I finally finished my taxes last night and like many of you I breathed my annual sigh of relief. Reviewing the details of our financial picture can be grueling and even painful. It’s easy to go through the year with blinders on when we over spend or make poor decisions. But in April of each year we have no choice but to lay it all out for Uncle Sam! Our tax return is an exercise in full disclosure to the government, but more importantly, to each other.
As I plodded through our receipts I was glad there were no surprises. I know this is becoming unusual for couples, married or not, who combine their finances. According to a January 2014 survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), a Denver based non-profit, one in 3 people who comingle finances also said they’d experienced financial deceit in their relationship.
That’s 33% and it’s not even in the bedroom!
Financial infidelity, as it is called, occurs when one partner is keeping financial secrets from the other. The secrets can come in many forms and they don’t have to be huge like the off shore bank accounts we hear about in movies. In fact, many instances of financial cheating occur in small doses where they are justified with excuses of “it’s not a big deal so why should I bother telling him/her.”
Are you guilty? Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you opened a personal savings account at a different bank? One where you put cash you “save” out of the weekly grocery budget?
- Have you opened a credit card at your favorite retailer in your own name that has purchases only you know about?
- Do you ever take “just a little bit” out of the weekly budget to spend on yourself and then blame any deficit on rising grocery costs?
- Have you asked your employer to pay you partly in cash and keep that money separate?
- Do you have one or more credit card bills sent to your office?
- Do you get nervous when the credit card bill comes because you’re just not sure if you’ve been honest about everything that’s on there?
If you find yourself nodding yes with a guilty smile you are a cheater.
A financial cheater
I know many people believe this is innocent. Almost like a game. I know, because I sit around and hear my own friends talk about ways they “fool” their spouses and end up with a new pair of shoes. But, as I tell even my closest friends, financial infidelity is simply trading the location – the bankbook for the bedroom. There’s no other way to look at it. You are cheating.
It is true that this type of infidelity usually raises different emotions than adultery when confronted, and can often be overcome through open and honest discussions. However, it is still a symptom of an underlying problem in a relationship. Why else would one partner feel the need to hide something from the other?
Through investigating many cases of suspected financial infidelity, I’ve come to believe that some of this can be attributed to the 20 and 30-somethings who are getting married later in life. It seems once adults are set in their spending or saving habits it is hard to change, and even more difficult to have to answer to someone. I find the older a couple is when they join finances, and the more they are earning at the time, directly influences their need to maintain control and privacy. Secrets inevitably follow and the seeds for suspicion and distrust are planted.
Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in apps and monitoring software that couples can use to do their own financial surveillance. The more we, as a society use technology to track our finances, the easier it has become for others to do the same. Apps that many parents use to track the whereabouts of their children can also be used to see if you’ve entered Bloomingdales – so beware! Or better yet, be honest.
It is both destructive and exhausting to keep secrets in a relationship. So, as April 15th comes and goes this year I encourage you to use this as an opportunity to take a long hard look at both your finances and your relationship. Instead of spending your energy keeping secrets, work at increasing communication and honesty. I promise you’ll be glad you did once next tax season rolls around!