Love & Money

Celebrate Relationships, But Beware of Financial Infidelity

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Financial Deception

DENVER—It’s one of the biggest threats to a relationship. The National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®) has been following financial infidelity for a decade, and the problem continues to be prevalent among couples.

The latest findings from a biennial survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of NEFE finds two in five (41 percent) of American adults who combine finances with a partner or spouse, admit to committing financial deceptions against their loved one. The survey also finds that three quarters (75 percent) of adults say financial deceit has affected their relationships in some way.

“Financial infidelity may seem benign, perhaps someone hides a purchase, receipt or even a little cash on the side. But this unfaithfulness can escalate to a more severe level of offense like concealing an account, lying about the amount of income you earn, or being secretive about the amount of debt that you owe,” says Ted Beck, president and CEO of NEFE. “This impacts a relationship regardless of scale. It causes arguments, erosion of trust, and regretfully in some cases even leads to separation or divorce.”

Intimacy… and privacy

Among the reasons survey respondents say they committed financial deceptions in their current or past relationships, over one third (36 percent) say they believe some aspects of their finances should remain private, even from their spouse/partner; a quarter (26 percent) said they had discussed finances with their spouse/partner and they knew they would disapprove; almost one in five (18 percent) were embarrassed/fearful about their finances and didn’t want their spouse/partner to find out; and 16 percent said that while they hadn’t discussed finances with their spouse/partner they feared they would disapprove.

Recognize the Warning Signs
“Does your partner prohibit you from seeing copies of statements, maybe even race you to the mailbox to intercept the bills? Do they get defensive, withdrawn or agitated when the topic of money arises? Those are red flags,” says Beck.

Approaching Your Partner
Confronting your partner may be difficult. According to Beck, you must accept that it will be stressful. He says the best way to approach the situation is to first know what you want out of the conversation before you have it. “Don’t hold past mistakes against your partner, and certainly don’t sabotage your spouse about their deceit when you’re angry,” Beck adds.

Separating Accounts
If financial infidelity is a serious problem in your relationship, it may ease stress to have a joint checking account for household bills, and separate accounts for personal spending. If this feels too disconnected, allow each person some “play money,” an amount of discretionary spending to do with as they choose. “Keep all negative thoughts about how they spend their money to yourself,” says Beck.

Rebuilding Trust
After you or your partner has come clean about committing financial infidelity, accept that it will take time to rebuild the trust you once had. “It will take sustained transparency in all communication, and it takes a commitment from both to stick to the goals that you’ve set together,” says Beck.
For more tips on working together as a couple to handle finances and starting that awkward conversation about money that you have been avoiding, visit www.smartaboutmoney.org.

two in five (41 percent) of American adults who combine finances with a partner or spouse, admit to committing financial deceptions against their loved one

Excerpts from the Life Values Quiz

Getting Smart About Your Money: 10 Basic Steps

  • 1. What’s Behind Your Financial Decisions
    Before you create a budget or make spending cuts, take the LifeValues quiz to determine what you value most.
  • 2. Get Organized
    Tips to manage your financial documents — and your time.
  • 3. Know Where Your Money Goes
    Keep track of your expenses and find your spending leaks.
  • 4. Shop Smarter
    Make smarter spending decisions to “find” money without actually making more.
  • 5. Review and Reduce Your Debt
    Identify your debt and use these tips to pay it off.
  • 6. Build a Strong Credit Report
    Maintain a strong credit report to accomplish your financial goals.
  • 7. Save For Your Future
    Pay yourself first to save money and start a strong retirement income planning program.
  • 8. Set Financial Goals
    Track your goals and celebrate milestones to reach your financial dreams faster.
  • 9. Create a Spending Plan
    Use a spending plan to ensure your daily spending habits don’t overwhelm your goals.
  • 10. Invest Money to Reach Your Goals
    Watch your money grow as you invest to reach longer-term objectives.

Take the Life Values Quiz
Understanding your financial values and how they differ from those of your partner is one key to success in managing money together as a couple. NEFE’s Life Values Quiz helps people identify the values that drive their financial decisions. To learn more and to take the quiz, visit here.

Survey Methodology
Harris Poll conducted the study on behalf of the National Endowment for Financial Education from January 23-25, 2018, via its QuickQuerySM online omnibus service, interviewing 2,145 U.S. adults aged 18+. Data were weighted using propensity score weighting to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity, and propensity to be online. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Please contact for complete survey methodology (including weighting variables).

 

 

About the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE)
NEFE is a nonprofit foundation that inspires empowered financial decision making for individuals and families through every stage of life. For more information, visit www.nefe.org.