Before you splurge on a big-ticket item, make sure the two of you are on the same financial page

By Lisa Tucker
Updated March 22, 2018
Couple shopping for a car
Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

The car is in the shop for the ninth time this year, and you’ve got to make the call: New alternator? Or brand new car? Whether you’re deciding to buy a used minivan, a replacement dishwasher, or (dare to dream?) a little ski cabin in the woods, it’s crucial to have go over some important questions with your partner before handing over your credit card—otherwise you may wind up having some much less pleasant conversations later on. Here are five points to discuss:

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Couple shopping for a car
Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

1 Does it fit our budget?

While the down payment for a new car may feel like a budget-buster, consider whether the costs for keeping up your old one (repairs, extra gas, commuting costs when it’s in the shop) actually add up to a new car payment. Sit down and go over the figures together, and you might be surprised.

2 Do we need it?

This one can be trickier. You may not need a new couch if the existing one is still cushy and soft, adequate for watching movies and reading the paper. But the cat scratched it up! And you’re having a big party next month— you want something comfortable for guests that will also show off your sleeker style. Keep in mind that your version of “need” may be different from your partner’s, since everyone has a different money mindset, says Kathleen Burns Kingbury, a wealth psychology expert and author of Breaking Money Silence. Remember to compromise: If he gives in on this one, you may have to adjust your thinking when he suggests that you “need” a backyard grill.

3 Will we still need it in six months?

Some electronics or fad items may seem like a necessity right now—but will quickly become obsolete. That doesn’t mean that you don’t buy the new gadget, but you’ll both feel more comfortable with the cash outlay if you’ve discussed that aspect of the purchase in advance, says Kingbury.

4 Will it bring us joy?

Does buying a new couch mean you’ll invite your friends over more often? Does that new iPad allow you to share photos of the kids with their grandparents? Needing something isn’t everything; sometimes the happiness a big purchase will bring is justification enough. That goes for splurging on a vacation or tickets to a hot Broadway show, says Kingsbury, who points out, “Research shows that investing in experiences together brings more joy and satisfaction that investing in material goods.”

5 What will we be giving up to buy this?

If you have to dig into your savings reserves to make the big purchase, you and your partner should discuss what you’ll pass up until you’ve pumped up your savings again. Maybe you need to spend a couple of date nights at home instead of heading out to your favorite bistro, or skip that trip to Florida over spring break to pay for the new kitchen cabinets. Is the trade-off worth it? Only you two can decide.