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When Can You Lie About Money to Your Spouse?

This article was written by in Family and Life. 31 comments.


The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) has concluded through conducting an online poll that 31 percent of people who combine finances with their spouse or partner have been deceptive about money with the individuals who trust them. Some lies are more hurtful than other lies, so the study looks at the type of financial infidelity.

More than half of the respondents, 58%, hide money from their spouse. 54% hide minor purchases. Almost one third, 30%, hide bills or statements from their partner. 16% lie about a major purchase. 15% have a hidden bank account. 11% of those surveyed lie about their debt, and another 11% lie about how much they earn.

Although my finances are an open book, I understand why lying about money comes easily, particularly in new relationships. If you’re meeting a potential husband or wife for the first time, you want to put your best foot forward, and that often involves making yourself sounds like the ideal person, someone you want to be, other than sticking to the more boring truth. That embellishment could easily turn into a lie, and at the beginning of the relationship, some might be afraid of the other individual losing interest. At some point after that, you can’t go back and tell the truth because he or she doesn’t want to be branded a liar.

Unfortunately, long-term relationships can be founded on a misunderstanding of finances, and there may be no turning back.

If the temptation to exaggerate is so great, finances should probably be kept out of discussions until the couple is more intimate. When money doesn’t play a role in the initial attraction, there will be less of a need to embellish the situation in order to attract someone else.

The survey revealed that men and women were just as likely to lie about their finances, but women more often said they caught their partner in a lie. Men were significantly more likely to say that their partner was lying about a purchase, while women were significantly more likely to say their partner was lying about income or debt.

If a couple has decided not to combine their finances, there may be no reason to lie to your partner; what’s yours is yours. For those with combined finances, there is a trust that should not be broken. A therapist from Boston who has been working with couples who have experienced financial infidelity, offered his opinion to Forbes Magainze. Carlton Kendrick lists four primary reasons an individual might lie about money to his or her spouse, pragmatism, control, guilt, and fear:

The pragmatic lie may result from planning an eventual split and not wanting the other to know how much money is available. Financial infidelity for control may include revenge spending, as one partner overspends to prove their independence or to get back at the other for something lacking in the relationship. Knowingly irresponsible behavior may cause guilt and embarrassment, so the person attempts to cover it up. Deceit may also occur because they fear their partner’s reaction to the truth.

If it doesn’t affect your ability to pay for the expenses you need to cover, and if it doesn’t change your ability to meet other goals, you may have the opportunity to save money on the side for a surprise gift for your partner. This is a lie with good intentions. I’d prefer not to see savings on the side take the form of a lie, however; you can agree with your partner to have separate funds set aside for such occasions.

Are there any situations when it is justified to lie about money to your spouse?

The National Endowment for Financial Education, Forbes
Photo: klaaspieter

Published or updated February 2, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sustainable PFsus

A surprise gift. Mrs. SPF and I maintain 1 credit card each outside of our primary card where we use it to buy each other gifts for different occasions. We don’t want the other person to check our online statement and ask “what were you buying @ the chocolate store? you don’t eat chocolate!” or asking “why on earth would you spend money in the BBQ store?”. Obviously it is b/c we bought the other a gift – so we don’t want to a) ruin the surprise or b) reveal how much money was spent

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avatar retirebyforty

When you take your mistress out to lunch? No, lies have no place in the household finance. We each get $100/week cash allowance so we can do what ever we want with that money. Other than that, the household finance is an open book. Both partners should understand the household finance because you never know what can happen tomorrow. Maybe you get run over by a bus and the other person needs to know where you stash that gold bar.

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avatar Financial Samurai

Hahaha! Nice. One should definitely lie about that! Good thinking mate!

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avatar tbork84 ♦1,867 (Half-Dollar)

That would certainly be an occasion for having a separate account or credit card. I agree with your point though, if something terrible happens, someone should know where to find the important secret stashes.

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avatar kaidez

Never ever EVER lie to your spouse…about ANYTHING! Your life will be so much simpler if you always tell them the truth, even if they get angry at you. It’s better in the long run because you never have to worry about getting tripped up in a lie: simple but true.

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avatar Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

I don’t understand how hiding small purchases in lying about money. My wife takes out about $20 cash every so often to buy items for herself that I don’t need to know about. I have a seperate checking account that is used to pay my debt payments and then I about $20 each month to play with. Unless I’m getting something for her, I never tell her about it.

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avatar jim

Edward, not telling them about every single dime you spend isn’t the same as lying or hiding it. As long as you know shes spending the $20 then there is no lie or hiding.

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avatar Edward - Entry Level Dilemma

I still see it as more of a grey area. Actually, she’s yet to tell me about any of these $20 withdrawals, I just see them when I review the bank statement.

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avatar Squirrelers

I don’t think it’s a good idea to lie about money, at all. Honesty and trust should be the foundation for marriage, in my view. It doesn’t mean running to the spouse and explaining every dollar spent, but it means being open, honest, and fair. That said, if a gift is going to be given, it might ruin the moment if money is disclosed:)

Now, if a couple is not married, and are in the early to mid stages of dating, I think that keeping private one’s finances is acceptable. Not lying, but keeping quiet. If serious, I think it’s smart to have open and frank discussion when the time is right.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

i am not married, but i think the only time would be perhaps, maybe as you said, the “surprise gift.” other than something like that, i do not feel there is a time…ever.

i have never had a relationship where our finances were combined, but i have been in several “long term” relationships where we lived together and were open with our finances. i have never had a problem with this on my end, but i did have one girlfriend who had serious trouble with her finances. it did put a serious strain on our relationship because it was such an issue for her. there was no doubt she was more closed and hidden with her money, simply because she was ashamed of her financial situation. in my eyes, it did not help, but only hurt out relationship.

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avatar Marie@familymoneyvalues.com

No lies!
It sounds like the folks who answered the survey need to learn more about their own, and each others ‘money personality’. In Silver Spoon Kids How Successful Parents Raise Responsible Children by Eileen Gallo, P.H.D. and Jon Gallo, J.D, the Gallos discuss how to figure out your attitudes towards money acquisition, use and management and how to discuss these with your partner and your children. They present some practical quizzes and suggestions for working through these things. It’s a good read. Most of the focus is on training yourself to train the kids, and it works for anyone, not just those with money.

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avatar Bobka ♦13 (Newbie)

Wise partners do not attempt to hide the truth from each other regarding finances or any other important issue affecting the relationship. It would be quite difficult to answer the following question if posed by one’s spouse: “Since it is OK to lie about finances, what else is it OK to lie about?”

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avatar krantcents

I can’t think of a situation to lie to your spouse about money. Lies create a very slippery slope, if you lie bout money, what else do you lie about. If you are caught in the lie, trust goes out the window.

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avatar eric ♦1,549 (Half-Dollar)

I don’t think lying will get you anywhere really…especially in a long term relationship. That just sounds like a recipe for disaster.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

You should never lie about money to your spouse. It sets the stage for broken trust and disaster.

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avatar Cruxman ♦331 (Nickel)

It’s as simple as NO!

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avatar faithfueledbennetts ♦264 (Nickel)

The only time I think that might be acceptable is if you are trying to surprise your spouse with something. But even then, if he asked me, I might just say it’s a surprise, so leave it alone. Lies are just like anything else with 1 degree of change I think. You have to be careful not to let it go further and cause room for distrust in your marriage. A lie is a lie, no matter what it is about. I think honesty is best always, even with finances.

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avatar Rob Bennett

My wife keeps the family budget. So I need to provide her each week with a list of things I spend money on. One time I was trying to lose weight and had told her that I wouldn’t be buying Snickers bars for awhile. When I snuck out and bought one, I very much did not want to report that expense.,

I did.

I obviously feel stronger about the principle of not lying to my wife than I do about the principle of not eating too many Snickers bars.

Rob

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avatar SteveDH

Only during the period between buying her a gift (Christmas, birthday ETC) and giving to her – no exceptions!!

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avatar tigernicole86 ♦55 (Newbie)

Right now, we keep our finances separate but we’re honest about our debt and making the payments. After that, we don’t ask unless we have a goal that we’re contributing to(such as fixing up our house). Other than that, it’s not lying until we start putting our finances all together. But if our finances were tied together, we know we would be honest unless gifts were involved of course. :)

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avatar Sandy @ yesiamcheap

Alright let’s hear it from the other side. I’m not married but my BF and I have been together for well over a decade and live together. I am and have been the sole bread winner, and I made a major purchase back in April and still haven’t told him. What did I buy? A rental property.

Guilt by omission? Sure. Do I feel bad about not telling him? Sometimes. Why did I do it? Long story short, we had looked at some investment properties and he wanted me to purchase something more expensive than the one that I did purchase. It was out of my budget. When the opportunity later came to purchase a home from a friend that was within my budget, he adamantly refused me begin able to buy the house. The reason? He didn’t think that I should buy the home from this friend because he doesn’t know my friend as well as I know him. It seemed like the most irrational argument to me and he was not open to even hearing the numbers, seeing the house, looking at the break-even analysis or anything.

When I have someone that puts up a wall in front of me when something seems like a clear win situation I just walk around the wall. A number of years ago I would have deferred and not said anything. I have walked away from too many “win” situations because of his sometimes irrational and rash decision making process in the past to let this one slip by me. Plus, he will inherit his very elderly parents’ already paid for , 16X more expensive home, so he had no real vested interest in making a purchase.

After trying to convince him for a month and him refusing to hear about it, I went ahead and purchased it. I took half of my 401K out to pay for the home in cash. That 401K loan will be paid off in another 51 bi-weekly payments (2 years, 3 months) and I won’t regret it.

Shit happens. My BF and I could split up tomorrow and I would regret not buying the home. For now, I’m happy with my decision. So yes, I’ve hid a major purchase, and I’m not regretting it.

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avatar moneymatters ♦357 (Nickel)

I think it’s important to be honest and open about everything in a relationship, because without that open communication, you’re going to have issues whether you care to admit it or not.

I always hear the excuse that “we NEED to have separate accounts and keep secrets about money because I want to surprise my significant other on their birthday”. In reality I think in a lot of those situations people just want to have more control over the shared money, and be able to spend on things they want – without having to tell the other person. They justify it by saying it is only for gifts/etc, when in reality they use it for other things as well.

Have I ever lied about money? Yes. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but it was. It caused a fissure in the trust – even though it was a relatively minor expense. It was about the larger issue of being one in a marriage, and sharing everything – and by not including my wife in a decision, it hurt her – even though it wasn’t in my mind “a big deal”.

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avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

Honesty is the best policy! Such a true cliche. I have discovered in my five years of marriage that being honest when you mess up is the best way to keep a relationship from breaking apart. Yeah it might hurt to tell the truth sometimes but if you don’t then your spouse’s trust in you can be shattered as well as your relationship.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

Very timely article…I am getting married in a few months and right after I accepted his proposal and ring, he told me about some back tax problems that are going to make it difficult for us to buy a new home together. At this point, I am qualifying for a mortgage on my own, everything will be in my name alone. I was really angry at him for not telling me sooner about these issues, but I am slowly getting over it. My finances are in pretty good order for the most part, thank goodness.

I’ve heard many times that people would rather talk about their sex lives than open up their checkbook register. Something about how we spend and manage money (or don’t) must reveal our character more clearly than any of our other habits.

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avatar gotr31 ♦224 (Cent)

There is never a good reason to lie about money to your spouse! It is no wonder though, seeing those statistics, that so many marriages end in divorice due to finacial issues.

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avatar Will @ HackingTheBank.com ♦258 (Nickel)

As someone who posts about his finance online, it’s difficult for me to fathom getting into any relationship without have a completely open financial book. I live with my girlfriend and she is able to find out as much as she wants about my finances. She knows I owe $30k in student loans. She knows I buy wayyyyy too much Starbucks. It’s crazy to think that some people keep these things hidden until they’re about to get married, or even after they get married. I’ve heard people call in to Dave Ramsey saying that they’ve been married a few months and just found out that their husband has $15k in debt. WTF. If you marry someone without knowing his/her financial books, then that’s your bad move. If you attempt to find out, yet he/she hides stuff from you that you don’t find out until you get married…that’s called lying, and I don’t think it should be tolerated.

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avatar Heather

I can’t think of any legit reason to lie about financial things. When we’re doing gifts, we have limits on how much to spend and just use cash.

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avatar rewards ♦31 (Newbie)

Only before her birthday….

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avatar dawgette ♦199 (Cent)

I don’t think it is acceptable to lie to your spouse about money. The vows taken say to honor one another and lying would create mistrust and snowball from there.

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avatar Michele

I just ended a relationship with a man who was self-employed and trying to hide his tax burden. We dated for 2 years before moving in together. I had a regular income and his was here and there. Because mine was steady, I took care of a majority of the bills. He up and left this month due to “financial reasons” I knew nothing about. After a few discussions I found out he owed the IRS tens of thousands of dollars! His ability to contribute to the family was extremely hindered. But I trusted him in the beginning – he was bringing in the money, but wasn’t paying his taxes.

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avatar Daisy

If it’s not a big deal, why lie about it? If you’re married to someone in this country, I assume it’s because of something more than convenience. I am not married, but I am in a long term relationship. We are brutally honest about our finances and our debts. It puts the other at ease. Justifying one lie will simply lead the way to justify other “small things” that are “no big deal.” Don’t let it snowball!

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