Retailers have already started putting out the red boxes of candy and notices encouraging preorders of roses.

As I look at the displays, I wonder how many couples being targeted by retailers on Valentine’s Day fight about money. I know, it’s not a romantic thought. But I also know from working with couples that many relationships are strained because people aren’t financially compatible. Of course, they think it’s all about the money, but it rarely is. The arguments often stem from other problems, and the fights about money are just a manifestation of those issues.

Last year, I wrote about a reader who didn’t take my advice to address the financial differences with the woman he wanted to marry. Here’s his story, which does not have a happy ending.

Anyway, not to spoil all the celebration of Valentine’s Day, I want to bring back the Color of Money “Honey, I Need Some Money!” contest.

Tell me about the funny or frustrating ways you and your partner handle your finances. Your entry may be used in this newsletter or an upcoming column, so it should be suitable for print (in other words, nothing that’s going to wind up as evidence in divorce court — just kidding).

Please include your name, address, and daytime and evening phone numbers in case I have questions.

Winners will receive a free copy of my book “Your Money and Your Man: How You and Prince Charming Can Spend Well and Live Rich.”

Financial infidelity

A new poll by found that about 1 in 5 Americans in a relationship said they’ve spent $500 or more without their partner’s knowledge.

“Secret bank accounts and covert financial transactions aren’t just the stuff of spy movies — they’re surprisingly common features within U.S. households, wrote Tony Mecia, who writes the Cashing In column for

How much should your significant other spend without fessing up? Thirty-one percent of survey participants said $100.

Six percent of couples have secret checking or savings accounts or credit cards, according to the poll.

“Couples living under the same roof share bathrooms, bills, groceries, a bed. But when it comes to their wallets, some still prefer to think in terms of ‘his’ and ‘hers,’ ” The Washington Post’s Jonnelle Marte observes in reporting on the poll.

Marte pulls out these stats from the survey:

— Men were much more likely to keep money secrets than women. Twenty-six percent of men have spent more than $500 without telling their significant other, compared with 14 percent of women.

— Eight percent of men said they had a hidden account, compared with 5 percent of women.

— Men were more likely to make major purchases without talking it over with their spouse or partner.

Read the advice that Washington Post reporter and newlywed Danielle Douglas-Gabriel received from experts on how couples should handle their finances.

Color of Money Question of the Week

What do you think of financial infidelity, and is it ever okay to keep your spending secret in your relationship? Send your comments to Please include your full name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Taxing Season.”

Live online chat today

Please join me at noon Eastern time for my weekly online live personal finance discussion. I will be available to answer your money questions. Join the chat by clicking on this link.

It’s going to be a taxing season

Because of budget cuts, the Internal Revenue Service says taxpayers need to prepare for long wait times this season for the agency’s toll-free help line. Expect to be on hold for 30 minutes or longer.

As it happened, 36 percent of phone calls went unanswered by customer service representatives last year, according to a report to Congress by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson.

As I wrote in a recent column, other cuts may affect the service you receive from the IRS.

So for last week’s Color of Money column, I asked: What do you think of the budget cuts affecting the IRS this tax season?

Andrea Adkins of Marietta, Ohio, a librarian in charge of the tax forms at her public branch, is upset about cuts that affect IRS forms handed out through the Tax Forms Outlet Program, which offers tax products to the public primarily through participating post offices and libraries. She wrote: “This is not good at all and is a disservice to taxpayers who are required to file taxes, especially in light of the additional tax laws that came with the Affordable Care Act. This severely affects those who are low/middle income, non-computer literate, elderly/disabled, and rural, to name a few.”

Wrote Sandra Wade of Chapin, S.C.: “If Congress would simplify the tax code, we could cut back even further on the IRS. Abolish income tax and create a national sales tax on all but food, drugs, and with exceptions for basic food and clothing. We would probably all pay less and bring in more tax dollars!”

“Smaller government is always better,” wrote Clarence Crowell of Modesto, Calif. “Cut another billion or two.”

Roger C. Rasco of Montgomery, Tex., has a good point: “Republicans berate ‘big’ government for not being as efficient as a business . . . show me one corporation that would starve its accounting office and be efficient.”

I’ll end with these comments from Bryan Hudson of St. Louis, who wrote: “What the public doesn’t realize not only is IRS is there to help them but IRS also is the only federal agency that brings in money to the government, and that’s to the tune of over 90 percent of the government’s wallet. This is D.C. logic — cut the budget of the federal agency that brings in money. IRS doesn’t get much love, but another realization is they only carry out the law as it is given by Congress. IRS is facing the lowest budget in years to handle their regular duties, in a war on ID theft and fraud, and now the share of the Affordable Care Act. This makes no sense, as it hurts everyone, the government, the public and the employees who have to work under these conditions.”

The 21-Day Financial Fast

On Jan. 11, I started a group financial fast based on my book “The 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom.”

People already are reporting that they’re saving money, budgeting for the first time or just thinking more about how to handle their finances.

It’s not too late to join us. You can start the fast anytime. And share your experiences on our group Budget Bootcamp Facebook page.

Here’s how the fast works: For 21 days, you can’t buy anything that is not a necessity, and — this is the hardest for some — you can’t use your credit cards.

Watch a video featuring a couple that is participating. You also can view daily video encouragements about the fast.

If you’ve decided to join me in fasting, I’d like to hear from you on Twitter (@singletarym) and by e-mail (

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to