Women in online forums consistently use two cringe-worthy money-related phrases:
#1 My husband said I could buy these!
#2 Don’t tell my husband I bought this.
These phrases might seem fairly benign on the surface. Maybe they’re tongue-in-cheek. Perhaps they even show off a generous partner. They are commonly used, so how can they be problematic? We all know what they really mean, right?
I am a huge proponent of It’s not just what you say but how you say it that matters. Words matter. We internalize the things that we say and hear. The words we choose say important things about our self-image and our relationships. They are especially important when it comes to money because this is one of the leading causes of tension between couples.
A 2013 article from examiner.com shares two concerning statistics related to relationships and money:
- The odds of a marriage ending in divorce due to finances is approximately 45 percent.
- Approximately 65 percent of couples argue about money on a regular basis.
Many couples enter committed relationships without ever having the dreaded money talk. Others default to the idea that one person is “good with money” or the “breadwinner.” Some couples never talk, only argue, about money. All of these approaches have their pitfalls.
While choosing one money manager often seems like a safe route, this should not mean that one person makes all of the decisions regarding money or is solely responsible for paying bills. Money management should be a regular partnership, where both couples are knowledgeable and responsible for the family’s finances.
If money is never discussed, was covered ten years ago, or is controlled by one partner, this can lead to resentments, secrets, and disagreements. I think the language we use can be a first indicator of a financial relationship that needs a bit of tweaking.
#1 My husband said I could buy these! This phrase and it’s many variations – let me, gave me, finally gave in – indicate an imbalance of power when it comes to money in a relationship. All of these phrases indicate that permission is needed for one partner to make a purchase or financial decision. They indicate that one partner controls the money, even leading to financial bullying.
Permission is something you often need from someone in position of authority; teacher, parent, coach, or boss. In a partnership, you agree, discuss, budget, and decide together. If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s what I mean!,” I’d encourage you to try different language and see if it’s really what you mean. Is your partner giving you permission or did you come to a mutual agreement? Are you being allowed to use your partner’s money or are you making a joint decision about your finances as a couple? Do you participate in money management or is the responsibility and work solely on your partner’s shoulders?
If replacing financial phrases such as said I could, let me, or gave me with we agreed, we decided, or we budgeted, then you are working on a healthy financial partnership. If not, these are some red flags to rethink your family’s approach to finances.
#2 Don’t tell my husband I bought this. It’s a common joke in cloth diaper forums that participants are “stalking the mailman” so they can intercept a package before their husband sees it. The idea being that what he doesn’t see won’t hurt him – in the laundry stash or the budget.
While neither my husband and I are strong money managers, our arguments are usually less about one person controlling the budget and more about the fact that someone should manage the budget. Even with this relatively equal (albeit flawed) partnership with money, I still managed to make a secret purchase a few summers ago.
We spent the summer away from home for an internship and the experience wore on me. I felt depressed and bored, making online shopping a tempting pastime. One afternoon, I spotted Ergo carriers on sale on Zulily for an amazing price. I wasn’t pregnant, I already owned a soft structured carrier, and our budget was extremely tight. I knew my husband would say, “Why do we need that?”and talk me out of a purchase I wanted. But it was such a good deal.
I ultimately purchased the carrier, did a little mailman stalking, and stored (hid) the carrier with our baby stuff. I figured I’d just bring the purchase up later when it was time to use the carrier. Fast forward two years and new baby. I ultimately decided to sell the Ergo to finance a carrier cover. I ended up telling my husband about the secret purchase, embarrassed that I’d never brought it up. We had a few laughs about it, but I determined that the only “secret” purchases from here on out would be for budgeted gifts.
While my husband has probably forgotten about the Ergo, it represents a break in trust on my part. We trust each other to use our finances responsibly and we are committed to discussing larger purchases. This isn’t about permission, but partnership. If you need to hide a purchase from your partner, this is definitely a red flag worth exploring. Is your budget meeting everyone’s needs? Do you value each other’s interests and hobbies? Is one partner unwilling to contribute to budgeting, while still spending money?
Budgets Take Work. No couple is likely to agree completely on a budget. So many factors come into play, including family history, debt, priorities, income, and more. Finances are emotional as well, as indicated by the surge of adrenaline I felt snagging a good deal online.
It’s never too late for couples to sit down and build a budget together. The conversation can start by exploring the language you use when talking about money.