Cash Confessions: True Tales of Secret Spending

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Lucas learned at a young age to lie about how he spent money.

"My parents always thought travel was a waste of money," he says. "During high school, if I went to a movie with my friends, that was OK. But if we went out of town to see the movie, my parents would be upset that we had spent money for gas."

Now almost 30, Lucas' travels are more elaborate, more expensive, and more covert. "As far as they're concerned, my only travel expense is commuting to work," he says.

Is it OK to keep spending secrets from loved ones? We asked readers to weigh in -- and to share their own tales of covert spending.

Charity Begins at Home

Mercedes, a programmer living in New Jersey, also keeps a spending secret from her family: how much she gives to her church. "My family really wanted me to save money for my wedding, even a decade ago when there was no man in sight," she says. Being first-generation American, she suspects culture played a large part in their disapproval. "Maybe it's an immigrant-society thing, because many of the adults in my community came from India, they want to save money versus giving it away to charity."

That financially independent adults hide expenses from their parents isn't a shock, and probably won't cause too much of a rift -- especially in cases like Lucas and Mercedes, whose spending doesn't impact their welfare or that of their family members. But in intimate relationships, financial secret can indicate a deeper struggle.

Lucas' partner Mario keeps a little spending secret of his own. "Lucas thinks computer gadgets or video games are pointless, and so when I order something, I'll keep a close eye on the mail to get to it first," he says.

Hearing this, Lucas laughs. "I know you're doing that," he says. "Because you never check the mail otherwise."

Divorce attorney Randall Kessler, of Kessler & Solomiany Family Law, and author of "Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Kids and Your Future," says this sort of not-really-a-secret is much better than a spending habit that's truly hidden.

"Imagination is always worse than reality," Kessler says. "If you don't tell your wife or your husband what you're spending on, and they see that money is disappearing, they're going to assume the worst. It's just human nature."

Spending that May Cross the Line

But what about the tipping point of secrecy, when it goes from harmless to harmful? Kessler says it's less about what you're buying, and more about how long it's been going on and how much money you're spending.

"If it's a couple months, that's one thing," Kessler says. "But if it's something they've been doing for 10 years, that's money that wasn't spent on your family, on a needed new car or a nice vacation. That might be harder to overlook."

Newport Beach, Calif.-based relationship therapist Lisa Bahar says that there are many reasons why couples keep financial secrets from each other. "You don't always want to reveal your spending habits to your partner because you're used to being independent," she says.

That's certainly true in the case of Roger, who doesn't tell his girlfriend that he still pays for his ex-wife's salon appointments. "If the girlfriend knew I was springing for hairstyling on top of everything else -- house, electricity, insurance, taxes -- she would not be pleased. "

If you've got a secret spending habit and want to come clean, Kessler says it's best to confess before you're caught. "If you can stop the behavior, stop it, and admit it later," he says. And if you can't stop, or if those spending secrets are more serious than a weekend trip or giving to charity, it might be time to get help.

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We have separate bank accounts and pay our own bills. That is fine, but my husband had been having a physical affair for over a year & every month she asked for money because supposedly she had helped her children or grandchildren. Come to find out she makes a good salary and can easily pay what few bills she has and her kids also. Supposedly her husband of 22 years ran off with another woman, but I found out he caught her having an affair with another married manager at the store she works at! Well now that the physical affair is over they now talk on the phone every day, hence it is now an affair of the heart. Last year he paid off a very large bank loan she had so she could get her mortgage refinanced and get it at a much lower interest rate and have it paid off in 15 years!! He continues to give her money every month, he says it is because he made her a promise that he would be there for her if she needed him!! He thinks she is nice, she is nothing but a leech and looking for a gullible man. His Father told him that he is naive and stupid when it comes knowing what people are really like and that she just wants him for his money!

September 05 2013 at 6:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Women want all the money.End of story.They will tell you 'money doesnt matter'.But wait till your in front of the judge,,trust me,,she will get it all.

September 05 2013 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

50 or so years ago, i told my wife we would keep separate checking accounts to avoid the confusion of a shared checkbook. we both worked so it was no strain to have two checkbooks. we took care of our bills as a two-person committee and what either spent after that was no harm, no foul.

September 05 2013 at 2:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think Roger's ex-wife should write a "How to" book.......I'd love to know how she gets Roger to pay for her house, electric, taxes, insurance and hair appointments.

September 05 2013 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Survey says: People would rather talk about their sex life, than their money. That seems to be the closest thing to their "heart".!

September 05 2013 at 11:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My husband and I are celebrating our 35th anniversary. One of our secrets to marital success? Separate bank accounts. We respect each other's privacy. We don't ask each other for permission or approval before we buy anything. We don't have to. We split the household bills and never have problems or fights about money. Neither of us "hide" any of our spending because we don't have to! Of course, this works only because we each have our own earnings. Even so, married individuals have a right to privacy, and if it's respected, there's no need for secrecy. Just sayin'

September 05 2013 at 8:37 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I've told more than one boyfriend if he wants to complain about my spending habits he needs to put a ring on my finger and my name on his checking account. Until then, how I spend MY money is none of his concern. All my bills are paid on time, I chip in my share for entertainment, trips, etc., and I work hard to have nice things. Given that, he doesn't need to worry how much I spend on a handbag or a side table.

September 05 2013 at 6:21 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bechersbrook's comment

guys are funny. we don't understand money on shoes or shopping as a sport just as women wonder why grown men play games. thus, it's always been and always will. smile.

September 05 2013 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve Schiffman

In the final analysis, how you spend your money is NOBODY's business - with one caveat: the spouse should be told. Absent a legally-sanctioned spouse, let all others "jump in the lake"!

September 05 2013 at 5:31 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I'm stunned. People are funny about money.

September 05 2013 at 3:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My gilr friend?, My girl friend, What the "F" business is it of hers what i spend my money on as long as she gets her share of my spending. Some lines ought to be drawn as to just what is a "girl friends" business & what isn't.. If she doesn't like it hit the road. As long as a guy has money to spend there are plenty of new girl friends out there.

September 05 2013 at 2:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to liemc's comment

Exactly. You put the words down before I did. If she was my girlfriend she would have a job and her own money anyway.

September 05 2013 at 3:23 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply