Financial dishonesty, (otherwise known as financial infidelity), is the act of falsifying details or omitting financial facts from your spouse or partner. Financial indiscretions can include spending money, opening accounts, borrowing money or incurring debt without your spouse’s knowledge.
Have you ever kept financial secrets from your significant other? Have you hidden purchases or lied about the current state of your finances? If so, you aren’t alone.
According to the 2018 National Endowment for Financial Education survey, 41% of respondents admitted to committing financial deception against a loved one.
Here are a few statistical details from that survey:
- Over a third (37%) hid a purchase/bank account/statement/bill/cash from a partner/spouse
- 21% hid cash from a spouse/partner
- 20% hid a minor purchase from a spouse/partner
- 12% hid a statement/bill from a spouse/partner
- 6% hid a bank account from a spouse/partner
- 5% hid a major purchase from a spouse/partner
- Nearly one in five (18%) lied about finances/debt to a partner/spouse
- 13% lied to spouse/partner about something related to finances
- 7% lied to spouse/partner about the amount of debt they owe(d)
- 5% lied to spouse/partner about how much money they earn(ed)
Lying to Your Spouse About Money
Financial indiscretions like secretly gambling or spending money on guilty pleasures are quite obvious, but what about those little white money lies?
I know wives who regularly hide purchases from their husbands. They keep bags in the car and sneak them into the house when their spouse isn’t home.
One of my friends consistently tells her husband, “Oh this isn’t new. I’ve just never worn it before.” Of course it isn’t true. She shops for new clothes multiple times each week and secretly shreds the tags attached to them.
My friend hides those purchases because she doesn’t want to be judged. Her family is currently digging out of debt and new credit card charges are the last thing her husband wants to see.
She fears being viewed as a selfish wife who cares more about her own needs than the needs of her family. She knows those shopping sprees are hurting her finances, but she can’t stop herself from driving to the store.
It may seem like spenders are more prone to lying than savers, but individuals from both groups have been known to hide the truth.
Years ago a friend of mine hid a large bonus from her significant other. She wanted to build up her savings. Her spouse wanted to spend the money on a trip around the world.
When review time arrived she told her husband she didn’t receive a bonus. “If he doesn’t know about it then I can save the money in peace,” she once told me.
Signs of Financial Dishonesty in Marriage
Do you think your spouse is keeping secrets from you? Are you concerned that your wife or husband lies about money? Here are a few telltale signs that may point toward financial infidelity.
1. Large Cash Withdrawals
Cash is an easy way to spend money without a paper trail. If your spouse uses cash you won’t know what he or she purchased.
Whenever you are in doubt about your spouse’s honesty comb through your joint bank statements. Make sure to look for an increased number of ATM withdrawals especially those with large dollar values.
If your bank balances are consistently declining ask yourself, “Where did the money go?” Can you account for the cash that’s missing?
2. New Gadgets and Gifts
Does your partner seem to have a lot of new clothes you’ve never seen before? Did your husband bring home a slew of expensive gadgets? Is your wife suddenly visiting spas or spending a lot of money on pricey lunches?
Are these newfound expenses showing up on your credit card bills? If not, how is your partner paying for them? Has she opened up a new credit card without talking to you about it?
Expensive toys and luxurious adventures may be the first clue to financial infidelity. An influx of new items entering your home are a valid cause for concern.
3. Emotional Outbursts
Does your husband suddenly seem on edge about bills and every day expenses? Is your wife getting angry whenever you try to talk about money? Does your partner become so agitated that you can’t discuss financial matters with him?
Is your spouse breaking into tears whenever you talk about saving for future goals or taking that trip you’ve been dreaming about together?
We don’t all love talking about money, but your partner’s inability to control his or her emotions may be a warning sign of financial dishonesty. This is particularly true if your spouse has never reacted like this before.
4. New Statements Appear In the Mail
Sure you can keep tabs on your own joint credit cards and bank accounts, but what if your spouse begins opening credit cards you don’t know about?
If you believe financial infidelity is occurring keep a close and watchful eye on the mail. If your spouse applies for a new credit card it will be shipped right to your door. Try to catch it before your partner can hide it.
A new credit card might not seem like a big deal, but it’s important to find out why your spouse or partner needs more credit. Are they in trouble or debt? Have they already maxed out their current credit cards or are they trying to hide transactions from you?
This new credit card might not be anything to worry about, but if you have combined finances it’s important to know about it.
Financial Privacy in Marriage
Many husbands believe their wives are lying about money. Many wives believe their husbands are lying about money too.
“Why does my husband lie to me about money?” a friend recently asked. “Why can’t he be honest about where he spends money and how much he spends. He is constantly maxing out his credit cards, but I don’t have access to his account so I have no idea how much he owes.”
“Why don’t you ask to see his statements?” another friend asked.
“Because they aren’t my credit cards,” she said. “He doesn’t ask to see my bills so I don’t think he should show me his.”
This isn’t unusual. Many spouses believe some aspects of their finances should remain private. In fact, according to the NEFE survey 36% of respondents keep financial details to themselves.
Should we consider it financial deception if both parties agree to keep some facts private? Not necessarily. Financial infidelity typically involves spending choices that impact shared goals.
Will your credit card bills prevent you from paying the mortgage or utilities? Will your debt stop you from taking your family vacation or renovating your home?
If your financial decisions strain your spouses’s financial planning or burden them with debt you have definitely crossed the line into financial infidelity.
Hiding or Lying to Avoid Marital Conflict
While some partners choose to hide their financial facts for privacy reasons others do so to avoid conflict. In many cases partners act dishonestly because they believe their partners will disapprove of how they spend their money.
Hiding shopping bags and shredding bank statements may feel easier than arguing about money. Especially if you’ve fought with your spouse about these same purchases before.
Other reasons include feeling embarrassed or fearful about your finances. Some people believe they can dig out of debt before their spouses find out about their financial indiscretions.
People often believe they can correct the error before their spouse ever finds out. Unfortunately, this rarely occurs. More often than not an underlying behavior continues and the debt grows.
The Aftermath of Money Lies: Broken Trust
Telling little white money lies might not seem like a big deal. In fact, your spouse may not even think he is twisting the truth. Hiding purchases from a spouse may seem like an innocent indiscretion.
Spouses may even justify their actions. After all, many of them aren’t lying to their partners they are simply leaving out the financial details of their recent purchases. That’s not the same as a lie, right?
What’s the big deal you might ask. It’s simple, one concealment can lead to another. If you are willing to hide recent purchases from your spouse what else are you willing to hide from them?
Trust is the basis for all solid relationships and a relationship cannot thrive and succeed when secrets are looming. The lying spouse will worry about getting caught and his or her partner will feel the tension between the two of them.
Most money lies are eventually uncovered. So what will happen when your spouse comes across the credit card statements and uncovers all of your spending sprees? One lie can easily become more as the dishonest spouse covers up indiscretions with further half-truths.
Preventing Financial Dishonesty in Marriage
So how can we avoid financial dishonesty in the first place? How can we learn to work with a spouse who lies about money? How can two partners work together to create a unified financial front that doesn’t lead to lying or hiding?
Discuss Your Finances in Detail
Financial dishonesty is more likely to occur between couples who don’t talk about money. If you fail to discuss your spending and saving patterns you leave plenty of room for falsifying numbers, hiding credit card statements and concealing purchases.
Is your wife lying about money? It’s hard to know if you don’t sit down face to face to discuss financial details. Omitting facts is easy when you don’t need to look your partner in the eye.
So how do we prevent money lies in the first place. It’s easy, we schedule time to talk about money. Where do we begin? Let’s start with the high level details. Be sure both partners are aware of overall net worth, monthly income and monthly expenses. It’s important that both partners are aware of all high-level financial figures.
Sometimes money is tight but only one partner in the relationship truly understands that fact: the one paying the bills. Make certain the other partner is aware too.
Share in financial responsibilities like paying the bills, reconciling bank accounts and creating a monthly budget. To prevent or stop financial dishonesty in your marriage you need to make sure you are on the same financial page. That begins by having a detailed picture of your current financial state and where you want to go in the future.
Why is it so important to share these household responsibilities? It’s hard to hide in plain sight. When you keep a watchful eye on your finances you’ll notice unexpected transactions more quickly.
If your husband typically uses credit cards wouldn’t it surprise you to spot a series of large ATM withdrawals on your bank statement? When you pay the bills wouldn’t you find it odd that the last three credit card statements never showed up in the mail?
If you think your husband lies about money or might be prone to lying about it in the future then you need to diligently track your accounts. If you spot a problem you can come together to talk about it before the issues spin out of control.
Set Spending Thresholds
The next step: set ground rules. Decide upon a set amount of money each spouse can spend freely each month. Also decide how much money you can spend without asking your partner first. For some spouses that may be anything over $100. For others it will be upwards of $500. Define the amount and agree upon it together.
Then spend that money without asking permission or making sure the other spouse is onboard. If you like to buy clothes you can spend your allotment on that. If your spouse likes to buy electronics that’s fine too.
Stick to your budget, but also set aside time to reassess your spending habits after six months. Make sure the numbers are working for you.
Define Joint Goals
Don’t talk about these thresholds as spending limits. Instead, focus on the importance of individual expenses alongside joint goals.
Say you want to go on vacation next month. How much will you need to pay for airfare and hotels. Do you want to renovate the house. How much will you need to pay the contractors?
Talk about all of the amazing activities you want to experience together. This should include saving in your retirement funds.
Resentment breeds when one spouse feels like the other is putting his or her needs above joint goals. This leads a wife to say, “my husband is acting selfishly” or a partner to become disgusted by a spouses’s self-serving manner. The key to a solid financial partnership is defining your goals together.
This doesn’t mean you cannot pursue your own interests. You can certainly still do that. You just have to keep your joint goals in mind too.
Define Relationship Dealbreakers
Create a list of relationship dealbreakers: a set of rules that cannot be broken. For example, neither spouse can open a credit card or bank account without the other one’s knowledge. It’s best to set these boundaries early on in your relationship.
It’s important to discuss the financial indiscretions that would cause you to rethink your relationship or leave your marriage.
Discuss Personality Differences
Many financial conflicts arise when two people come from different money mindsets. Think about a spender married to a saver. The spender may feel unfairly restricted by a saver who wants to limit purchases on their credit card bills. The saver might feel agitated by a spender who cannot reign in their expenses.
In order to work through these issues you have to discuss your money mindsets, which explain why you want to spend and save. The saver may crave security while the spender craves excitement. It’s important to discuss these ideas so you can compromise on a budget that works for both of you.
If you don’t you will become irritated and resentful of your partner’s actions.
My Own Financial Indiscretions
Over a decade ago I used a private PayPal account to hide purchases from my husband. Back then I used shopping as a way to distract myself from my health issues. I would go to the store and wander the aisles for an hour each day.
My goal was to get out of my house and think about anything other than my physical pain for awhile. More often than not I ended up buying something while I was there.
Minutes after I got home I would feel disappointed by my purchases and days later I would return them to the store. This cycle continued over and over.
We journal each and every credit card transaction in gnu-cash and my husband hated entering line after line of purchases just to enter the returns a few lines later.
I began using PayPal so I could take these transactions off the books. He didn’t know I bought the stuff or that I returned it. At the time I was really proud of working around my husband.
What he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, right? Right. In fact, when I confessed about my secret account he was thrilled that I removed his need to journal those transactions.
Unhealthy Financial Indiscretions
Why was I hiding purchases from my spouse? My actions didn’t harm our finances, but they were still unhealthy. The act of continually returning items wasn’t helping me feel better. In fact, in some ways it was making me feel worse about myself.
Buying and returning was simply a waste of time. It was a means to avoid dealing with the emotional pain of my health.
Sometimes we hide our financial indiscretions because we know they aren’t good for us. My secret PayPal account didn’t destroy my marriage, but it did make me question why I wanted to hide my purchases in the first place.
I was bothered by my own behavior. Eventually I found better ways to heal my mind and body that had absolutely nothing to do with shopping. As soon as I did I stopped buying and returning stuff.
It’s Not Always Easy
Unfortunately, not all financial indiscretions are as minor and innocent as this one. Sometimes financial infidelity is used to cover up marital infidelity. Other times personal credit cards are opened to help addicts gamble or buy alcohol or drugs.
These situations are much more complex and often involve highly trained counselors who can help you. Remember that some problems cannot be solved without outside assistance.
The Importance of Honesty
Money is the leading cause of stress in relationships. It’s the number one reason couples fight and the second leading cause of divorce. It makes sense that some spouses hide purchases and accounts in order to avoid conflict, but in the end this doesn’t solve any issues it simply covers them up.
If you want to improve your marriage and your finances you’ll need to start talking openly about your finances.
Discuss your hopes, fears and goals for your money. Then figure out how you can support one another to accomplish those goals.
Imagine how amazing it will feel to stop fighting about money and to stop feeling guilty or angry for the way it’s being handled.