How to Avoid Financial Infidelity

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Did you know that many people not only get a Starbucks coffee once a day but multiple times each and every day? Well, color me surprised when I found out that my wife, Emma, belonged to this group for at least a few months.

It’s really not a huge deal when I think about it since she is frugal in other ways and our finances can handle her small guilty pleasure. If getting their sweet tea floats her boat, then by all means. After all, money is meant to help us live more comfortably and not just to be saved. On the other hand, does she know that she’s the wife of the owner of a decently popular personal finance blog that routinely tells people how skipping small purchases can add up to huge savings?

Surprise! Or at least that’s what it felt like she yelled out when she told me her routine a few months ago.

And don’t laugh at me just yet because your spouse could be hiding purchases from you too. A few of my friends admitted to buying stuff and hiding shopping bags and Amazon boxes from their significant other before. According to, one in five Americans spent $500 or more without telling their partner. Six percent even have hidden credit cards and checking accounts that their partners don’t even know about. There was even a minivan commercial a few years back showing a wife hiding shopping bags in the storage compartment underneath the seats of a vehicle to showcase all the storage inside. Financial infidelity is more common than you think.

But enough of me talking about what could happen. How do you avoid the situation from happening in the first place? Here’s what you need to do.

Be understanding and open without being judgmental about money matters.
One thing I learned as a parent is that I am the reason why my kids hide stuff from me. If I start yelling at them, or look down upon them when they confess their inappropriate actions, then they will tell me a little less next time. If I were just as enthusiastic about Starbucks rewards as Emma is, then it’s obvious that she would’ve told me about how the store app encourages users to visit multiple times a day by giving out rewards for it.

If you are judgmental and critical about how your partner spends money, then you can bet that there will be a tendency to be less truthful about how money is spent.

Respect other people’s wishes.
You may like saving as much as you can to retire as early as possible, but your partner may rather live more freely now and keep working longer. Both partner’s wishes can be satisfied without issue because you can retire earlier than your spouse and everyone can still be happy. If you followed the first point and are open with your spouse, then both of you will know what to expect and can plan together for the future.

Sure, you may need to shoulder a little more financial responsibility in retirement because you are more frugal than your partner, but that’s just the fact of life when you live with someone else. You save more, and that asset of yours will benefit the family more than your fair share. It’s just like how you’ll probably pay more of the fixed expenses if you make more, or you’ll do more of the heavy lifting around the house if you are stronger than your partner. You’ll probably take care of the kids more if you are more patient with the little ones, or you’ll clean the house more if you treasure the house being tidy more too. That’s just life.

Focusing on the big picture instead of scrutinizing every detail will help quite a bit.
Do you care more about making sure you have money left over, saving and becoming financially independent one day? Or do you care more about controlling how everyone around you spends money on every single transaction? You wouldn’t have to choose in your ideal world, but no one lives in a world where everyone else is alive just to serve him or her. Which is more important to you?

The choice is obvious, isn’t it?

Work towards your financial goals and worry less about the details. If you cross the finish line and are financially comfortable, does it matter all that much where every dollar went during your long journey?

Make a plan and set up your budgets.
That’s why it’s so beneficial to come up with a plan. Once you have a road map to the promised land, then set up a budget where you and your partner can spend without guilt on whatever the heart desires as long as the major categories, like saving and necessary expenses, are met.

Here’s how we neutralize the problem all together.

More and more two-income households have separate finances these days. And while there are pros and cons of having separate or combined finances, having separate income and accounts does alleviate some of the frustrations that can arise from two people having different mentalities about saving and spending.

I’m in a line of work that talks about how to efficiently manage household finances, I’m pretty much the sole breadwinner of the house, and I care about investing and spending way more than Emma does. It’s natural that I handle practically all of our money matters.

What we actually do is that I pay for a major portion of all the fixed and necessary expenses of the family, and I transfer a set amount to a separate bank account every month for Emma to use as she sees fit. At this point I’m totally hands off. She uses some money to buy groceries, and she pays for a select few of the kid’s extracurricular activities. She then uses the rest however she likes. She can even save the extras for a few months and use it on a vacation for the family if that’s what she wants to do.

Among our friends who are one-income households, we seem to be the only one who handles our finances this way. Everyone else just has shared accounts. One of our friends even called it weird. The arrangement works for us though because I know we are on track with our financial plan and Emma doesn’t need to worry about me looking over her shoulder on every little line item on her credit card statement. If we were to share bank accounts and credit cards, then I know we’ll just get into more arguments than necessary because I will start seeing where every dollar is going and that will cause me anxiety, which I then unload on her.

The Bottom Line

Keeping a few purchases under wraps may not be a huge deal, but the behavior can snowball into a disaster if people start living beyond their means and credit card interests start piling up.

Start by being open and understanding with your significant other. That way, you can create that plan together and live a happier life mentally and financially. Partner up. You are partners after all.

Do you hide purchases from your significant other? Isn’t it time you stop and find a solution?

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  • Dividend Power says:

    I could never spending more than $100 without talking to my spouse. Not sure how people could spend hundreds of dollars without letting their significant other know.

  • Steveark says:

    We are financially independent by a large margin, but still neither of us would spend $50 for something fun without running it by the other. It’s been a lifetime habit, I can only think of a couple of times she questioned the rationale behind a proposed purchase, which I’m glad she did, because it didn’t make sense when I thought it through.

    • David @ says:

      You’ve developed a really good habit Steveark! It’s always good to be open about everything, not just finance related stuff.

      I bet you have a pretty healthy relationship with your family too. Kudos to you!

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