Money Talks, So Should You

Q&A: What should I do if my spouse is hiding their spending from me?

Ann Minnium
by Ann Minnium, The Garrett Network  (@AnnMinnium)

Sound familiar? No doubt you have either been on the giving or receiving end of what is known to us fee-only financial planners as financial infidelity, which is a growing problem in the United States.

A recent survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education found that a whopping thirty-one percent of people who share finances with a partner have been deceptive about the way they save or spend their money, a result backed up by a 2012 survey by that places the figure closer to 40%.

READ: What you should know about your fiances finances

In order to navigate the turbulent waters of long-term relationships we need to confront and resolve this seemingly innocent form of cheating. After all, according to a 2009 study by Jeffrey Dew at the Utah State University, one of the best indicators of marital discord is what he terms "financial disagreements." Couples who "disagree about finances once a week" are over 30 percent more likely to get divorced than couples that report disagreeing a few times a month.

The two most common forms of financial infidelity are hiding purchases and holding secret bank accounts, and, like smoldering ashes, both are dangerous if left unattended. 

Moreover, your partner shouldn’t feel the need to hide a rainy-day savings fund, just as you shouldn’t feel guilty about the occasional frivolous purchase. We all have our weaknesses when it comes to spending, just as we do for particular foods or drinks. It’s an uphill battle to fight these urges, and the best way to handle them is to accept and plan for them.

READ: 5 questions to answer before moving in together

So take a moment this evening to come clean and clear the air. The fact that you are being honest and admitting your weakness and infidelity will encourage your spouse to do the same. 

You will both feel better and be rid of the nagging guilt that consumes you when you knowingly stash cash in that secret account or hide those new shoes in the back of the closet. (Who, me?) Embrace each other’s human failings and you will likely enjoy many more quiet evenings together in the years to come.


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Ann Minnium is the founder and principal of Concierge Financial Planning, LLC. She is among a minority of hourly, fee-only financial planning professionals who have earned the certified financial planner mark, conferred by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.