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5 tips for avoiding financial infidelity

Posted November 21

A recent poll found that two in five Americans admit to committing “financial infidelity” against their romantic partner. 39% surveyed disclosed that they have hidden a purchase, bill, bank account or cash. Surprisingly, 16% admit that they have engaged in more serious deception such as lying about their income or debt.

When it comes to sharing finances with your partner, is hiding details about spending the same as lying? This question reminds me of an anxious middle schooler on the day report cards are sent home. When parents ask, “How are your grades?” the student quickly responds, “I got three A’s and two B’s” while excluding the C- received in math. Sooner or later, parents always find out the truth, and the “selective omission” never stays hidden for long.

The fine line of finances and relationships

Financial infidelity occurs “when couples with combined finances lie to each other about money.” But to some, it isn’t quite so easy to define. One couple may decide that hiding accounts and lying about income or debts is a serious breach of the relationship, while others think that some degree of secret spending does not violate trust.

What works for you and your spouse needs to be discussed openly. A couple who agrees to completely merge their finances may have one set of expectations, while there may be a completely different set of expectations in relationships where finances are completely or partially separate.

Is hiding purchases, accounts or financial decisions dangerous or harmful for a relationship? Your opinion may differ, but I can make a clear argument that anything deliberately kept secret is probably not healthy for the relationship. Chances are, if you feel the need to keep it on the down-low, there’s a reason why you don't feel comfortable telling your spouse.

While the majority of people in a romantic relationship believe that secret accounts or spending is unacceptable, many continue to hide financial details from their partners.

So where do we draw the line for the health of our romantic relationships? Is hiding the same as lying?

Let’s be honest, who hasn’t spent more money than was wise without talking to their spouse first? Most relationships can weather through an occassional slip up. What spells trouble, however, are the significant betrayals. In most cases, an ill-timed shopping spree of a couple hundred dollars is simply not seen as a violation of trust in the same way that lying about a secret credit card or savings account is.

5 tips to help you avoid financial infidelity

We don’t enter into relationships with the intention of sabotaging them, but our behavior can sometimes undermine our best efforts. If you want to avoid the stress of financial infidelity, here are five tips to keep you on track:

Communicate expectations early on

I’m not suggesting that you tackle this topic when you first start dating, but if you are committed enough to move toward marriage, it’s time to have this talk. Agree together on a budget and spending priorities. Disclose all accounts, debts and investments up front so there is no temptation to hide them down the road.

Determine what level of spending is acceptable

Many couples find it helpful to have a personal allowance or spending threshold that each partner can use at their discretion.

Practice transparency

Hiding erodes trust. It’s fine not to communicate everything you spend your money on, as long as you aren’t deliberately hiding details. If you feel the need to hide, it might be time to think about why you want to keep secrets.

Have mutual financial goals

Goals are vital to financial success, but they won’t help in a relationship if the goals are not shared by both parties. Do you and your partner have the same financial goals? It might be a good time to decide on what those should be.

Recognize your spending triggers

Whether it’s boredom, loneliness, stress or addiction, there are triggers that can cause us to make unwise decisions. Figure out what triggers you to spend money impulsively so you can actively manage that behavior.

Deciding to be faithful to your spouse means being honest in your finances. Don't let financial fidelity pull you apart — your partner and your budget will thank you!

CESI is a non-profit Credit Counseling firm that helps consumers achieve financial freedom by offering a complete life cycle of services: debt management, housing counseling, credit counseling, financial education and pre/post-bankruptcy counseling.

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