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Financial Dishonesty in Marriage: Signs of Financial Infidelity

Financial Dishonesty in Marriage: Signs of Financial Infidelity

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 secret accounts, borrowing money, signing up for new credit cards, and incurring credit card debt without your spouse’s knowledge.

Have you ever kept financial secrets from your significant other? Have you hidden purchases, lied about the current state of your finances, or acted financially unfaithful? If so, you aren’t alone.

According to the 2018 National Endowment for Financial Education survey, 41% of respondents committed 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 pretty obvious, but what about those little white money lies? Those money deceptions that seem less harmful? Committing financial infidelity includes minor indiscretions too.

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 tosses the tags attached to them.

My friend hides purchases because she doesn’t want her husband to judge her. Her family is currently digging out of debt, and new credit card charges are the last thing her husband wants to see.

She fears her husband will view her as a selfish wife who cares more about herself than the needs of her family. She knows 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 can hide the truth.

Years ago, a friend of mine hid a large bonus from her significant other. She wanted to build up her savings, while her spouse wanted to spend the money on an expensive trip.

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 told me.

Signs of Financial Dishonesty in Marriage

signs that husband is lying about money

Do you think your spouse is keeping secrets from you? Are you concerned that your wife lies about money? What are the signs that your husband is lying about money? Here are a few red flags 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 they purchased.

Comb through your joint bank statements whenever you doubt your spouse’s honesty. 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 secret credit cards 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 is a valid cause for concern.

3. Emotional Outbursts

Does your husband suddenly seem on edge about bills and everyday 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 life 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 their 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 joint credit cards and bank accounts, but what if your spouse begins opening secret credit cards?

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 essential to determine why your spouse or partner needs more credit. Are they in trouble or struggling with credit card debt? Have they already maxed out their current credit cards or hiding transactions?

This new credit card might not be anything to worry about, but it’s important to know about it if you have combined finances. Failure to pay new creditors could damage your credit score.

Why Does My Husband Lie to Me About Money

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 thinking 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 financial 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’ financial planning or burden them with debt, you are guilty of financial infidelity.

Hiding or Lying to Avoid Marital Conflict

While some partners hide their financial facts for privacy reasons, others want to avoid conflict. In many cases, partners act dishonestly because they believe their partners will disapprove of their spending habits.

Hiding shopping bags and shredding secret bank statements may feel easier than arguing about money, especially if you’ve fought with your spouse about similar 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 Financial Infidelity: Broken Trust

Telling little white money lies might not seem like a big deal, and your spouse may not 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 going 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 their partner will feel the tension between the two of them.

Most money lies are uncovered. So what will happen when your spouse comes across the credit card statements and reveals all of your spending sprees? One lie can quickly 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?

1. Discuss Your Personal Finances in Detail

Financial dishonesty is more likely to occur between married 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 a time to talk about money. Where do we begin? Let’s start with the high-level details. Talk about your net worth, monthly income, and monthly expenses so that both partners understand 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 sure the other partner is aware too.

Share in financial responsibilities like paying the bills, reconciling bank accounts, and creating a household budget. To prevent or stop financial dishonesty in your marriage, you need to ensure 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 track your accounts diligently. If you spot a problem, you can talk about it before the issues spin out of control.

2. Set Spending Thresholds

The next step:

  1. Set ground rules.
  2. Decide upon a set amount of money each spouse can spend freely each month.
  3. Decide how much money you can spend without asking your partner first. For some relationships that may be anything over $100, others will pick a much higher number. Define the amount and agree upon it together. Then spend that money without asking permission or making sure the other spouse is on board. If you like to buy clothes, you can spend your allotment on that. If your spouse wants to purchase electronics, that’s fine too.
  4. Stick to your budget and set aside time to reassess your spending habits after six months.
  5. Make sure the numbers are working for you.

3. Define Joint Goals

Don’t talk about thresholds as spending limits. Instead, focus on the importance of personal expenses alongside joint financial 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 fantastic activities you want to experience together. Make sure your goals include saving for retirement.

Resentment breeds when one partner feels like the other puts their needs above joint goals. These actions will lead a wife to say, “my husband is acting selfishly” or a partner to become disgusted by a spouses’ self-serving manner. The key to a solid financial partnership is defining your goals together.

Setting joint goals doesn’t mean you cannot pursue your interests. You can certainly still do that, but you have to keep your common goals in mind too.

4. Define Relationship Dealbreakers

Create a list of relationship dealbreakers: a set of rules that neither spouse can break. 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.

5. 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.

To work through these issues, you have to discuss your money mindsets, explaining why you want to spend or save money. 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 Financial Indiscretions

Over a decade ago, I used a private PayPal account to hide purchases from my husband. Back then, I used shopping to distract myself from my health issues. I would go to the store and wander the aisles for an hour each day.

I spent money to ignore my physical pain. 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 every credit card transaction in gnu-cash, and my husband hated entering line after line of purchases to enter the returns a few lines later.

I began using PayPal to take these transactions off the books. He didn’t know I bought the stuff or that I returned it. At the time, I was proud of working around my husband.

What he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Right. 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. It was making me feel worse about myself in some ways.

Buying and returning was simply a waste of time; it was also 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. 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 behavior. Eventually, I found better ways to heal my mind and body, which had 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 may require highly trained counselors who can help you talk through money issues. During financial therapy sessions, your spouse may come clean about financial infidelity.

The Importance of Honesty

Money is the leading cause of stress in relationships. It’s the number one reason married couples fight and the second leading cause of divorce. It makes sense that some spouses hide purchases and accounts 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 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 stop feeling guilty or angry about how you handle it.

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She's FIRE'd

Monday 9th of December 2019

I suspect financial dishonesty happens more often than the statistics you quoted. I work in personal finance and clients tell me about accounts and purchases they hide from their spouses all the time. I don't do it because like the other commenter, I have a separate checking account from my husband. We're both very frugal and have very few spending disagreements. Which is not to say we always agree on financial goals, just not spending...

One Frugal Girl

Tuesday 10th of December 2019

I hadn't thought much about separate versus joint accounts. I feel like my husband and I are extremely honest because our accounts are all tied up together. I do have a small account and a credit card, because I want to keep things in my name, but all expenses are charged primarily to one credit card and paid from our joint account. Of course, this wouldn't prevent us from opening another account the other doesn't know about. Which was the case for my PayPal account. You and Angela have definitely given me something to think about.

As for the dishonesty statistics I think you are right. I have a lot of friends who hide purchases from their spouses. It seems quite typical to me too.

Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early

Sunday 8th of December 2019

I think the reason why we don’t hide any financial stuff from each other is BECAUSE we have separate accounts (in addition to joint). There are things we definitely don’t agree on, but we don’t have to, because that spending is with our own separate money

One Frugal Girl

Tuesday 10th of December 2019

Interesting point Angela. You aren't hiding your purchases, but you don't have to provide a list of them to your significant other either. I wonder if that gets around this problem or if that could create more dishonesty, because you have access to accounts that the other doesn't know about. With that access you could set aside money or wrack up more credit card debt. Hmmm.