3601302_sIt was nice to be home early for a change. Instead of the nightly fire drill, Carolyn felt quite relaxed as she looked through the mail while Tom got dinner started.

“What’s this?” she asked. Tom came over to look.

“I don’t know,” he said. There was a $15.00 charge on the Bank of America credit card from a merchant neither of them recognized.

“I’ll call the 800 number here tomorrow,” said Carolyn, making a note.

“And what’s THIS? $360.26?” Her relaxation was slipping away and thoughts of fraud were starting to dance in her head. It was so common these days. Once they had had a $700 charge from Charlie’s Liquor Emporium in the Philippines. Quickly resolved, thank goodness.

Tom had a funny look on his face.

“That was mine. It was a Samsung tablet.

Carolyn felt relieved. No fraud. Then dismayed. The charge was real. She was trying to pay that credit card down.

Followed by confusion. They checked in with each other about expenses over a hundred dollars. He knew she would have expected that. He thought about it and decided, nope, on the whole, better not to.

“I know I should have talked to you about it first,” Tom said. “I’m sorry. But I really wanted it, and I didn’t know how I could justify it to you.”

“You wouldn’t have been able to justify it.”

“I know.” They both smiled.

“Don’t you have one almost just like it?”

“This is the Pro version. It has twice the resolution and it’s much faster.”

“Of course.”

To her surprise, Carolyn actually felt quite sympathetic. Buying it something without telling her drove home how much he wanted it. It had really been quite a while since he had bought something fun just for himself. She tended to buy smaller things, more often. And it made her kind of sad to imagine him going through that thought process all alone. And being stressed out about talking to her!

“I’m sorry you felt you couldn’t just tell me you wanted it. Couldn’t talk to your old ball and chain. Your old trouble and strife.”

Tom laughed. “That’s not the way I saw it at all.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that. But I probably would have given you a harder time than you deserved.”

Some couples avoid this problem by having a designated amount of “mad money” for each of them. They can have separate accounts or just keep track. Tom and Carolyn had done that when they were first married, actually. But they had decided the extra bookkeeping hassle wasn’t worth it. Besides, sometimes it even led to spending more money, because they had these pots of money earmarked for fun, just waiting to be spent.

They talked about whether they wanted to revive the separate money system, but again decided it wasn’t worth it.

“I think the problem is the word “justify,” said Carolyn. “We need to get out of that mindset. You’re absolutely right that I would have judged the worthiness of your choice of purchase. And that’s not right. Ditto with my hair and clothes. If you don’t think we should be spending the money, fine. But don’t say it’s OK for me to go away for the weekend with Shari, but it’s not OK to buy some clothes.”

“Deal,” said Tom. “We won’t judge and we will talk.”

Have judgments about spending caused problems in your marriage? Or little money secrets? (Or big ones?) Would Tom and Carolyn’s plan work for you? Or do you think separate accounts is the way to go? Maybe you have a different solution. Let us know what you think.