Financial Infidelity: A Sink Hole on the Road to Personal Finance Mastery

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Financial Infidelity: A Pothole on the Road to Financial Mastery

Just as I was pondering this week’s installment about my Dream of Personal Finance Mastery, word of a recent Harris Interactive Poll hit my morning news.

You can see whole the story on Reuters: Three in 10 Americans commit financial infidelity, but let’s cut to the chase.

Three in ten Americans are committing financial infidelity.

That means: lying to a spouse or significant other about how much money they earn, have socked away somewhere, or spend.

The seeds sown by financial infidelity, according to the Harris poll, bear some ugly fruit – up to and including divorce.

The majority of the unfaithful are lying about a stash of cash. But that would not be me. My infidelity is about where our money goes, how much we owe, and how close to the edge we skate at any given point.

Picture yourself in this position.

Your partner and you have a peculiar co-dependency about money – meaning, you help each other not communicate about it. He has a tough commute and an extremely demanding job, you’re always running behind on your task list and haven’t gathered all the information you need, and blah blah blah.

In other words, you each avoid The Conversation with equal passive/aggressive fervor.

The real problem is that you have starkly different attitudes about money. He believes that it’s always easier to cut expenses than to earn more money, therefore thrift and conservation are his priorities. You prefer to believe that you can always work harder and earn more money, so you aren’t motivated by cutting back, and you spend whatever’s on hand, and make a vague plan to get more money by working harder.

Simply put: He is cheap. You are profligate. Kind of a big difference.

When you have managed to converse about the state of your finances, these conversations, while never mean or rude, have always come down to that fundamental difference.

“What did you spend on this organic chicken?” he asks if he wanders into the kitchen before you’ve managed to throw out the packaging.

“It was on sale for $3.29,” you say.

“For CHICKEN?” he gasps.

“Yes, and no one injected it with salt water or fed it hormones,” you might retort.

He feels like you are insulting his thrift, and you feel like he is questioning your priorities. Ow, that hurts.

If you do manage to have a real talk about money, by the time you finally slog to the end of the interminable cash flow review, you are so sunk in nursing your individual wounds that it takes the rest of the evening to get back to your usual comfortable, warm relationship.

Makes you want to sign up to do that every week, doesn’t it? No. Not really.

So you avoid it, and he lets you. You lie (by omission, which makes you feel better about it than if you actually uttered lying words). You skip paying a bill and sweat catching it up before he realizes it. You worry alone while he is just there, in the dark.

It’s not good, and guess what. By lying to your partner, you’re lying to myself. You don’t want to look at it! You want to put your fingers in your ears and sing really loudly so you don’t have to hear about it. You get to avoid being accountable, and you actually prevent him from taking any accountability. This does not accomplish anything productive at all.

You would like to change this behavior this very day, except for the fact that you just spent $49 on a bottle of Grey Goose Citron for your friend’s 50th birthday. Take a minute to picture THAT conversation. Hint: substitute the word “vodka” for “chicken” in the above snippet.

You know what I just discovered? Changing all the pronouns in this post from “I” to “you” made it so much easier to look at the behavior! So here is what I would advise you – um, myself.

Start today –

  • Make a simple list of everything you spent today.
  • Leave all the judgment out of it, just write it down, then stick it up on the refrigerator where you’ll see it on a regular basis.
  • Ask yourself calmly and objectively if it was worth it to work this hard today to buy that organic chicken/fancy vodka.
  • If the answer is yes, be happy with your choice.
  • If the answer is no, think of a different way to do it. Feel good about your money choices whenever you can.
  • Recognize there’s no crime in having a different perspective from your partner’s, or in him having a different perspective from yours.

I know. It’s not quite there, is it? There’s still some financial infidelity going on if you’re not talking to your partner yet. But one step at a time. Learn to look at it, yourself, and THEN work on showing it to your partner.

How about you? Any experience with financial infidelity? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


Jayne Speich is a small business coach/consultant who writes, thinks, and coaches extensively on customer service, business finance, and ways to thrive in the new economy. You can find her at Jayne’s post day is Saturday.

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  • Heather Montgomery, CEO & serial entrepreneur

    Holy crap! When you put it that way… yes. I can say I did do this in past relationships.

    Thanks for the great info – well put!


  • helen mossman

    As a woman who has been consumed with financial tribulations for 65 years, I do empathize with your feelings (that’s an editorial ‘your’) Some of my worries have been self-inflicted but many are not. As a child I was taught by my parents to SAVE, SAVE, SAVE – and that’s when the guilt trip began. After I grew up, a kindly family member (also of that generation that survived the REAL Depression) commented, “You’ve always had rich tastes.” She was so right but I’ll take those knocks for rich tastes because I’ve enjoyed them, never mind the price. Perhaps therein lies the tie to infidelity. I enjoyed them all the more because I couldn’t afford them. Is it worth it? Cautiously, yes. Yes even though it cost me a broken marriage and a rocky second. Yes because there were a lot of dreams that never materialized. The “nice things” that I crave have offered me a measure of forbidden pleasure. To this day, living on my proverbial limited income, i”ll take any advice on how to SAVE, SAVE, SAVE.

  • Remy G

    yea great timing, she says with a smirk. How can I have financial infidelity with an ex? believe me, I’ll find a way. I tend not to bring up child support issues cause I hate when he gets angry, and he wont bring it up until someone else brings it up for him. Such a stupid dynamic. – More to come this week, so I’ll keep this post in mind. Thank you for being brave. xox Rem

  • Catherine Hughes, Editor & Chief

    I recognize this because I am the frugal one who was married to someone out of control with their money. The experience taught me a lot about being responsible and what we do to the people we love when we behave a certain way that wears them out.

    My ex completely wore me out. If I had to do it all over again, I never would have married him – that’s what being forced to be the only financially responsible one does to a person. I’d have a kid with him (so I could have my son who I adore) and that would have been it – no marriage – no commingling of any assets.

    I found a renewed respect for any man who carries the load for his family, because I have walked 1,000 miles in their shoes. I have issues with female friends who place financial burdens on their husbands without thought. I won’t go shopping with them.

    When we are living alone and just do it to ourselves it’s fine – we all have our own issues that we hurt ourselves with – it’s when someone else has to put up with our behavior that it becomes selfish. It can interfere with their big dreams too.

    I love that you are writing about this topic. I love your exploration into this very touchy subject in American society – so timely, and so needed. I admire your courage and honesty. There is much we can all learn from your experience.

    I need to get back to hiking and taking care of myself like I used to. Not taking care of yourself could also be a burden to someone who loves you too. . .

    Great post,