance hits zero you can’t spend any more!). Mint. YNAB. He needs to be the one that leads these efforts. Because you telling him what to do might not

    • emilyg25

      I think people assume that budgets are restrictive. They don’t have to be! I’m a spender at heart and my budget includes line items for fun stuff like Shopping and Alcohol and Restaurants. It’s mainly about planning and you can set the parameters as they work best for you.

      • Eenie

        Exactly! And budgets don’t have to be complicated either! Category 1: Bills. Category 2: spending money. Category 3: Debt payments.

        • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

          Ideally Category 4: Savings and investments.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I don’t want to diminish what you’re saying at all, but I want to validate people, especially women, in a kind of personality minority: I like budgeting.

      I never thought I liked math as a kid or young adult, because I had friends who liked higher-level math much more, and I liked stories more than numbers. But as an adult, I recognize that I’m one of the few people who loves playing with numbers.

      • Eenie

        I meant no one likes the fact that they can’t spend all their money haphazardly ;) I’ve heard a lot of people use “I don’t like something” to excuse not doing it. Some things just need to happen. If you make so much money that you really don’t need to budget, well great! But the majority of people (and the LW’s husband) do need to budget to be successful with their money.

        I also run our budget because I enjoy it to a certain extent – it was more fun when we had more income lol. And I’m an engineer who loves numbers :)

    • LucyPirates

      I agree, I run our budget as I like playing with numbers (designer at work, accountant at home…) whilst my husband spends all day doing budgets for projects and is very good at it but HATES thinking he has to budget at home and has taken a long time to transition as oppose to buying just what he wants as and when he wants. And ‘I can’t’ is definitely actually ‘I don’t want to’ for him and most people in reality.

      Things that work for us
      – separate spends – on your own head what you buy and if you run out, tough
      – goals/purposes for the money – first wedding, then car / house.
      – Reality conversations – we can have that extra bottle of wine, that dvd, breakfast out every weekend, extra subscription, taxi instead of drive, 2 meals out instead of one, takeaway….etc or we can cut back by a half or a third and have a holiday / savings / a house in 4 years instead of 5…
      Both he (and I!) respond better to cut back rather than cut out completely as a psychological money version of dieting!

  • Canadian

    Hi, Just have some feedback that the advice given above is JURISDICTION SPECIFIC.

    As a Canadian:

    “Because TL;DR: Unless you have an ironclad prenup, you’re both responsible for whatever financial mess one or both of you get into, regardless of whose account it is. This is your debt, too. You’re not avoiding being on the hook by separating the finances; you’re just removing your ability to know what’s happening.”

    THIS IS NOT TRUE IN BC, CANADA and I don’t know where it’s true or not true elsewhere. I work as a legal assistant and am familiar with these laws in BC, Canada. Unless you signed on as a guarantor or covenantor to the original loan, or you are a borrower as well, THIS IS NOT YOUR DEBT. The rule of thumb is “you marry a person, not their debt”. The collection agencies may try to exploit you (e.g. if a spouse dies in debt without enough assets to pay off the creditors, then they may try to push you to pay but ask them to show you your signature – no signature, not your debt. Sometimes, if someone dies insolvent, the creditors just don’t get paid. End of story).

    Sooooo just a word of caution.

    • Amy March

      I think even then it is “your debt” in the sense that if you have joint things you want to do with your partner, you both have to tackle this debt to be able to do that. Not legally, but practically.

      • Canadian

        I thought I was pretty clear about addressing the legal side, not the relationship side, of the letter. Of course it affects the relationship and its goals. But saying that their debt is your debt has potential to be misleading and I thought clarification that this advice is not universal would be useful to some readers.

        • Amy March

          You were! I was adding to your comment, not trying to diminish it- sorry if that didn’t come across!

    • laddibugg

      Yeah, that part stood out to me as well.

      However, if a couple has joint accounts, those accounts can be garnished, and it can be a pain in the ass to get the money back…that also applies to joint accounts between non married folks (such as a parent and child)

    • Roselyne

      Quebec works kind of like that too.

      Also, assets you bring into the relationship are yours and untouchable by divorce UNLESS you do something to muddle the waters (so, the car I owned when we got married is mine, period, and my husband would have no claim on it. The land he owned when we got married would be only his, but he signed 50% of it to me, notarized, so we could build a house on it, because you can’t built a joint-owned house on non-joint-owned property. Etc). His student loans would have been 100% his responsibility if we got divorced, but we paid them off because the cashflow was annoying (Quebec has low enough student loans that it’s possible to do that).

  • AnneM

    I have to preface this by saying, I have never owned a credit/debit card in my life and have only a very general idea of how they work. But. If this was my partner, the first thing I’d do is make it very clear to him that he obviously cannot be trusted to handle a credit card and if he wants to stay married he needs to get rid of them. As I said, I’ve never owned one, so I can tell you from first-hand experience that one can survive without one. And, you know: With great power comes great responsibility. If you can’t handle the responsibility, you shouldn’t get the power (in this case: to financially ruin your partner).

    Also, seriously, how does someone max out three credit cards without their partner noticing?! I find it kind of hard to imagine that at all, much less without having any material evidence for it. Anything I can think off would require some way more drastic measures than just budgeting…

    • Amy March

      I mean, I find it hard to imagine getting through life at all without a credit or debit card, because I don’t know how I would buy plane tickets or theatre tickets or shop online or use Uber or generally live in the modern economy, so I think it’s not really unimaginable how this could happen, just outside your fairly unique experience.

      I think definitely stopping using credit cards entirely could be a great interim step though.

      • AnneM

        Well, for one, I’m imagining that in the US too, you can pay stuff directly from your bank account or indirectly using PayPal or something similar. So either this is not correct or you’re imagining life without a credit card as waaaayyy harder than it actually is. (I actually live in a modern economy and most people around here don’t own a credit card or only use it if they are somewhere abroad.)

        Also, all the things you list above would still be things a partner would probably know about, safe maybe for the Uber. I mean, you would have purchased items at your home, your partner would probably (hopefully?) know about you flying somewhere or going out a lot, right? So, I get that it’s very possible to spend a lot of money you don’t really have, but how do you spend that much money (I’m imagining we’re talking about at least 6000$ here) without your partner noticing? I guess it’s possible everything is just a lot more expensive in the US, but that still seems like a lot of money to me.

        • Amy March

          Oh, no that explains it. In the US you can rarely pay using bank account transfer. Much less common an option than other parts of the world. The way you usually pay directly from your bank account here is your debit card, which draws directly from your bank account.

          • AnneM

            Alright, then it’s probably a lot more difficult to skip the credit card. I think debit card would be the equivalent for the most commonly used payment method here, then. Thanks for the clarification!

            I still feel like LW’s partner wouldn’t necessarily need a credit card (that LW has no control over), and definitely not three. And if he seriously needs one, there should be a tighter limit on how much money he can put on the card (you can do that, right?)

          • Lisa

            You can usually ask to increase your credit limit, but I think a lot of companies would look askance at you trying to lower it.

          • Katharine Parker

            It would also lower his credit score, as debt-to-available credit is measured in that. Not that his credit score necessarily matters at this point (maxed out cards aren’t great for debt-to-credit ratios either).

          • AnneM

            Okay, I know the “As a European…” card isn’t super popular, but… as a European, I have to say, I find this super strange. Where I live, being careful about your spending is valued pretty highly, so I can’t imagine getting that kind of response if you were trying to decrease it.

          • Amy March

            Why would a for profit company be eager to make it harder for themselves to make a profit off you? I think it probably can be done but credit card companies are in the business of making money off your debt, not making it easy for you to control it.

          • AnneM

            I think the difference is that here, companies are a lot more worried about you never paying your debt off. Don’t get me wrong, it obviously makes perfect sense for a company that lives off of interest to keep you in debt.
            But from my experience with banks, they are very interested in you not having more debt than you can reasonably be expected to pay off. I’m guessing that is because they still loose money if people eventually die with lots of debt that never gets paid off. So it’s possible that interest rates are a lot higher in the US so credit card companies don’t loose money or maybe we have stronger regulations here, but I don’t think you’d get a strange reaction if you showed up at your bank and asked them to lower your debit limit on your account. And I think credit cards over here come with lower limits than in the US when you first get them, but I’m not sure.

          • Amy March

            Very different system all round.

          • CP2011

            Very interesting to see a European take on this. In the US, lenders actively target low-income people with credit cards, payday loans, car loans, etc. to earn income off the interest and then almost immediately sell off the debt to 3rd party collections companies.

          • In the UK credit companies have a legal obligation to ensure customers have a high probability of being able to pay off their debt. Most just look at credit score and basic income/expenditure, but for larger amounts (or amounts with large interest, like payday loans) they’re obliged to go into more depth. Those that don’t are slapped with massive fines, which go towards funding debt charities, and sometimes get shut down.

          • Cbrown

            Yep, we remortaged and had to basically explain every single expenditure we made. The banks are evaluated on their foreclosure rates so the good ones do not want to make bad loans. Which was a contrast for me as an American, I kind of assumed HSBC was just going to throw money at us.

          • I think since the 2008 crash a lot of mortgage companies are still really twitchy. They had so many customers who defaulted on their mortgages and couldn’t sell their houses to downsize, and then they repossessed those houses and found they couldn’t sell them either. Everyone lost out. I was absolutely stunned to see people talking about 100% (and more!) mortgages in the US the other day – anything over 90% here means jumping through so many hoops because it’s just too much money for the bank to risk.

          • Lisa

            Most people are not maxing out their credit cards and racking up large piles of debt. My husband and I have a few credit cards we use for basic expenses and pay off every month. For responsible credit usage, our providers occasionally raise our limits in hopes that we will spend more with them. This improves our credit scores because it shows we have low credit utilization and more credit available. If we tried to lower the limit, it would negatively affect our credit scores.

          • Lisa

            Also to add: I’m not sure if this is a thing in Europe or not, but most American credit card providers offer incentives like cash back and partnerships with airlines for rewards miles. If you can manage credit cards well, this is effectively free money. Why would I pay for something in cash if I can purchase it with a credit card, pay it off each month, and still get 2% back on every dollar spent?

          • Eenie

            Or the 5% cash back I got for 6 months through Chase Freedom at Sam’s club?!?!?! I maxed out my rewards last year using that.

          • Lisa

            Yup! I have the Chase Freedom, and when the categories line up properly, that becomes our main card for a while.

          • Eenie

            It is easy to say no when they ask to raise your limits. I’ve never personally asked them to lower the limits. But I’ve also always paid my credit card off at the end of the month.

          • Lisa

            I didn’t know that! However, I started building credit late in the game so I’m happy for any increase I can get. I’d rather have high credit limits with low utilization than lower ones.

          • AnneM

            I hope my comment didn’t come off as judgemental, I’m not trying to say that most people max out their credit cards. I just think that there are enough people who are not great at handling money, so it shouldn’t be a strange thing if somebody wants to increase their spending limit. And also I think we can agree that LW’s partner deserves to have his credit score lowered (if low means you can’t be trusted to handle money, otherwise he deserves to have it raised).

          • Lisa

            The business doesn’t make money off people lowering their credit limits though, and it would hurt someone’s credit score to do so, which is why it would be a strange thing. I definitely agree that LW’s husband cannot be trusted to maintain credit cards so he is probably better without them for the time being.

          • Katharine Parker

            A low credit score just means worse interest rates when applying for a loan. It wouldn’t affect him in any other way. Actually, if they were trying to buy a house at any point, it would hurt her, too, since both credit scores matter for a mortgage (as I understand it). So lowering his credit limit could potentially have consequences for her. Switching to an all cash system for him and keeping his credit cards in a safe would seem to be a better method.

          • AnneM

            That makes sense. Anyway, I wouldn’t want that guy to have control over a credit card, so locking it up somewhere sounds good to me.

          • Ashley Worobec

            My husband and I always refuse the increases, and I think my husband has actually requested (with pushback, of course) lowering his limit, just so it’s not so high (and because I think he doesn’t want to play their game). We both have amazing credit scores, bought a house without any issues, etc. The credit utilization percentage is only a part of the equation, and I think credit card companies make it sound like it will be a bigger hit than it actually is (if at all, depending on where your other stats are).

          • Lisa

            If it’s not too personal, can you explain to me why you would refuse the increases? Unless I had a history of spending problems with credit cards, I can’t think of a reason why having a higher limit would be anything but beneficial. I’m just curious as to your reasoning!

          • Ashley Worobec

            I suppose it got to a point where the credit they wanted us to have seemed like a ridiculous amount for someone to have access to, as instant, high-interest debt. We are fortunate to be in a place where we don’t need that much buffer on credit, since we have the savings available. We both manage our credit well, paying everything off every month, so we’re not trying to protect ourselves from that scenario or anything. That’s probably part of why they’re constantly trying to up our limit, or “reward us.”

            I guess we’re just skeptical about doing what the credit industry wants us to do? :)

            Not sure if that’s really helpful or insightful, just what felt right for us! I totally understand accepting a certain amount of credit increases to assist with the score, but wanted to chime in that refusing them and even at one time lowering has not negatively impacted our scores.

          • Eenie

            My husband does this because the bigger line of credit causes him stress. Like, yeah, he’s always paid it off, but he doesn’t need that much credit and it lowers the overall severity of the future potential of maxing out his cards. As a result I have access to 4x the amount of credit that he has.

          • Katharine Parker

            The entire credit system is built on people going into debt–credit cards make money on interest for purchases carried over month to month. Without knowing where you are, I can’t say for certain, but probably there are stronger usury laws and more financial regulations–and, importantly, a stronger safety net for things like health care that often put Americans into credit card debt–making credit cards less available, necessary, valuable, and common.

          • AnneM

            Yep, we have a pretty good public social security system. But I don’t think LW’s partner’s credit cards are maxed out from that kind of spending, as LW would probably know about that, too.

          • Katharine Parker

            I wasn’t suggesting that his cards were maxed out for that reason, but the LW writes that she and her husband valued having credit cards in case of emergencies. I was giving context to why those emergencies might be different in America than in Europe.

          • AnneM

            Thanks for the context, I really wasn’t thinking of that. But you’re right, obviously, it’s easy to spend a lot of money especially on medical treatments.

          • Ashlah

            He can absolutely get by in day-to-day life without a credit card, if that’s what it takes to curb his spending. She has a card they can use if they need to book a rental car or plane tickets or whatever, and him not having a credit card can just mean it’s locked in a safe, not that the account is closed (so it’s still available in the direst of cases). If he literally cannot control his credit card spending, I agree that it makes sense for him not to have immediate access to a credit card.

        • Eenie

          It’s the interest rates that can eat up at you. I will say that it’s really difficult to book a hotel room or rent a car if you don’t have a credit card. I also get some trip insurance through my credit card if my flight is delayed when I purchased it with the card.

          In the US we still use checks, our banking system updates less frequently (waiting days for a check to clear), and there’s not a universal way to send money to people from your bank account. I hear these things work differently in other parts of the world.

      • Katharine Parker

        In the US just having a debit card isn’t even realistic, as my boyfriend learned once when he had to spend a night in an airport after his flight home was cancelled. He couldn’t rent a car without a credit card.

    • CP2011

      I’m curious– do you pay for everything with cash and check? Just trying to wrap my head around not having a debit card.

      • CP2011

        Never mind, saw your post lower down on this.

      • AnneM

        There are three ways people usually pay here. Cash is still pretty common, but as everywhere, people are switching to electronic payment methods. When you pay something in a store or whatever, I think what we have here would be debit cards (from what Amy March described above, I think that’s about the same thing). So you pay with the card, but the money gets directly withdrawn from your bank account (you also get the card directly from your bank). When paying online, we usually use what my dictionary says is called “direct debit”, although that sounds more like the card thing. Anyway, you put in your bank account number and give the company permission to withdraw the money directly from your bank account. So the main difference, I think, is that you only spend the money you have without having a credit card company to pay interest to. I don’t think checks exist over here, at least I’ve never seen one.
        Although I just remembered, do people in the US get paid monthly? Because if you only get two weeks payment at once, I can see how paying certain stuff with the money you have in your account might not be possible.

        • Jess

          Paychecks are pretty variable – some companies do monthly, some twice a month. For some people, paying directly out of an account *could* mean they overdraw depending on when the transactions for being paid/processing the withdrawal actually gets logged (weekends/outside of “banking hours” = no transactions processed until Monday).

          Especially with bills being processed at various times throughout the month, rather than 100% on the first, you could end up with not enough in the bank account to pay for the gas bill by the end of the month.

          Many bills in the US can be paid either by credit card, check, or direct bank payment.

        • CP2011

          Oh ok, sounds like we are talking about the same thing. In the US most people are paid 2x a month. And many people use credit cards just like bank cards, in that they don’t accrue interest because the balance is paid off each month, but you earn points and build your credit score.
          Out of more curiosity, how does credit get evaluated for things like mortgages work in countries that don’t have high levels of consumer credit cards or student loans? Those are the primary ways people build credit here; without it, it’s hard to get approved for big purchases without paying in cash.

          • Clare Caulfield

            I live in Australia, and it’s my understanding that here, although the American idea of using a credit card to show financial security that will help you get a loan is prevalent that’s actually not at all how it works. When determining your credit the banks actually look at your accounts for regular income and sensible saving/spending to determine what they’ll loan you.
            https://www.commbank.com.au/personal/can/student-banking/building-a-healthy-credit-history.html

          • Ashlah

            How utterly sensible. We don’t care for that in America.

          • CP2011

            Jeez that is such a better and more logical approach!!!

  • Morgan D

    If you’re planning on regular accounting and budgeting summits (every 2-4 weeks–highly recommended!), my partner and I have found both Credit Karma and Personal Capital to be incredibly useful. Both work on a computer and via phone apps.

    CK will give you a solid, up-to-date understanding of the credit situation. Perhaps most saliently, since it automatically syncs with the major credit reporting agencies, it will include your husband’s full credit history and make the “hidden accounts” question a non-issue. I’d recommend you both sign up, together, using shared login info (partner and I have a shared email and set of associated logins that greatly simplifies things). Added bonus: CK has widgets and tools that make automatic recommendations about how to rehab your particular credit situation, while also letting you experiment and see how making specific changes would affect a score.

    Personal Capital, meanwhile, syncs up all of your accounts (provided you give permissions to all the relevant banks/lenders) and gives you a net picture of your personal worth (including investments, credit cards, savings, checking, etc.). It also has a number of helpful features, one of my favorites of which is the ability to track and compare spending, income, etc. over time. It will even email you weekly with a statement that simply says, “You spent $____ more/less than this time last month.” Can’t tell you how much easier that email alone has made budgeting and accounting in our house.

    Anyways, between these two apps, we always have a complete, up-to-date picture of our joint and separate finances, ready to compare to the past and future goals.

  • lildutchgrrl

    Oof. I had a similar conversation with my wife a few days ago. The amount of her debt is manageable (one reason I was upset — why didn’t you just tell me? We can rearrange the budget to pay it off!), but the secrecy hurt a lot. I don’t want to be in a partnership with someone who spends secretly and hides debt from me. Some of our household resolutions address the “Make lunch every day!” factor. I don’t see that as unreasonable at all — it’s just what you have to do when money is tight. I did make sure that I had some food stored at work in case I forget my lunch, and that I’m taking my wife’s preferences into account with grocery shopping so that she has something she can grab and go if last night’s leftovers aren’t her thing. But there really isn’t a reason for either of us to be buying lunch. Or coffee or soda. That’s why we have a drip coffeemaker, a French press, and a fancy espresso machine (last year’s Xmas gift), and a darn SodaStream knockoff (also a gift). So those things went on the agreements for the new year.

    • Lisa

      Having food stashes at work is an important part of the lunch game. I’m incredibly thankful that my first job was far away from restaurants and that I had to develop this habit early on in my career. I keep a variety of pre-packaged snacks in my desk. (I use Graze for this and snooze most of the boxes, but one could easily buy non-perishables at the store.) My husband and I also made a deal that basically any meal we don’t eat together that’s bought out must come from our respective spending money. That means he’s free to buy as many burritos and noodle bowls as he likes, but it affects his ability then to participate in his hobbies–not mine.

      • Ashlah

        That’s our deal too. Food to make at home and take to work? Joint grocery budget. Choosing to eat out for lunch? Individual spending money. It works for us.

        • Roselyne

          That’s also our deal.

          Also, if there’s literally nothing that can be taken in for a reasonably-appealing lunch, eating out can come out of the joint grocery budget. I think that’s happened 3 times in 5 years.

      • lildutchgrrl

        I have a terrible habit of forgetting lunch at home even if I’ve packed it, and also of waking up later than needed to pack it, and also not wanting to pack it the night before. I know this about myself. So some trail mix and some applesauce packets and a couple of cans of soup live at the office for those days, and get replaced as needed.

      • lildutchgrrl

        I also wanted to say (before my computer crashed) that I think the credit card debt crept up because once she reached her allotted budget for personal spending, she just put it on the card in her name. And after a while it got big enough that she wasn’t paying it all off every month the way I do our joint cards, and then I found out about it several months later and freaked out. Lifestyle creep. During a time when we are both spending a large amount of our savings and have our budget (as well as other personal information) open for scrutiny. Gah. 2016 was not a good year.

        So the reaction of “cut out all the extras” addresses not continuing to dig deeper, avoiding the same situation again, and also gives us some extra $ to fill that hole with. The personal spending line items are also reduced for both of us to make that happen.

        • Katharine Parker

          I’ve dealt a little bit with this (my boyfriend brought some debt into our relationship that he was ashamed to tell me about), and I know it was hard for him to tell me he was in debt when I’m good with money. Like, I never carry debt, I started investing at 21, and so on. It’s hard to be the financially irresponsible one in comparison. It doesn’t make secret debt ok by any means, but I can understand the shame spiral of spending/debt/lying/repeat. Feeling like you’ve disappointed your partner (even betrayed them) is crushing. It’s tough on you, though, and I’m sorry that you’re dealing with it.

      • StevenPortland

        Lisa, thanks for the info on Graze. I haven’t heard of it before. I signed up. Seems like a good way to have something other than peanut M&Ms for a snack in the afternoons.

        • Lisa

          You’re welcome! I hope you like it. Some of the snacks I’ve liked better than others, but you have the option to go through and love, like, or trash snacks to increase/decrease the probability you’ll get certain ones. The soups have been perfect for lunch, and my absolute favorites are the banana caramel dippers and honey chili almonds. :)

    • JC

      A “household resolution” is a really great way to think about the values reflected in your budget. I’m going to see how I can work this line into my thinking!

  • Mrrpaderp

    Bit of a different perspective. LW and her husband have different views on debt and financial security. Some people, like apparently LW’s husband, are so accustomed to debt, even cc debt, that it’s just sort of nbd, it’s a cost of living. Others, like apparently LW, are very VERY debt-averse. LW and her husband are both going to have to work on negotiating those perspectives, commit to educating themselves about finances, and practice a lot of patience.

    Some of this is a matter of degrees. Pardon me if I’m reading too much into this – LW mentions that husband’s cc debt was at one point as high as $5k, got down to $3k, and now he’s maxed out his cards “again.” Does that “again” mean that he’s back up to $5k, so his total unaccounted spend is $2k? And over what time period? A $2k creep over, say, 6-months is a lot different than $2k in 1 month, is a lot different than $20k in 6 months.

    And touching again on patience – if we’re talking about something like $2k in 6 months, it’s perfectly possible that husband wasn’t deceiving LW. Maybe he’s not actively using the card but he never took recurring payments off of it. Monthly parking, gym memberships, etc. can really add up if you’re not keeping an eye on them. I also wonder if husband has been so focused on paying off his car (to make LW happy?) that he sort of let the cc go by the wayside. If that’s the case then LW and husband need to take a look at where their debt is – it makes no sense to pay extra toward a 2% car loan when you have a balance on your 15% cc.

    • Cellistec

      Well put.

    • CrazyCatLibrarian

      Very well put. I’m coming at this from sort of the other side: I have a $5000 limit credit card and we currently have split finances as we’re not getting married for a few more months. With split finances, when you go out and do anything, one person has to initially pay. I technically make more than my partner and he doesn’t have a credit card, so out of habit it’s usually me, but I’m also the only one with student loans and a car payment so I have less disposable income. I try to pay it off, and regularly put large payments towards it, but it’s so easy for that balance to creep up without thinking about it. I typically spend money of groceries, my bus pass, household expenses, pet related items, the occasional time we go out to a nice dinner… over a few months, those seemingly small expenses can add up. I know I should be better about it, but it happens. I feel guilty about it sometimes because it’s still “my” debt, but I have to remind myself that realistically, while it’s not good to have any cc debt, 5K isn’t an unmanageable about, and it wasn’t some sort of moral failing or deceit that led to it’s accumulation.

    • Melissa Standard

      Omg so true. I had that with an ex (not the reason we broke up). I had gone a little spend crazy with a CC in my younger years ONCE and paid it off and never ever let it rack up and I pay it all off every month. He on the other hand had NO issue maxing it then just paying the minimum. He got annoyed at my “tight-fisted” ways while his gave me anxiety.

  • Cellistec

    What’s scary is that I can see myself doing this. Hiding credit card debt, I mean. Not with a secret account, but because I manage the finances of our household, and my husband just doesn’t notice most money things unless I call them to his attention. I’ve already caught myself fudging some of our YNAB budget categories to squeeze out a little extra fun money for myself. Everything balances, but I’m definitely taking advantage of the situation. Oh god, I feel like a monster. This is what money does to the human brain sometimes.

    So what would nip this in the bud? If I stopped insisting that we get equal amounts of fun money every month. I spend more than he does, and I make more than he does, full stop. Yet I keep thinking that equality = fairness. Given the choice between me getting more fun money than he does, vs. me putting something on my credit card because I’m out of fun money, I bet he would choose the former.

    Does anyone else allocate different amounts of “fun money” based on each partner’s actual spending habits? Or is everyone else just more virtuous, with no money-hiding urges?

    • Eenie

      We have joint fun money. It’s one of the few categories where we always check with each other before using. But it’s also the we-fucked-up backup plan if we go over in another category for some reason.

    • emmers

      We don’t really do specific amounts of fun money. He’s generally more spendy than I am, but I’m cool with him going out to eat at work regularly since it’s his workplace culture (whereas for me it’s more of a sometimes treat, and less of a culture) that kind of thing. I think if it works for your household, it’s fine, as long as everyone’s on the same page.

      For me, I’m more aware of spending money I think out of pre relationship habits. My job will always pay less, so I’ve been frugal forever. I think as our collective pay increases and we pay off debt completely I’ll be more comfortable being spendy myself, but for now things are fine.

    • Katharine Parker

      I don’t think it is necessarily unfair for people to get unequal fun money. You have different spending habits, and that’s ok. Your budget should reflect both your goals and how you really live. It sounds like your current fun money situation doesn’t reflect that.

      In other categories, things aren’t equal. My grocery budget reflects that my boyfriend eats twice as much as I do. I count some of my skincare purchases as fun money, but some of them go into shared categories where I spend lot more than he does.

    • Booknerd

      Tough question! My husband makes much much more than me but our spending money amounts are equal. That being said what counts as spending money is pretty broad. If it’s a want and not a need, it goes under our spending money. So when I *wanted* new lululemon pants that I knew I could live without, I saved my fun money up for it, where he blows his on chicken wings and beer with no regrets. Other bigger ticket items we discuss if its worth spending/saving for and it comes out of joint. Ex. I wanted a new running watch, we saved for months for it together… but I want 5 new books to read? My money.

      • anachronismsarah

        Right. This is our approach too.

      • Lisa

        This is how we handle our spending money, too. My husband’s hobbies (fishing, salt water aquarium) are more expensive than mine (reading, needlepoint). He also likes to spend money going out more often than I do. I spend my money in bigger chunks (ex. $125 for a girls’ day with my best friend prior to her wedding), and he spends more often in smaller quantities. For me to feel comfortable, I need us to be getting the same amounts of spending money.

        However, this is what works for us, and it feels fair to us. If you, @lizzie_c:disqus, need to work out a different system for you all to be comfortable with budgeting, then you should have that discussion! Sometimes fairness doesn’t mean strict equality, and that’s ok.

      • Cellistec

        That sounds like a really deliberate approach, especially around big-ticket items…I’m impressed! Is there a dollar threshold for what you save for together and what comes out of your own fun money?

        • Booknerd

          We don’t have a threshold so much as want vs need discussion. Like if I want something relatively cheap (we allow $30/week each in fun money) then it’s fun money. New winter coat that cost $200 was joint. Biking or running gear is almost always a family purchase because we both spend approximately the same unless it’s really frivolous and unnecessary at the time. It’s a work in progress and because I’m the one that does all the YNAB setup each pay check I often feel like the Scrooge with my husband asking me for money but we just had a good chat about him taking more ownership and checking the category balances himself and discussing his needs when I do the budget instead of waiting till all the money is spoken for.

    • Liz

      Our fun money is reflective of our habits. Meaning, we spent a couple months without a budget in place, observed what happened, and then budgeted for that. I spend more during the week, I have a bigger “allowance” even though I’m the low-earner. Budgets, to me, are about planning around what actually happens more than “being responsible!” (But my perspective would probably be different if we were talking about larger amounts of “overspending” or being unable to meet bills. It’s a perspective born of scraping by for forever.)

      • BSM

        Budgets, to me, are about planning around what actually happens more than “being responsible!”

        Sooooooo much this.

      • Cellistec

        Interesting! Sounds like it might be worth trying out different “allowances” and seeing if we (I) can strike a balance between responsibility and subterfuge.

    • Violet

      Hmmmm. My partner and I don’t do completely joint finances, so this may not apply to you. But maybe it’s a helpful framework? We look at what our financial obligations as a family are- rent, utilities, food, saving for retirement, investing, etc. We contribute to those shared financial obligations based loosely on the proportion of what we each earn (though not precisely because I have variable income due to some contract work and his final annual total is up in the air until bonus time comes around). After that, the remaining money is our own. So do I splurge on non-essentials more than he does? Yes, yes I do. But I’m still contributing to our shared financial obligations first, so I can splurge and not feel bad. Maybe as long as you’re aware that your shared goals are handled, don’t feel bad about using leftover money, as long as he knows he can use it too?

      • Cellistec

        The idea of proportional contribution is interesting, and it would be relatively clear-cut with the earning ratios in our household. I wonder if this would work with our joint finances, as opposed to untangling things into separate accounts.

    • SarahRose472

      We do different amounts (also a YNAB couple). Honestly our disposable income is limited enough that we need to allocate it based on what we need to prioritize that month — so last month he got more to do a special trip with friends, this month I got (a lot) more because I’m visiting friends and family, etc. Maybe at some point we’ll do “equal” shares but for not it’s ok.

      I do relate to the temptation to wiggle things a little bit (I’m also the YNAB manager in the family).

      • Cellistec

        I like the phrase “the temptation to wiggle things a big”…it’s far more forgiving than the way I was putting it to myself.

    • idkmybffjill

      This is why we have seperate accounts in addition to our joint accounts (or among the reasons). Basically most of each of our paychecks gets direct deposited into our shared accounts, and then the leftovers get deposited to each of our individual accounts to do as we please with. We pay all our bills together, for food we eat together (or household food/lunchpacking ingredients), and any entertainment we share. All the rest of our money is ours to do as we please with. I have a personal savings and checking, and so does my husband. We’re newly married, so I’m not sure how we’d address it yet if one of us were to be out of work – but for now this works super well for us.

    • Jenn

      My husband and I also use YNAB and we have a lot more granular categories that “fun money.” Have you thought about breaking the categories down more?

      We both like to go hiking, skiing, bicycling, etc., and so we have a category for sports equipment. We also have categories for eating out, trail passes, and clothes/makeup. Our “fun money” category essentially boils down to what we do on dates together, but often we use “eating out” separately and we obviously have different sports equipment.

      At the end of the day, those categories don’t get used equally. I use the clothes/makeup category more because makeup is expensive and because I actually dress up for work. He uses sports equipment more.

      I don’t keep track of what proportion goes to which person, and I don’t like the idea of dividing it based on income. The career and financial decisions that we make together are decisions for us as a team. We recently moved for him to start a new job, and he received a big raise because of it. Moving was difficult on my job search, and may have hurt my salary (to a lesser extent than his raise). It was definitely the right choice for the team, and I view it as a net positive change. However, I think it would be unwise to take away my “fun money” because of that. Similarly, if one spouse stepped away from work to raise children, I don’t think they would now deserve to have less fun.

  • I disagree with the people talking about it as taking money away from the family. The amounts involved suggest lifestyle creep, which is means it’s probably been spent on things they’ve both enjoyed, even if it’s just name brand groceries instead of store brand. LW’s partner might not be making the same choices she’d make, but he’s making them for both of them, and she needs to acknowledge that when discussing this with him. The cost of living has risen over the last few years, and trying to maintain the same lifestyle while wages aren’t keeping up with it can sucker you into thinking you’re managing your money better than you actually are.

    LW needs to avoid ‘punishing’ her OH for overspending by putting the onus on him to change – it just reinforces the message that it’s all about him. Secret debt thrives in that kind of situation, where it’s your spending and your responsibility and your failings and your guilt and why drag anyone else into the mess you’ve made? I mean, sure, if it has been going on strippers and fast cars, then that is absolutely on him, but those are some damn cheap strippers and cars. Even seemingly selfish stuff, like taking taxis or eating out at work, need to be considered in terms of how they affect the team – if taking a taxi shaves half an hour off his commute home, does LW consider the extra time together more important than the financial loss? If eating out at work means he gets to network with the higher ups and puts him in a better position come promotion time, is that worth buying store brand dog food instead of name brand for?

    I think a good approach would be for both partners to go through their spending of the last three months to account for every penny. If his overspending is going on both of them, then LW needs to think about why that is – is her saving driving him into debt because he’s unconsciously trying to maintain a standard of living for both of them? Is that lifestyle beyond their combined income, or do they have different priorities for that income? How can they manage those priorities in a way that’s fair to both partners?

    • Roselyne

      I actually think that’s super unfair

      Based on what the OP was saying, they DID have an agreement they’d discussed (roughly, ‘we spend X, there should be Y left over, with Y I pay off this and you pay off that and we put Z into savings so we have a cushion’.) If that’s not working out as it goes along, a partner (whichever one!) has an actual responsibility to step up and SAY SOMETHING. Anything from “look, I need to spend X amount/week on lunches to connect with my bosses, how can we juggle expectations for budgeting with that need” to “we said Y amount on groceries but with what we both like to eat that’s not realistic, can we find an extra $ somewhere to make up the shortfall or work together to change habits?”.

      If they have an agreement, and she’s sticking to it after clear communication, whether or not he’s ‘unconsciously maintaining a standard of living for them both’ is irrelevant if that standard of living relies on money she DIDN’T AGREE TO ALLOCATE THERE, and she wasn’t given the opportunity to say whether or not that particular standard he’s meeting was important to her or not. You can’t just decide that you’re doing something FOR someone else against a shared agreement and make them share responsibility for your decision without involving them in the process.

      Also, the entire set-up relies on her sticking to what they actually communicated and agreed on and sacrificing to meet shared agreed-upon goals, and him… not doing that, and then relying on the cushion she saved up becauuse he didn’t meet their agreement. Suggesting that his failure at either meeting a shared agreement OR communicating that the agreement wasn’t working is somehow a shared responsibility because ‘he’s doing it for both of them’ is kind of out there.

      • Obviously, the LW has clarified above, but I think the commenter who said that the OH may have a different attitude to money feeds into it as well. To speak more generally about debt, a lot of people aren’t making these decisions consciously. They’re living the same lifestyle they always have, but somehow don’t have as much money at the end of the month as they used to. It can take a while to realise what’s going on, especially if there’s something big and expensive and long running happening at the same time. If you’re used to having debt, that the numbers wobble up and down sometimes isn’t an immediate cause for alarm. Unless you are actually monitoring your spending and following a strict budget, it can be a long time before you realise something is wrong, and when you realise how wrong it’s gone it’s galling. A lot of people aren’t given the tools to understand their own spending (or how the interest on their credit cards work, which is why people don’t understand why paying off the same amount each month results in their debt going down by different amounts and can overlook when it stops going down and starts going up) so it takes even longer to actually find the root cause. It’s hard to communicate that an agreement isn’t working if you don’t understand why it isn’t; you just think it’s your fault for not making it work.

        I know, if you’re used to managing your money closely, it’s hard to understand how someone could receive at a statement every month and not realise something was wrong, which is why it’s easy to assume LW’s OH had to be making decisions consciously. But it’s a very, very common story, and that it was caught when the debt was only four figures makes this a success story. In my line of work I’ve seen people with six figure debt (all unsecured) who still haven’t realised that they have a problem. They know that other people on the same salary are living the same lifestyle, and no one’s sending them scary letters, so they just don’t look at the details.

    • LW

      Thank you for this, I actually totally agree re: “LW needs to avoid ‘punishing’ her OH for overspending by putting the
      onus on him to change – it just reinforces the message that it’s all
      about him. Secret debt thrives in that kind of situation, where it’s
      your spending and your responsibility and your failings and your guilt
      and why drag anyone else into the mess you’ve made?”

      I feel like I keep repeating myself, but this happened a while ago, so we’ve since had time to talk about everything. The debt definitely occurred because of a mix of lifestyle creep and being kind of poor, frankly, and my husband just not making enough to cover 50% of the bills. That, combined with him being too embarrassed to tell me these things before, led to credit card debt over the course of like 6-8 months. The tough part is, we already buy the cheapest brand of groceries, don’t go out to eat, smuggle flasks into bars for friends’ bday parties, etc.

      TBH, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said he’s “unconsciously trying to maintain a standard of living for both of them,” and part of our discussion was me taking some responsibility for my expectations of him and our family of origin backgrounds re: money. Money is weird, and it makes people weird! I’m certainly not perfect, and while I feel justified in being upset over his secrecy, I do *get* it.

      Thank you for your advice, truly!

      • I think there are a lot of people here reading this and knowing exactly how your husband feels, because they’re there right now (and a lot of people in the same position as you, too). The worst part is always the secret keeping – especially when you can
        tell your partner is keeping a secret, because frankly you’ll always
        assume it’s something worse than credit card debt! That’s why these columns are important, even though they aren’t always published quickly enough for the writer themself to take the advice. Those lurkers might not come forwards, but they’ll be considering the advice given too, and taking heart that they aren’t alone.

        Speaking of which, I’m going to hop on a soapbox for a second to talk about financial abuse, though it doesn’t apply to your situation. It takes a few common forms – the abuser controls all the household finances and prevents the other from accessing their own money, or they emotionally blackmail the solvent partner into paying off their debts and takes credit out on their partner’s name, or they demand their partner handle household finances and forces them into debt in order to maintain a standard of living, then punishes them for getting into debt. Whichever it is, the indebted partner can’t leave because all the debt is in their name and they can’t afford to survive alone. It’s particularly common with SAHM and lower-earning partners – they’re pressured to contribute equally rather than fairly to the household finances, while the higher earning partner can spend freely. If there’s anyone reading this that recognises that situation, please seek help. Financial abuse is no less serious than any other kind, but often goes unacknowledged.

        (hops back down again)

        If you want support and a reminder that people regularly dig themselves out of much deeper debt holes, I recommend the Debt Free Wannabe board on moneysavingexpert.com. It’s UK based so a lot of the legislation around finance will be different for you, but it’s a super supportive community and has some great ideas for costcutting and self education on money matters. This thread is my favourite right now – this guy ran up over £100,000 of debt living beyond his means without thinking about it, and he’s successfully paid the whole lot back.

  • Ugh that’s so tough. Credit card debt sucks—been there and definitely felt a lot of shame about it (I hid it from my family for years). Great advice from Liz, hope everything works out and pupper is okay.

  • Roxy

    no. no. no. do not have joint accounts! Your credit is not linked until you have a joint checking or credit card account – even if you are married! also, by having a joint account, your husband (or whomever else is on the account) could use your credit or take all the money out of your account without your asking. I am not saying never do it, but you have to have alot of trust in the other person. and if they have bad credit, you def dont want to do it until they get that fixed!