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by The Ascent Staff | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on Feb. 25, 2019
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Something is amiss. The credit card statements contain a series of atypical purchases, and the bank statements aren't adding up. You double-checked everything, and then suspicion creeps up on you. When asked about a string of recent purchases, your partner's explanation was deceptive and shallow. Could it be infidelity?
The good news is that your partner is not engaging in a physical or emotional affair. Instead, you're experiencing what experts describe as financial infidelity.
There is nothing new about couples arguing over money. In fact, it's the top reason for tension among couples. Have you ever lied to your spouse or partner about money or a financial issue? Come on; be honest. Have you racked up credit card debt they knew nothing about or used an account you claim was dedicated to company expenses to hide a recent purchase?
How does your financial behavior compare to your partner's? We'll examine the signs on what couples can look for and provide ways to avoid the issue altogether.
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The chances are high that a family member, friend, or perhaps a spiritual advisor recommended discussing finances with your partner when the relationship transitioned from casual to committed. After all, the financial decisions that both partners make will impact the other – for better or worse.
Couples tend to create financial goals by discussing when to make major purchases such as cars, furniture, or a home. Picking out minor details such as colors or models is simple compared to arranging financing options.
There are several great habits that couples can follow to help ensure their mutual financial well-being. Realistically speaking, any relationship will likely come with its fair share of conflicting financial priorities, and compromises don't always leave both parties equally satisfied.
During one's free and easy single days, making financial decisions was easy. That certainly changes when you enter a committed relationship. Our survey noted that 65 percent of men and 47 percent of women desired an item that their current relationship prohibited them from buying.
But what's the harm if you splurge a little even when you know that your partner won't be thrilled? After all, 61 percent of respondents admitted to doing just that. For starters, you just might find yourself in an argument. Among those people, 4 in 5 had argued with their partner over a purchase.
That plight, however, wasn't restricted to only people who knowingly made a controversial purchase – more than half of people who had never intentionally bought something behind their partner's back still argued over a purchase.
Most couples don't try to "nickel and dime" each other. Everything costs money, and everyday expenses such as buying food, fueling a vehicle, or taking the train to work are a part of life. A common understanding that often needs to develop between couples is how much they're allowed to spend without consulting each other.
Most of our respondents admitted they try to be transparent with their partner when it comes to finances. They also believed what they usually spend is appropriate and that talking about money isn't difficult. In fact, only 18 percent kept most purchases a secret.
Is there a specific amount of money for which you should give your partner advance notice before spending? How much would you spend without getting their approval or engaging in a joint decision-making process?
According to our male respondents, $261 was as much as they'd like their partner to spend before letting them know about it. That amount jumped to just under five hundred dollars before they asked their partner to bring them into the decision-making process.
For women, the amounts were a tad lower. They were willing to let their partner spend $227 before getting a heads-up and $427 before entering the joint decision-making arena.
The good news is that 68 percent thought their allocation of spending was fair, compared to the 70 percent who felt discussing finances in the relationship was easy. Over half of respondents still wished they had more spending freedom.
Responses from our survey participants point to a common theme when the subject of financial infidelity arises: Most have committed financial infidelity but don't believe they have.
Case in point, 67 percent said they have never breached this type of trust, yet 71 percent admitted to committing financial infidelity at least once. If this seems contradictory, it is.
What exactly is financial infidelity? For some insight on the phenomenon, we reached out to Denise Kautzer, a licensed clinical counselor and a certified public accountant who specializes in helping couples struggling with economic issues, especially financial infidelity.
"Financial infidelity is dishonest conduct about important aspects of finances within a relationship," Kautzer explained in an email response.
Slightly more men responded by saying they have never committed financial infidelity, while marginally more women admitted to at least one occurrence.
The most common type of financial infidelity found in our survey was hiding a purchase price, followed by lying about the cost of something. Mens' most likely misdeed was concealing a purchase price, and the most common issue for women was hiding an item they purchased without their partner's knowledge.
In a blog post on her website titled, "Financial Infidelity: How to Recover When Your Partner Has Not Been Honest," Kautzer points out that both partners should accept responsibility for their financial actions.
"As you face facts about your situation, you may begin to recognize some basic perceptions of money, spending, and financial security," noted Kautzer. "To recover, first call this what it is: Cheating, Betrayal, Deceit, Pain. It's serious, and it hurts. Check in with your partner frequently to talk about your progress or problems."
Considering how highly the various purchase deceptions ranked, we decided to look at the purchases themselves and the various spending decisions that each gender lied about the most.
While there are certainly some areas of overlap, spending priorities differed among the genders. Male respondents said the purchases they most often kept from their partner were electronic devices, alcohol, gambling, and hobby-related purchases.
For women, clothing, gifts for others, cosmetics, and home decor topped their list of purchases most often lied about.
One unanimous guilty pleasure: fast food. Grabbing too many supersized quarter-pound burger deals at lunch when your partner thinks you're sticking to the paleo diet might be hard to deny when an extra few inches begin to appear around your waistline.
Health experts say one reason is that many people, either intentionally or unintentionally, have a skewed sense of what constitutes a healthy diet. The questions a partner might ask such as "Were your eating habits healthy today?" or "Did you follow our diet plan today?" could evoke responses lined in half-truths, like saying you enjoyed the meat and greens without admitting to eating the bun and potatoes fried in grease.
Both genders lied about certain purchases, and men lied about bigger amounts of money. We were curious to see the most significant percentage difference between what men and women would mislead a partner about.
Compared to women, men were five times more likely to lie about car-related purchases. They were four times more likely to mislead their partner about a purchase involving sports and three times more likely to skirt the truth about buying tools.
The amount of money that men lied about was more considerable, yet women were much more likely to lie about a cosmetic purchase, purses, home decor, and nail care.
Before any men start nodding their heads too quickly, let's revisit the fact that men were willing to lie about larger amounts. $500 was the average cost of the most substantial purchase men lied about, compared to $364 for women.
The average cost of purchases men usually lied about was $167, compared to $118 for women. Men were also more likely to tell fibs about spending on gambling, electronic devices, and alcohol.
Infidelity, regardless of the type, can present major challenges in any committed relationship. However, and according to those in this survey, financial infidelity isn't considered a "serious" problem in the way that many other problems are.
Many have pondered the question, "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make any noise?" Another situation to consider is: If you committed financial infidelity but have never been caught, are you guilty?
About half of respondents who admitted to committing financial misdeeds inside a serious relationship said they have never been caught.
There is little doubt that most people consider sexual infidelity a severe relationship challenge. The same holds true in this survey. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 considered the most extreme, sexual infidelity and emotional manipulation were considered the greatest relationship challenges, both topping the chart with a 4.2 rating.
A lack of communication, deception about having children, and deception regarding a partner's romantic availability captured the next three spots. But what about financial chicanery?
Financial deception regarding debt came in at the seventh spot on our list of serious relationship challenges, ranking slightly lower than a lack of transparency about feelings. Taking the 10th and 11th spots were financial deception concerning assets or earnings and dishonesty about purchases.
Other issues ranking below financial ones included problems with a partner's family and religious and political differences.
Deception within a committed relationship is never smart, especially when finances are involved.
Getting on the same financial page with your partner isn't only smart, but can pay huge dividends down the road. If you believe financial or relationship counseling is needed, then take time to find a qualified counselor with experience in dealing with financial matters.
For this study, we surveyed 1,000 people who were married, engaged, or in other committed relationships. To ensure that all respondents took our study seriously, they were required to pass a carefully masked attention-check question. 427 of our respondents were male, and 573 were female. Our average respondent was 38 years old.
Due to the subjective nature of relationships and relationship status, respondents were not given specific criteria for what constituted any specific relationship status. Respondents were presented with a list of relationship statuses and selected the one that most closely reflected their relationship status at the time of the survey.
Outliers have been removed where necessary to maintain statistical accuracy, particularly in instances where average costs were calculated. In some cases, questions and responses have been rephrased for clarity or brevity; in all of these cases, an emphasis was placed on accurately representing the original intent of the respondents. Due to rounding, all percentages may not round up to 100. These data are intended to be used for entertainment only. These data rely on self-reporting; potential issues with self-reporting include the following: exaggeration, selective memory, telescoping, and attribution errors.
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