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Big spenders ignore spouses at their own peril

Hey big spender – did you check with your spouse before making that purchase?

Two-thirds of consumers have an agreement with their significant other to talk before spending more than a set amount, according to new data from Ameriprise Financial. The average cutoff is $392, although 16 percent of consumers say they have free rein to spend as much as $1,000 — or more.

The survey queried 1,514 couples (3,028 individuals) nationwide during July. It focused on couples married or living together for at least six months, who are between the ages of 25 to 70 and who have at least $25,000 in investable assets. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 percent.


Those kinds of discussions about spending is a key component to a happy relationship, said Marcy Keckler, vice president of financial advice strategy for Ameriprise.

"We found that couples who had the most financial harmony in their relationships were the couples who had the most communication about money," she said.

The problem is, most people aren't on the same page with their significant other. When Ameriprise compared answers from both partners, 18 percent weren't in sync about having a spending cutoff, and 54 percent cited a different amount than their partner.

What kind of limits couples set vary by generation. Younger couples were more likely to have a cutoff, and a low one at that. The older the couple, the more freedom they had to make big purchases, Keckler said – likely because older couples tended to have more assets to work with.


If you and your spouse have already agreed on a spending limit (or at least, you think you have), make sure you're on the same page.

"You write down your number, I write down my number, then 1-2-3 reveal," said Keckler. "Discuss it. Is there a distance to be bridged here?"

Successfully setting a cutoff requires open communication as a couple, said certified financial planner Sonya Britt, an associate professor at Kansas State University. It's not about saying you can't spend freely, just that you'll check in with each other before making a big purchase that might compromise your shared goals.


Don't couch it in terms of an "allowance," she said. That can make a limit feel more restrictive, and your relationship more like that of a parent and child.

The right amount is also up for debate, based on your budget and goals. Whether a purchase will be made from a joint or individual account might also come into play.

"For some couples, $50 might be all they can do on their monthly budget," Britt said. "For other couples, it might be $500. That's fine too."