Wednesday, July 1

Financial infidelity

Photo by Kathryn,

For awhile, I had a hobby that involves collecting. I still have my collection, but I'm trying not to spend much to expand it. In fact, I had to stop participating on a related message board. I loved the people on there, but it just fueled my materialism. Badly.

There are days when I miss the community. It was all women, from teens to grandmothers. Many of the members were collectors along with their daughters, which helped them bond. It was a lot of fun to chat with women across the country and, sometimes, world. They were all very supportive and interesting.

There was really only one thing about the board that galled me. A decent chunk of the women talked openly about lying to their spouses. We're not talking about adultery, of course. But they would hide their spending, which I found mind-blowing. Frankly, I still do.

I guess I'm naive, but I grew up with the assumption of joint accounts. While, of course, I'm a firm believer that one person should be financial head of household, I always sort of assumed that both partners would be on the same page. That means being aware of purchases and credit card amounts.

Apparently, some of these women didn't agree. They went so far as to "lol" about it in messages and posts. They treated it as simply another detail in life. Get the kids off to school, answer some email, get groceries, and buy something without hubby finding out.

Their nonchalance may actually have been worse than the lying. At least a few had the decency to be sheepish about their spending. They would admit to spending money they shouldn't have and seem unhappy about the idea of having to hide the purchase. They would at least, then, pay lip service to cutting down on their buying.

Even so, there always seemed to be an air of self-absolution. As though sneaking around behind their partners' backs was excusable because it was about consumption. As though it were no big deal, because their husbands were grumpy about spending. (Which, for all I knew, they could have every right to be.)

Most of them, though, were pretty open about the deceit. They would talk about putting the items away in the closet, among holiday and birthday gifts. That way, they could claim they had bought it for a daughter. (Bringing your kids into it? Really?)

A couple of women I resold items to had me send them the tracking code. This way, they'd be there to intercept the package. Their husbands would never see it and so would never ask what it was or how much it cost. Frankly, it made me a little queasy to do transactions like that.

Other board members would joke about hiding things in plain sight. They would simply add it to the collections they had on display. On the (very) off-chance a husband noticed it, the women would claim it had been there for ages. I got the impression they'd go so far as to laugh and tell hubby he wasn't very observant.

I mean, I can kind of understand not disclosing a purchase. Okay, not really understand. But I guess it is more conceivable to me to not mention a buy (and just hope it goes unnoticed) than to flat-out lie to your partner's face.

These women went to pretty good lengths to disguise their buying. It made me wonder about their finances and why they had to be so secretive. Were they deeply in debt? Could they just not stop spending? Were they supposed to be saving for some shared goal?

Granted, I've never been a stay-at-home mom. Or a mom at all, for that matter. Some of these women worked outside the home, others had home-based businesses and others were full-time stay-at-home moms. Perhaps they had too much time to wander the net and find things they shouldn't buy. It can be a danger of web surfing, for sure. I've found a zillion "dream" items: shoes, jewelry, collectibles, etc.

Just overall... If I have to work that hard to hide purchases (assuming it's not a gift for Tim) I'm going to take that as a sign that something's not right. Call me a goodie-two-shoes. Or naive. I think it's more about being financially sane.

I think for some of these women, it was almost out of their control. They felt compelled to complete collections, to get the things that they thought they needed. Except that there will always be more things (especially thanks to eBay) and new items coming out.

Actually, for me, that's what keeps me from spending sprees. By and large, you buy a lot of things beause there are so many items you want and think you need. You're trying to stop that feeling that there's something out there you don't have. But I know that, even if I were to get everything my little heart desired, within a couple of months, I'd find more. It would never be finished. I would never be done, no matter how much I spent. Really, that goes for any category of buying, I think.

So I guess I'm lucky that I didn't fall into the trap. Just another case of low-income status being a good thing, I suppose. It really dispels the notion that you can just do a whirlwind of shopping and be done forever.

Still, I'm left with the question: Why did these women act this way? I mean, can you really hide your purchases from your partner like that? Does it really work? Wouldn't the husbands notice the missing funds, the lower account balance or the higher credit card bill?

Even if they could get away with it in the short term -- perhaps they were in charge of balancing the checkbook and paying bills -- I cannot imagine how it could work out over a longer period of time. How long, really, can you keep a lie going? Or keep such a bad habit a secret?

I mean, what's the best case scenario here? That they lied about spending because they were embarrassed by their excess? Maybe, then, you should focus on that as a sign that something's wrong. More likely, they weren't supposed to be spending the money for budgetary reasons. So they were sabotaging their own finances.

Probably, the women weren't thinking that far ahead. Clearly, they also weren't thinking about just how big a violation they were perpetrating on their spouses.

They were not just betraying their husbands financially. They were also betraying their husbands' trust. They were actively trying to obscure the truth, whether it was by not talking about a buy, lying about costs or actually hiding purchases. These women were putting in jeopardy the basic trust that is so important to keeping a marriage healthy.

If partners can't trust each other, how can they live together? How can they find common ground?

The fact is, these women were unfaithful to their husbands. It was financial infidelity but infidelity all the same. This habit of theirs was destructive and, frankly, dumb. I know there are plenty of rationales. Some of them might even be convincing, but I very much doubt that any of them are worth losing your spouse's trust.

Have you ever lied about a purchase to your partner? Have you ever had a partner lie to you? Why do you think people do this?



Blogger Shtinkykat said...

Since I'm single, I don't have to worry about these issues. But if I do become seriously involved with someone, I think I'll try Suze Orman's recommendation of having a joint account and a his and hers account. (An adult version of the monthly allowance.) With the individual accounts, there's no need to sneak around since it's supposed to be a fund that you can use at your own discretion without spousal approval. Financial infidelity is a slippery slope and destructive. Too bad these ladies don't see that.

July 1, 2009 at 4:41 AM

Blogger Alissa said...

I've dealt with financial infidelity from the other end of things, though in my case it was more than a purchase here and there - think lying about having a job when he had been fired. Anyway, that is why I am single and not all that interested in marriage or long term relationships. Yes, it is harder to get by on one income, but at least I know I can rely on myself and don't have to worry about someone else's behavior.

I have known women to be in very ugly marriages where the abuse was not of the physical sort but the financial sort, men that counted out every penny and had to approve every purchase that their wife made. Usually in these cases the men were allowed to spend money on things that they thought were important, but that might look like frivolity to a casual observer. I think money is a huge issue in a healthy relationship and I think it is ignored by a lot of relationship books out there.

July 1, 2009 at 5:26 AM

Anonymous Meg said...

I agree w/ the his, mine and ours method of dividing money. There's no reason to discuss every purchase w/ each other (especially on individual hobbies) as long as we don't spend household money on it. I wouldn't blow a pile of cash on something and pretend it had always been in the closet (sketchy!), but I think sharing too much can also make stress. If one person wants, say, a $20 DS game and the other wants 5 $4 lattes, it can ruin some of the enjoyment by having to justify -- or feeling the need to justify -- why we "need" that.

July 1, 2009 at 8:34 AM

Blogger Abby said...


I'm all for ours/his/hers. Or, as Tim and I call it, "mad money." (Since ours is too small to bother with separate accounts.)

It's never quite clear to me what these women had in re: financial setup with husbands. I know some worked. Others didn't.


Ouch. I know the male ego is fragile, but I have *never* been able to imagine such a huge lie being perpetuated like that.

And I certainly know that some marriages can have a form of finance-related emotional abuse. I have a rather close relative who experienced just that. Though I wasn't fully aware of it until later on.

I have also certainly noticed that fewer men seem to question the frivolity of what they want than women do. An annoying trend in my eyes. Still.

Many of these women were spending well over $100 in secret purchases. In just one or two transactions. In all likelihood, they were spending hundreds a month, at times. Kind of terrifying. But yet another reason why it's important to get a healthy agreement on money before committing.


Of course there's no reason to discuss every purchase. I'm all for having some discrete funds to spend however you want. Without judgment from the other party.

And, of course, I don't know exactly what these women's financial agreements were with their husbands. Still, we're not talking about a $20 game. Generally, these were $50-100 purchases a pop. Kind of terrifying things to hide.

July 1, 2009 at 11:10 AM

Anonymous Shevy said...

Yes, but just bear in mind that for every woman buying beads or wool or scrapbooking materials, there's a guy on ebay buying hockey jerseys, obscure CDs, photos of dead rock stars, etc. and they're not all telling their wives about it either.

It's just easier when you're single because your purchases don't have to make sense to anyone else and if you pile on the debt it's only your problem.

July 6, 2009 at 12:23 PM


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home