Are You a Victim of Financial Infidelity?

I recently spoke with a friend who discovered that her husband had been cheating on her. But he wasn't betraying her with another woman -- he'd been sneaking around with their joint bank account, surreptitiously purchasing sports equipment to feed his triathlon habit. When she found a receipt for an expensive bike they'd agreed they couldn't afford, she was furious. "It felt like financial infidelity!" she said.

Does her story sound familiar? Has your spouse or partner made purchases outside your budget and then lied about it or covered up the evidence? Have you shopped without mentioning the purchased items to your loved one or brushed them off as things you'd already owned? Or have you simply been tempted and bought something beyond your means without consulting the other person in your life with whom you share your finances?

If you or your partner commits a financial indiscretion that sets your mutual savings or budget goals back, it can create real trust problems and wreak havoc on your goals. And though it isn't uncommon for individuals in a couple to have conflicting money management styles and priorities, it's important for your overall financial well-being and relationship to have good lines of communication about money.

The best way to keep the lines of communication open is to talk candidly and frequently about your finances. Here are some guidelines for these conversations:

Agree on financial goals and a budget. Discuss your overall financial goals or desires. What is it you both want to achieve short term and long term? If your goals and desires are significantly different, talk about how you'll set priorities and compromise. Not many couples will have exactly the same interests or priorities, but you should come to an understanding about what is important to both of you and align your finances accordingly.

Discuss your money styles. Everyone handles money differently. Are you the type of person who succumbs to impulse buys, or are you more likely to save for a purchase and compare prices and products well in advance? If you have different styles of spending, consider creating separate accounts so each of you have control over a reasonable amount of discretionary cash.

Forgive and forget -- but take care of yourself. If your loved one cheats on you financially, weigh the situation rationally. Reflect on how you can respond to the situation and then sit down together and talk about it. You can certainly expect your partner to make some financial sacrifices, such as delaying other purchases, to get your budget on track. If the action was egregious or was a second offense, be honest about your emotions and expectations for the future.

Have regular financial conversations. Having a trusted professional as part of the conversation can make it easier. If you meet with a financial advisor on a regular basis and you and your partner tend to disagree when it comes to financial priorities, make conversations about spending one of the topics you discuss with your advisor. The more open you are about your finances to begin with, the easier it will be to keep the lines of communication open.

Suzanna de Baca is the vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.

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