There's no one right way for a married couple to handle their finances. Some spouses might agree on an allowance or a set amount of spending money that's meant to last for a certain period of time, and it can be a workable way to combine your finances and budget...if you both agree wholeheartedly.
But sometimes one partner might use the allowance as a way to manipulate or control the other with money. It's important to understand the difference between these two scenarios.
When an Allowance Can Help Your Budget
You and your spouse might agree to give each other a spending allowance, which is sometimes referred to as "mad money" or "pocket money." It doesn't cover things like normal daily expenses or bills. It's intended for discretionary or "fun" items, such as clothes or video games.
It's usually not harmful if you're dedicating an allowance category in your budget to give each partner their own mad money. It's important to some couples to have a bit of cash that they can each spend on fun things without being accountable for it. The key is to set aside a reasonable amount that's within your budget, and to give each other the same amount.
This sort of arrangement can even be ideal when one spouse just isn't dollars-and-cents savvy. You might be better off leaving the heavy lifting to your partner if budgeting isn't your strongest suit. Let the other guy determine how much money you can put to discretionary spending each month without jeopardizing must-pay bills, then roll with it.
The situation can get a bit stickier, however, when one partner is the primary breadwinner. But it can still work if both spouses agree on an allowance in this situation, if the amount is the same, and if they're both equally accountable for their spending.
When a Spousal Allowance Is Manipulation
An allowance might be a sign of a bigger problem if you're the only one in your marriage with a spending budget, especially if you're not the primary breadwinner. It might be a way of saying, "You're terrible with money so I'm going to control how much of mine you get to spend."
It's possible that you might be in this situation because you chose not to take an active role in your finances at the beginning of your relationship. Talk to your partner about establishing equal roles in the budgeting and financial planning process in this case. Working as a team can help prevent money from ruining your marriage.
When Is It Abuse?
You could be in an abusive situation if your spouse isn't receptive to this suggestion, or if it wasn't your choice to step back from finances in your marriage in the first place. Allstate Foundation Purple Purse, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing domestic abuse through financial empowerment, has identified the main warning signs of financial abuse:
- One partner has limited access to money or credit cards.
- One partner's spending is tightly monitored by the other.
- One partner worries excessively about how their partner will respond to what is typically considered simple, everyday purchases.
Other warning signs include an allowance that shrinks over time, not being a signer on the bank accounts or on the home that you own, and your spouse hiding bank accounts or assets.
If You Suspect Financial Manipulation
Victims of domestic abuse often cite financial abuse as the main reason they stay with or return to an abusive partner. It occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNED).
Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline if you're experiencing any of these warning signs—including your spouse putting you on an allowance—or if the financial abuse escalates to verbal or physical abuse. The NNED also offers help with issues such as finding shelter, financial guidance, and local support to victims of abuse.
Call 911 if you're in immediate danger.