How a Separate Stash of Cash Can Save Your Relationship (and Budget)

Two bikes

This is a guest post by Lila Quintiliani, AFC®.

When my husband and I were first married, we fell deeply, madly in love – with an expensive, extended-cab Chevy pickup truck. That huge monthly truck payment sent us into a long spiral of debt. And as our credit card bills rose higher, we began to squabble. While I didn’t realize it at the time, we were at a dangerous point in our relationship: according to recently released research, arguments about money are the top predictor of divorce.

The good news is several years have passed and my husband and I are still happily married. It’s not that we don’t ever disagree about how to spend money, it’s that we have worked out ways to diffuse the arguments and work together toward our debt reduction and savings goals.

Instead of Getting Mad, Have a Little Mad Money

One of the biggest triggers for a disagreement between us used to be differing opinions on what constituted a “legitimate” purchase. My husband has always liked buying the latest music, and he’s a fan of really expensive coffee drinks and craft brews. I’m more tempted by a home décor item or some sort of wildly expensive purchase for our young daughters. Each of us felt the other’s purchases were a waste of money. Both of us began to feel like we couldn’t make any purchases without having express approval, and we began to resent it. So we carved a really small amount out of our monthly budget for each of us to have what we call a “discretionary” account. Our bank allows us to create free sub-accounts, so we each have a designated discretionary account with its own debit card associated with it.

Every two weeks, we have a small amount transferred automatically to our respective “discretionary stash.” The amount doesn’t have to be large, it can even be as little as $10-25 per month. In return, each person has the freedom to spend what they want on whatever they want, no strings attached.

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With Freedom Comes (Some) Restraint

The strange thing is that once we started having our own little stash of cash, our overall spending went down. There were no more mysterious charges from Starbucks on our credit card, and we each became a bit more thoughtful about spending. I actually found it rather liberating to have an account earmarked for me, because I tend to not spend money on things for myself.

We are now about five years into having our discretionary accounts, and it has worked like a champ. It has also evolved from being a way to selfishly spend money on ourselves to an affordable way to give each other little “just because” gifts that we would not otherwise buy out of our household budget – my husband recently downloaded a new book for me by an author he knew I liked, and I bought him a gargoyle-shaped wine bottle stopper because, well, it was gargoyle-shaped! Most importantly, we no longer harbor resentment toward one another, and no longer interrogate one another over five dollar purchases. Money arguments may, as the University of Kansas study above claims, be hard for a couple to recover from, but once they are resolved, they can make a relationship stronger.

Lila Quintiliani, AFC® is a writer, military spouse, personal finance enthusiast and Accredited Financial Counselor. You can read more of her work at MilitarySaves.com.

Image Credit brdwrd

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  • Stephan

    What bank allows you to create sub checking accounts with the debit cards attached?

    • http://www.twitter.com/bwfeldman Benjamin Feldman

      Hi Stephan, I’m not sure which ones would be best for that purpose, but I’d recommend calling a few and ask if they offer what you’re looking for. They’ll likely be able to help you find the right account for your needs.