Money Trumps Children and In-Laws as Top Source of Relationship Stress, Finds New American Express Survey

by News Guy on June 15, 2010


NEW YORK— June 10, 2010 – According to the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, nearly one-in-three (30%) couples say finances cause the most stress in their relationship, followed distantly by intimacy (11%), their children (9%) and their in-laws (4%).

Overall, 91 percent of Americans surveyed find reasons to avoid money talks with their partner, with couples indicating they are more likely to know their partner’s weight than their salary.  There are, however, notable differences across demographics regarding how and when couples communicate about finances.  For example, while only 43 percent of the general population talked money before marriage, the number rises to 57 percent for affluent couples and jumps to 81 percent for young professionals.  Twelve percent of the general population say they’ve never talked about money with their spouse.

This month’s American Express Spending & Saving Tracker surveyed consumers about the role finances play in their personal relationships.  The research sample of 2,008 adults included the general U.S. population, as well as two subgroups – the affluent and young professionals.

Financial Empowerment: Younger Couples Maintain More Independence

Most couples pay their monthly bills jointly and maintain joint ownership of various household accounts.  Two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed share all monthly expenses, while the remaining 34 percent divide their bills each month, with methods ranging from paying certain bills individually to splitting household expenses based on income ratio.

However, more young professional couples (48%) separate monthly expenses than affluents (37%) or the general population (34%).  Young professionals are also more likely to maintain individual checking, savings and retirement accounts compared to the general population and affluents:

Individual Checking Account Individual Savings Account Individual Retirement Account
General Population 15% 17% 35%
Affluents 15% 15% 49%
Young Professionals 25% 28% 50%

Couples Consult, But Financial Missteps Happen

Among those surveyed, $275 is the average threshold at which couples need to consult with their partner before making a purchase ($395 among affluents and $249 among young professionals).

Forty percent believe their partner spends more money than they do on things outside of household expenditures.  The same number (40%) consider themselves more diligent than their partner when it comes to saving money and budgeting.

More than half (56%) of couples feel they have made a financial mistake in their relationship, ranging from spending too much on their wedding to buying a house at the top of the market. The majority (50%) say they would do something differently to manage their financial situation if they could go back in time, including:

  • Putting more into savings and investments (32%)
  • Spending more responsibly (27%)
  • Discussing financial goals and expectations earlier (17%)

Discussions on household finances lead to arguments among 45 percent of the general population, 44 percent of affluents, and 72 percent of young professionals.

“Conversations about finances seem to be avoided like the plague by most couples,” said Pamela Codispoti, American Express senior vice president and general manager, Consumer Card Products.  “Understanding what each person brings to the table, both income and debt, can help maintain financial responsibility and better enable the couple to manage their finances, hopefully helping avoid the stress and arguments consumers say finances can cause.”

Couples Play Financial Hide-and-Seek with Purchases

Forty-six percent of the general population say they’ve bought something their partner didn’t agree with. More than a quarter (27%) of respondents have misrepresented the amount of a purchase and 30 percent report they have hidden purchases from their partner.  When asked to describe the craziest thing they’d done to hide a purchase, responses included:

  • Made sure item would arrive while partner was out of town
  • Concealed purchases in grocery bags to bring them into the house
  • Snuck out in the middle of the night to buy an item and stashed it under the bed
  • Buried purchase in the backyard
  • Removed the price tags from new items and pretended they were purchased from the Goodwill

Couples Claim Equal Debt

More young professionals (43%) say they keep some or all of their debt separate from their spouse or significant other, compared with 20 percent of the general population and 22 percent of affluents.  Among couples, the majority of the general population (55%) and affluents (63%) claim that both members carry an equal amount of debt.  That number drops to 39 percent among young professionals, with 31 percent claiming they have more debt than their partner.  Notably, 31 percent of the general population and 20 percent of affluent couples indicate they do not know how much debt they carry as a couple, compared to just 5 percent of young professionals.

About the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker

The American Express Spending & Saving Tracker research was completed online among a random sample of consumers aged 18+. The research sample of 2,008 adults surveyed the general U.S. population, as well as two sub-groups – the affluent(household income $100k+) and young professionals (under 30, college educated, household income $50k+). Interviewing was conducted by Echo Research between May 20 and May 24, 2010. Overall, the results have a margin of error of +/- 2.2 (or 4.3 among affluents and 4.4 among young professionals) percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. For access to previous American Express Spending & Saving Tracker results, please visit

About American Express

American Express is a global services company, providing customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success.  Learn more at and connect with us on, and

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