Sometimes, though, when it's obvious to both partners that something's amiss—usually because numbers don't add up—we speak factually and bluntly. In one recent case, a couple came to us for help in eliminating $50,000 in credit card debt. A detailed review of their situation revealed that $300,000 in net income earned over the past five years was unaccounted for—and neither spouse could explain where the money might have gone.
So I offered my own observation. "In my experience," I told them, "there are only four reasons that money seems to vanish with no explanation."
I waited for a reaction. It didn't take long—maybe 10 seconds—for the wife to exclaim, "Well, what are they?" I calmly replied. "A marital affair, drug or alcohol addiction, a gambling problem or compulsive shopping." She burst out laughing, saying none of that is possible in their case.
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Her husband looked away and said nothing—causing her to stop laughing and stare at him. The conversation during their drive home was either the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. Usually it's the latter, but once or twice I've seen it become the former.
One of my colleagues came up with a simple tactic we use to dissuade our clients from hiding spending from their spouses: He simply gets his married clients to agree that each can spend a preset amount each month, however he or she wishes. They aren't required to ask permission of the other or tell their partner about it. That allows both to spend some cash without guilt and without damaging either their relationship or their financial plan.