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My secret spending splurge: Do I tell my husband?

Kelly Dilworth

Not too long ago, I impulsively spent $79 on a brand-new Kindle after dropping a flimsy paperback one too many times. I justified my purchase by convincing myself I needed an easier way to read while holding my squirmy 6-month-old (it makes a big difference to be able to read with one hand). But since I’d already maxed out the monthly amount of money my husband and I allotted for personal spending, I decided to keep the Kindle purchase to myself.

I knew my husband wouldn’t question it since we constantly use our Amazon Prime membership to buy diapers and other supplies, and since I was planning to make up the extra $79 by buying less the following month, I figured it wasn’t a big deal to let the extra purchase slide.

What would a surprise $154 purchase do to your budget?

I often do the same with groceries. Whenever I throw in an extra personal item, such as a muffin from the bakery, I don’t bother separating it from the rest of my grocery items since it’s such a small expense.

This time, though, it didn’t take long before the guilt gnawed away at me, and I confessed. A $79 purchase makes a bigger difference to our budget than I wanted to admit, and I felt like I owed it to my husband to come clean — especially since he’s the one who spends the most time trying to keep our finances in line.

To me, spending more than $50 without mentioning it feels like financial subterfuge. But according to a recent poll by Money magazine, many people think I could have spent a whole lot more before being obligated to confess.

$154 — the magic number?
According to Money magazine’s May 2015 Love and Money poll, both millennials and baby boomers agree that you can get away with frittering away less than $100 without having to tell your romantic partner. But you should never spend more than $154, on average, without copping to the purchase.

Why $154? The poll doesn’t say. It’s not like spending $153.73 on a pair of Oakley sunglasses is any more virtuous than plunking down $155 for a pair of burnished leather Converse shoes.

But, either way, according to the Money Magazine poll, most people think it’s perfectly acceptable to keep a three-figure purchase under wraps, as long as you don’t go overboard. A separate poll from CreditCards.com made a similar finding. Only 31 percent of respondents to a January 2015 poll said they’d be upset if their partner spent more than $100 without telling them. Some respondents were even more generous: Thirty-one percent of men said it’s OK for their partner to spend more than $500 without mentioning it. Eighteen percent of women said the same.

Meanwhile, a sizable number of people admit that they are already keeping major purchases hidden from their partners. According to the CreditCards.com poll, about 20 percent of respondents have spent $500 or more without confessing it.

Personally, I’d be miffed if my husband spent that much without telling me. A $100 purchase probably isn’t going to push us that far over budget, but a $500 purchase will. Even a series of small-dollar purchases can add up quickly and make a serious dent, which is why I’m starting to rethink all the small-dollar purchases I’ve made over the years without saying anything.

If your finances are merged, should you ever keep a purchase hidden from your partner, even if it’s just a small expense? At what point should you draw the line? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section. What’s the most you’d ever be willing to spend without telling your romantic partner?

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