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Are You Committing Financial Infidelity?

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There's a kind of cheating that's not between the sheets. Find out what it is -- and protect your marriage.


Have you ever bought a killer pair of heels and hidden the receipt from your guy? Or maybe you've lent cash to a pal and lied about it? Do you have a secret "rainy day" fund? It's common to occasionally fib about where your money goes, but have you ever considered what your indiscretion may be doing to your marriage?

In an effort to find out, USA Today and Gallup teamed up and polled over 1,000 adults -- and the results were shocking. According to married subjects, 62 percent say keeping a bank account secret from their partner is a major violation of trust, and 11 percent believe it's grounds for divorce. Thirteen percent would even draw up divorce papers if they discovered their partner was hiding cash or spending in secret.

"Money is a serious issue because it's a basic means to survive as a couple," says Jonathan Rich, Ph.D., author of The Couple's Guide to Love and Money. "When one spouse plans for their financial goals in secret -- however minor they may be -- it creates suspicion and distrust."

But what about little purchases, like those jeans you saw on sale or your "emergency" credit card? Is that really so bad? Sixty percent think hiding a purchase from a spouse or keeping a private credit card is a huge breach of trust, but not a deal breaker. Only 6 percent consider it a serious offense.

"People hide money for obvious reasons," Rich says. "Lots of times, a couple can't agree on how to spend their money, so in an effort not to create problems in the marriage, they hide their indulgences. But it's not only women who spend in secret. Men are just as guilty -- if not more."

According to Rich, women tend to be more conservative with their finances. Chalk it up to women planning for the future since we know they live longer than men, or maybe it's that women move in and out of the work force more frequently so they try to conserve. Guys, on the other hand, are bigger risk takers. "Men often secretly spend money in the stock market," Rich says. "For women, it's usually material items such as clothing or beauty treatments."

So how can you avoid financial infidelity?

"It's crucial to know your partner's financial values and to plan mutual long-term goals, so there are no surprises," says Rich. And know this: People's spending habits are largely formed from childhood and it's common to adopt your parent's attitudes about money. How you feel about money pre-dates the relationship, so don't think you can suddenly change your partner's priorities. It takes time to learn to work together.

"If you're going to share one main account, it's wise to keep separate -- but not secret -- accounts for each of you to spend on things just for you," Rich says.

Here, confessions from three moms who cheat with their checkbooks:

• "I don't tell my husband how much I spend on gifts. I just buy them in spurts so that he doesn't notice. And sometimes I'll buy holiday presents in the summer and store them for later."

• "When I spend more than I feel I should, and I don't want my husband to know, I pay half in cash and half on credit. That way, there's no way to track how much I really spent."

• "I have a secret account that my husband doesn't know about. I put back $100 a week just in case."

How do you spend in secret?

next: Fat Princess Controversy Overblown?
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Lesa July 31, 2008, 10:32 AM

I can only comment on the 3 given examples because I don’t hide purchases or keep a secret account.

#1 - I see no problem with this, it actually makes sense to purchase gifts this way. He must realize something and is o.k. with it because gifts don’t grow on trees.

#2 - This is a sneaky lying person. It wouldn’t surprise me if she were cheating as well. You couldn’t trust this person to tell you if it were rainy outside, you’d have to look for yourself. Very untrustworthy character.

#3 - This person is either expecting to leave the marriage or is doubtful it will last. She hasn’t committed herself 100%, that’s for sure. Maybe there’s a good reason to sock it away. Maybe she suspects he’s fooling around. Whatever the situation is she doesn’t expect to be there much longer.

Rhonda July 31, 2008, 11:24 AM

Thanks for posting this article. I agree, I think when a person does lie or keep a financial secret, it is sending a red flag that I need to stop ignoring. If a person is going to lie or justify on the little things it does make it difficult to trust them completely. I am looking forward to reading his book.

4Shiggles August 29, 2008, 8:35 PM


Barring all cases of bipolar psychological disorders or extreme domestic abuse, HIDING DEBT from your spouse is in the SAME category as CHEATING! It is a deception, a breach of trust on the same scale. No, your spouse does not run the risk of bringing home cooties, or getting some bimbo knocked-up as in the case of an adulterous affair. However, your spouse will most likely bring home hardship, disgrace, instability, struggle, distrust, great expense, and the ringing of bill collectors all day and all night. Oh yeah, and don’t forget all of the missed opportunities that go by while your working two jobs to pay back credit card companies at 29% interest. Worth it? C’mon people, has the collective character of our great country stooped so low in recent times? Are unnecessary goods, services, and keeping up with the Jones of more importance than the psychological, financial, and emotional stability within your very home?

I am what you would call a saver. This is the fashionable distinction to make these days; either you’re a SPENDER or a SAVER…whatever. Let me just say that I think this distinction is a load of crap. Either you are a responsible adult accountable for your actions, or you are behaving like an out of control child. The laws of money are based on simple mathematics that you learned in grade school. Apply them and you will reap success, forgo them and you will suffer more or less like those other fools out there right now getting foreclosed on. The banks and credit card companies don’t care how emotionally needy you were while you drank your $6 latte’s, bought a hummer, or just had to impress the neighbors with this, that, and the other thing. Unless you file for bankruptcy, you are basically on the hook, a slave to the lender. And another thing, the banks and lenders are smarter than you, they hire finance MBAs and PhDs who will work 80hrs per week figuring out how to get you in debt and keep you there.

How do I know this – EXPERIENCE. I was married to just such a person; she duped me three times in our 8yr marriage. Each time with a promise to change and that it would never happen again. I bailed us out of it each time, and when enough time went by and I let my guard down, she did it again. This third and final time I am forced to file bankruptcy, attempt to sell my house in a down market (all offers have been less than I paid for the home), my credit is ruined because she put my name on some of the cards which she never intended to pay, and to forfeit all of the sweat equity that I put into this home over the past four years of back breaking renovations that were done on nights and weekends after my 60 hour work week.

Ben keith September 22, 2008, 11:18 PM

Found this thought you could “use” it!
just an idea Becky

Kristy December 4, 2008, 1:01 PM

This is crazy. I have a husband that will not allow me to spend one cent on anything for myself and if I do there is a huge argument. So I have a little secret account. If he could be more reasonable, things would be different. I think that I even go to extremes in a negative way becuase of the pressure and guilt of having to have a secret account. I don’t want a divorce. I also can’t work as hard as I do and not be able to spend $20 without there being a huge argument or severe interrogation. It’s crazy.

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