No married couple is completely in sync, money-wise. Sometimes, it may seem like a little lie or a sneaky secret is necessary to preserve harmony. You know, like how Hubby doesn’t know that the past-season runway piece costs more than a month’s salary. Or how he’s in the dark about your cash stash in a separate bank account.
If you’ve told these little white lies before, you’re not alone. According to a Harris Interactive poll of 2,019 adults, 31 per cent of American couples who combined finances were not truthful about issues like hiding money, underdeclaring income or being in debt.
A senior vice-president at Ipac Financial Planning observes a similar trend of financial infidelity in Singapore. “It may start from something small, like not being truthful about a recent purchase. Then, it may lead to a bigger lie, such as not telling your partner you withdrew money from a joint account to lend to your BFF,” she explains. “The degree of severity of the lie is based on how it negatively impacts the partner and relationship when the truth comes out.”
We speak to four women here who have not been absolutely honest with their significant others.
LIE 1 “HE DOESN’T KNOW I’M KNEE-DEEP IN DEBT.”
Elaine* carries a heavy burden. “I owe about $20,000 to a couple of banks. Part of my debts is my own fault – I tend to overspend on luxuries like designer bags.” But that’s not the whole story. She adds: “I took personal bank loans to help my brother pull through a difficult time when his business failed.” Elaine has not told her husband because she fears his disapproval. “I didn’t consult him when I lent my brother the money so I can’t tell him now. I think he’d be really mad at me.”
EXPERT SAYS: Such deceit can lead to a marriage breakdown. Elaine should realise that her debts could drag her husband down. A general manager of Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS) says: “If she is issued with legal action, such as a writ of seizure and sale, the creditor will auction off their household items. That may come as a rude shock to her husband.”
According to the Harris poll, 11 per cent of respondents lied to their partners about their debts. The general manager of CCS explains that many debtors are in denial: “They keep thinking they can solve the problems on their own.” But honesty is the best policy. “Elaine should force herself to sit down with her husband, say sorry and ask for help.
If the problem has become too big for the couple to handle, they can seek professional help with CCS, where we may be able to negotiate with banks on your behalf.”
LIE 2 “HE DOESN’T KNOW I EARN $4,000 A MONTH.”
Penny* has a salary is over $45,000 a year (not including annual wage supplement and bonuses). The issue here is that her husband has no idea of his wife’s above-average income. “I got a 20 per cent pay rise last year. But my husband is under the impression that I earn only about $3,500,” she admits. “We each put 25 per cent of our pay into our joint account. If he knows, he might expect me to contribute more.”
The senior vice-president at Ipac Financial Planning suggests several possible reasons for dishonesty in this area. Some women worry that their husband might otherwise spend the extra money, some might see the secrecy as necessary in their bid for financial independence, while others just don’t want to have to justify their spending habits. Penny says: “My husband doesn’t probe. But if he does find out, I foresee a huge fight.”
EXPERT SAYS: This is a danger zone because income is a fundamental financial fact you should share with your spouse. Yet 11 per cent of the Harris poll respondents were dishonest about their income. If Penny’s husband finds out, it might breed distrust and unhappiness. However, how detrimental this lie is to your relationship depends on the ground rules you set as a couple, says the senior vice-president. “If both of you have agreed to keep everything separate, that’s fine.
But if you’ve made a promise to share intimate financial details, then what you’re doing is not fair to your husband. Tell him the truth.”
LIE 3 “HE DOESN’T KNOW I HAVE A SECRET POSB BANK ACCOUNT.”
Joan* recently opened a POSB Mysavings bank account on her own. She decided to do it after receiving cheques for the freelance graphic design work she had been doing from home. “I want to have my own stash of cash,” she admits. “But it has never been possible because our combined income was just enough to cover the mortgage and our household expenses.
I feel guilty not telling my husband but my mother brought me up to believe that a woman must have a separate bank account. So if we ever split up, I won’t be helpless.”
EXPERT SAYS: It’s a good thing to have your own stash of money. In fact, 15 per cent of the poll respondents said they have secret bank accounts. But is it necessary to hide the fact that you’re squirrelling away cash from your husband? Again, this is a basic financial detail that you should be honest about with the person you love.
The senior vice-president at Ipac Financial Planning observes that many husbands (and wives) are fine with their partners having separate bank accounts. “But if you’re lying to your husband because you do not trust him (perhaps he’s a compulsive gambler) or his ability to manage money, then there is a major problem in your relationship. If so, you need a marriage counsellor.”
LIE 4 “HE DOESN’T KNOW I INVEST WITH MY CPF.”
Rina* recently started investing in unit trusts using money from her Central Provident Fund (CPF) account. But her fiance doesn’t know. “I’m not financially savvy but I feel that investing with my CPF should be a safe way to grow my money. It’s my own money, so I don’t feel the need to tell him.” She adds that her fiance thinks she’s clueless about investments. “I don’t want him to nag or interfere.”
The thing is, the couple are planning to get married soon. They also plan to ballot for a Housing & Development Board Build-To-Order flat. Rina admits they haven’t yet discussed their financial matters in detail as a couple.
EXPERT SAYS: In this case, if Rina is planning a purchase of a home with her fiance, she should be upfront about her investments, especially if she’s using her CPF. “As a couple, they need to combine their CPF to buy a flat together,” says the senior vice-president of Ipac Financial Planning. “So Rina’s fiance has a right to know what she’s doing with her CPF.”
But generally, there’s nothing wrong with investing individually. The key is being honest with each other. “Some couples have separate investment portfolios that both parties know about and are happy with,” she adds. “Many times, there is no right or wrong in this matter.”
“HE DOESN’T KNOW WHERE I HIDE MY SHOPPING…”
Women 'fess up on their secret spots.
“In the kitchen cupboard where I put all the Tupperware. My husband doesn’t cook so I know he’d never go near it. The funny thing is how I once stumbled upon his secret hiding place! I was searching for a document when I found a new digital camera in his study desk drawer. I confronted him about it… and it turned out to be a surprise birthday present for me!” – Melanie*
“My BFF’s room because we shop together. When I splurge on something I know my hubby will disapprove of, like a new charm bracelet, she will keep it for me first. I will take it back from her after a few weeks and then mix it with older accessories. Sometimes, he won’t notice. If he does, I can be truthful and say ‘Oh, I bought it ages ago!’” – Katherine*
“When I buy little luxuries like rings, I slip them into a small drawer in our wardrobe. We keep documents like our birth certificates there. My husband rarely opens it so I’ve never been busted.” – Kelly*
“The car boot is a wonderful hiding place for purchases like shoes. It’s filled with my personal junk like jackets and half my library of books. Sometimes, I even forget I have newly bought stuff in there!” – Joy*
“I don’t need a secret wardrobe, even though my husband would quiz me about my new pair of heels, for example. But I’d just tell a white lie that I bought those ‘ages ago, dear’ and he’d actually feel bad about not noticing earlier!” – Jennifer*
*Names of the not-so-innocent have been changed for the sake of marital harmony
This story was originally published in the May 2011 issue of Her World.