Sari Weis, 28, is a program coordinator at the San Francisco Health Plan. Her husband is a political organizer and often on the road. When he travels, she sometimes knows about his day even before they talk.
Recently he told her about a good Venezuelan restaurant he went to in Napa. He couldn't remember the name, but she already knew it. That's because Weis logs onto a website, Mint.com, where she sees in close to real time what her husband puts onto credit or debit cards or withdraws from his bank.
Weis and her husband each keeps a small, separate account for a bit of financial independence and privacy. But they bare the rest of
2010 Investment Guide
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their daily spending in an effort to save money. It's worked well enough that they just bought their first house.
Following the money trail has never been so easy for couples. They can use Mint.com or Quicken, both owned by Intuit (Nasdaq:INTU), to track their joint spending. Other options include moneystrands.com and Yodlee MoneyCenter, among other personal finance management tools.
Sound creepy? No question, following a money trail can lead to uncovering of deep, dark secrets. Just ask former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Investigators followed spending activity that started at his bank and led to a prostitution ring. (Think your money secrets are insignificant? See Financial Infidelity: Are YOU A Cheater?)
On the positive side of the ledger, millions of people have found that keeping a close watch over their money - and their spouse's - has given them an element of financial control in the midst of jobs losses, skyrocketing mortgages and rising costs for items like healthcare. In the process, they're making some personal discoveries as well.
Amy Jackson, a public relations representative, learned through Mint that her husband's sailing hobby was a larger expense than they'd realized. They spent more on sailing than she spent on friends' weddings and other events. On a smaller scale, she also learned that her husband religiously eats lunch at the same bakery, Le Boulanger.
"He's definitely a creature of habit," she says.
Two years ago Mike Leahy, a 55-year-old Maryland attorney, had no idea of where his wife of 18 years was spending money. With their kids' college bills and own retirements approaching, he was interested in getting tighter reins on their finances. The couple logged onto Mint, which links their bank and credit card accounts. The electronic receipts gave Leahy an accounting in close to real time of how his wife spent money while they were apart.
They eventually sat down and discussed what turned up, including trips to boutiques for household items that could have been purchased for less at chain stores like Lowes and Target. Leahy also saw that his wife often spent money on other people rather than on herself. She bought lunches for friends and suits for him when he didn't buy them himself.
This led the couple to discuss its financial objectives. Leahy says he was thrilled to have a non-confrontational way to discuss spending and to have a more honest conversation about money than the couple had had in years. (Is one person in your household in control of the finances? Learn the drawbacks of this common setup in Why You Shouldn't Let Your Partner Do The Books.)
In Los Angeles Eva Goicochea and her husband, Ian, 27 and 25, respectively, criticized each other for spending too much on lunches. Each wondered how much the other was spending. They started tracking their purchases and discovered something surprising: They spent as much together as they did apart.
Several times a week they went to local restaurants, ordering appetizers, wine and desserts. They also ordered takeout and let groceries go bad. The tab: $1,200 a month for food, with 60-70% of it going to dinners together.
These days they eat at home more often. The couple has halved their food bill. That's an ending they can bank on.