The Money Question Every Couple Should Answer

Couple Spend Threshold
Have you ever had this experience?

Your Amazon Prime package arrives, you excitedly open it and show off your purchase to your significant other. Your partner raises his or her eyebrows: 

How much did THAT cost?

Perhaps you identify more with the eyebrow-raiser. That new drone or necklace looks pricey! Why did you spend all that money without checking in with me?

For couples with joint accounts, this scene is a common one. However, when one person makes significant purchases without consulting the other, it can lead to much more than raised eyebrows. Think: hurt feelings and arguments. In extreme cases, it can cause mounting credit card debt.

But what does “significant purchases” mean? How much is “significant?” What is the spend threshold at which you want your partner to check in with you before they spend that much?

Is it $200? $100? $50?

Perhaps surprisingly, the answer does not depend on your income or savings. We’ve seen well-off couples answer “$50” and couples in debt who answer “$150.”

The answer to “What is your spend threshold?” depends on your personal viewpoint.

Here’s a fun exercise: you and your partner yell out your spend threshold number at the same time.

Did you say the same number? If so, you’re already on the same page.

Did you say different numbers? Good news – it’s perfectly common to have different spend thresholds.

The trouble starts when you have different views on what a significant purchase is – different spend threshold numbers – but you don’t realize this or don’t communicate about this. One of you doesn’t think twice about spending $100 without consulting your partner, while the other thinks that anything over $50 should be discussed. You argue because you haven’t figured out the simple fact that you have a fundamental misalignment in your views.

Let’s give this difference in views a scientific sounding name – a Misalignment of Spend Thresholds, or MOST. The bigger your MOST, the more confusion, hurt feelings and conflict there can be if you don’t identify the misalignment.

So, what should every couple do?

1. Ask each other the important question: What is your spend threshold?

2. If your spend thresholds are the same, say $75, then check in with each other when making a purchase over this amount. Do we really need this? Are we both ok with the decision to spend this money right now?


If your spend thresholds are different, say $50 and $100, then you have a choice. You can respect each other’s spend threshold and check in with your partner when your potential purchase is higher than their threshold for you. Your other option is to find a compromise threshold, like $75, and use that as your rule of thumb.

3. Re-assess your spend thresholds periodically. Is your system of checking in with each other working? Have you changed your mind on what your number is?

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