Financial infidelity can be as devastating to a relationship as straying sexually. Here’s why you need to come clean about money.
As secrets go, this one was a whopper. A dentist from Great Neck, New York, was reportedly sitting on an $800,000 bank account…that is, until a bank employee cold-called her with some recommendations on how to invest the stash, and her husband—who had no idea his wife even had the stockpile—picked up the call. Can you say busted?
When most of us think of cheating, we think of lipstick-stained collars and Don Draper-esque dalliances at four-star hotels. But these days, another kind of deception is going on—and it can be just as devastating as the sexual kind: financial infidelity. According to a survey from Harris Interactive, almost one in three people have deceived their partners about money, while more than one in four say their partners have withheld financial information from them.
“I’ve heard of people splitting the cost of a purchase on several credit cards, or shoving Saks Fifth Avenue merchandise into a Walmart bag to bring it into the house,” says Dayana Yochim, author of The Motley Fool’s Guide to Couples & Cash: How to Handle Money with Your Honey.
Whether big (you’re hiding a five-figure credit-card debt) or small (you told him you got those heels for 75 percent off when you paid full price), financial fibs add up to bad news for your relationship. “That’s because it’s never just about the money,” Yochim says. “It’s about power, autonomy, fear, future dreams, personal values, and trust.”
Why women stash cash
Men and women have been lying to each other about money since biblical times, but the modern age has made it a lot easier to keep secrets from someone you share a bed with. Now that credit-card bills and bank statements can be accessed online, it’s possible to have a financial life that’s virtually unseen by your significant other.
The floundering economy has given women more of an incentive to spend on the sly. When things are going well—your salary, home value, and portfolios are all rising—you can afford splurges. But when money is tight, it can be hard to justify. “During tough economic times, every little thing becomes fodder for a money fight,” Yochim says. So you tend to keep secrets to keep the peace.
Sometimes money secrets are simply a matter of survival. Terri’s husband of 10 years was a heavy gambler and lost $400,000 of their money. “I was completely floored,” the 37-year-old remembers. To protect her family’s future, she quietly cashed in her end of the sale of her parents’ family business and tucked the money away in bank accounts in their children’s names.
Putting your (credit) cards on the table
Maybe you can relate to a small sleight of hand when spending or understand withholding information to protect your family’s financial future. Regardless, both deceptions have the same corrosive consequences, says psychotherapist Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D., author of Financial Infidelity: Seven Steps to Conquering the #1 Relationship Wrecker.
If you’re currently tangled up in a web of money lies, you need to fess up—right now. “Be direct and contrite, and understand that your partner will feel betrayed,” Weil says.
But experts agree that the best way to avoid financial fooling around is to be open about money from the get-go. Here’s how to put it all out there.
Be up front about your financial independence. From the outset, let it be known that you’re going to have your own financial life. Keep separate accounts, and have your own retirement savings and investments in addition to a joint portfolio. “You should have your own money, as women usually fare worse financially in a divorce or breakup. You just need to be open and honest about the fact that you’re putting away cash. And make sure it doesn’t break the bank of your joint-account responsibilities,” Weil says.
Set ground rules. This will help maintain financial order. Set spending limits, such as “Neither of us can spend over $100 from the joint account without consulting the other.” More ideas: Institute a CBS (consult before spending) mandate, or establish a weekly me-time allowance—an amount of money you’re each free to blow on whatever you want, no questions asked.
Get everything in writing. While it may sound militant to commit household money rules to paper, Yochim says, “It’s better than the alternatives: resentment, seething, public fights, or sleeping on the couch.”
*Names and some details have been changed.
by NICOLE BLADES
Women’s health mag