How to Catch Financial Infidelity in Marriage Red-Handed

financial infidelityI’ve received numerous emails from readers with money questions that they’ve had. However, one in particular stood out to me because it was about marriage and finances — particularly, where do you draw the line when it comes to financial transparency between you and your spouse?

Hiding Money From Your Spouse

Mitch (not his real name), a single guy at the time, had a situation at work which prompted a question: How big of a deal is it to hide money from a spouse?

“… We received our vacation paychecks, which is what my company pays us for any unused vacation time.  Normally, the policy is that you use the vacation time or lose it, but this year, management wanted to reach a certain number of earned work hours and decided to pay workers for unused vacation time, thus providing an incentive [for] working towards the earned hours goal versus taking vacation time.

So when we received our vacation checks today, some of my co-workers were like kids in the candy shop because this is money that their wives won’t know about.  Wives don’t exactly know how much vacation time their husband has used or accrued during the year.  So when the vacation paychecks were received in hand, some of my co-workers were thinking about electronic gadgets to buy or planning to go out and have a good time.

Since your blog deals with building financial freedom together, do you think this is alright when my co-workers splurge a bit with money that their significant others won’t know about?  Or do you think my co-workers should tell their significant others about their vacation checks and put it towards their financial goals?”

Make Your Money Work for You

My first reaction to this was surprise at what seemed to be a common attitude at his job. Was this a one time deal, or was hiding money routine? Were his co-workers afraid of their spouses’ spending habits? If so, why didn’t they tackle the problem rather than adjust around it?

The idea of secret bank accounts — your spouse socking away money without you knowing — is scary. If you discover your husband or wife has been hiding a secret savings account, you start to wonder what else is hidden. You lose trust, which can damage a relationship greatly.

What Constitutes Financial Infidelity in Marriage?

The question for some is: How do you define financial infidelity? Where do you draw that line? For me, hiding things from your spouse — a bank account, a bonus, your credit card’s real balance — crosses that line.

If you find you’ve become a victim of financial infidelity, solving the problem begins with a willingnewss to sit down and get the real answers to tough questions:

  • Why did this happen?
  • How long has this gone on?
  • Why keep the other spouse in the dark?
Make Your Money Work for You

From what I’ve seen, financial infidelity isn’t about the money. It’s a symptom of a bigger problem, whether it’s control, fear, trust or selfishness. Couples who deal with the underlying cause of it tend to survive and grow in their relationships. Just focusing on the money doesn’t usually fix the problem.

Keeping an Eye Out for Financial Infidelity

One way a couple can stay on the same page about their finances is by using tools that help keep one another in the loop. A handy tool for this is Mint. It’s free and you can see the transactions of all of your financial accounts in one place.

An especially helpful feature is the budget alert system. You can set it up to receive text messages or emails to let you know when you’ve reached a spending limit.

I also recommend reviewing the family’s finances once a month to make sure income and expenses match up. Even if one spouse handles the day-to-day money transactions, both have to be aware of the budget and actual spending. Doing it once a year can allow a bad money decision to snowball into a huge financial mess for a family.

Make Your Money Work for You

Marriage and Finances: It Varies by Couple

Each couple is unique, so its finances will no doubt reflect that. For us, having most of our money in joint accounts keeps us on the same page about the family’s finances. We can login online and see the balance, upcoming bills and what’s just been paid. We view our family as a team — we created our goals (financial and otherwise) together.

At the same time, husbands and wives should have a little fun money accounted into the family’s spending for the hard work they’ve put in (whether it’s at an office or home). If there is no pressure release in the budget, it can be tempting to hide spending when a spouse just wanted to have a bit of fun.

There are no secret accounts between us because we each have some money stashed in individual accounts to spend as we see fit. Most of it is spent on gifts for each other and friends, eating out for lunch and gas for the cars. However, if we wanted to know the balance on the each other’s accounts, it would take five minutes to find out.

Related: Bad Credit? Getting Married Can Fix That

Photo credit: Ashley Deason

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About the Author

Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez is the creator and host of the award-winning site Couple Money, which is focused on helping spouses come together with their finances. She's also the author of Jumpstart Your Marriage and Your Money. 

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