- “For Love & Money” is a biweekly column from Insider answering your relationship and money questions.
- This week, a reader asks how to talk to their husband about their differing financial priorities.
- The reader has been hiding money for a bathroom reno, while their husband wants a new deck.
- Got a question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.
Dear For Love & Money,
My husband and I have differing opinions on things we’d like to do to our house and the financial aspect of it. I’d like to redo our bathroom, whereas he wants to focus on fixing our deck and other items like that. It boils down to cost.
I’ve been squirreling away money in an account he doesn’t really know about. I feel like the remodel of our bathroom is worth it because we use it daily. But I’m unsure of how to approach the subject without being completely shut down. Thoughts?
Banking on a New Bathroom
Dear Banking on a New Bathroom,
If I were to distill all my financial relationship advice down to one thing it would be: Don’t hide anything. Don’t bury your Target receipts in the trash can and don’t hide cash in your closet. If you want to set money aside for surprises and passion projects, set up separate accounts for these endeavors that both of you know exist.
Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. After countless arguments with my husband over differing financial priorities, I began doing whatever it took to avoid “being completely shut down.” Life is hard, relationships are hard, choosing a fight feels downright self-sabotaging. But by avoiding the conflict, we weren’t addressing the conflict, and my husband and I came to an impasse. Although it wasn’t an impasse so much as it was my husband making more money, being better at projects, and having a stronger personality than me, which led me to feel like the only way to get what I wanted was to hide money.
But hiding things is the most efficient way to erode trust in a relationship. Even if your husband never finds out about your squirrel fund, you know you chose to hide the money, which further confirms your belief that your husband can’t be trusted with the truth. I know it’s hard to overcome this dynamic, but the only way out is through. You have to challenge your anxiety by challenging your husband.
You’re the expert on your marriage, so if you’re afraid he’ll shut you down, I’m sure that’s exactly what he’ll try to do. Making your voice heard anyway won’t be easy, but remember: you tried the alternative, and it was both dishonest and frustrating.
Try finding a compromise
That said, insisting your husband address how you choose financial priorities in your marriage will likely go down easier if you can offer him a fair compromise. I know true compromises, no matter how fair, are often hard to imagine when you just really want your way, so here are a couple of ideas:
Make it a game
You can agree to do what you have already been doing in secret: save money towards your individual pet projects, but this time both of you are doing it and both of you know where the money is going. This may sound stubborn and competitive, but there is a lot of freedom in openly and unapologetically pursuing what you want, and if both of you are doing this with the other’s blessing, it’s a fair compromise.
If you can both keep it light and fun, you can even make a game out of it by putting the money you typically budget for personal spending towards your individual pet projects. Whoever meets a certain dollar amount first gets to put all the money saved during the contest towards their project of choice.
Choose to do one project first
However, there are several reasons individual funds or a contest may not work for your relationship. If that’s you, debating the merits of your projects and letting the winner have their way can still work as a fair compromise, but only if the person who agrees to wait on their project is given binding assurances in the form of hard plans with explicit timelines and realistic financial benchmarks.
Either way, the most difficult piece of your dilemma will be un-hiding the money you’ve squirreled away without making your husband feel betrayed. You could launder the money through a complicated series of cash transactions, but that would perpetuate the dishonesty. The best thing to do here is the hard thing. You have to tell him.
I’ve been where you are now and I know the stomach-churning anxiety of telling your husband the truth, and that’s how I know there is freedom and healing on the other side. I’m not just talking about the relief of getting the omission off your chest; having this conversation with your husband will also create space for both of you to address your reasons for hiding the money in the first place.
Having this conversation might seem like you’re making excuses for your dishonesty, but it’s not. It’s digging to a deeper level of conflict than deck repairs, hidden money, and bathroom renovations — it’s excavating down to the very root of your disagreement. And if you can do that as a couple, then there’s really no limit to what you can achieve as a team. One thing is certain though, you will definitely be able to tackle both a bathroom and a deck.
Rooting for you both,
For Love & Money