Do You Hide Purchases From Your Spouse or Partner (Apparently Like Many Americans)?

Several sources and books talk about how the choice of spouse seems to play out in personal-finance success. The book The Millionaire Next Door concludes:

Most people will never become wealthy in one generation if they are married to people who are wasteful. A couple cannot accumulate wealth if one of its members is a hyperconsumer. This is especially true when one or both are trying to build a successful business. Few people can sustain profligate spending habits and simultaneously build wealth.

This is not breaking news, especially if you have read just about any personal-finance writings on the subject (and that book was first published around 1996). But I was interested to contrast that with a recent MarketWatch video report on the frequency of “financial infidelity”: “Nearly one-third, or 29%, of U.S. adults ages 25-55 who are in a committed relationships say they have been dishonest with a partner about spending habits.”

You can check the MarketWatch video report through this link. (As of today, it’s under the “Most Popular” tab, if you scroll down near the bottom, with the video title, “Spouses Who Spend and Pretend.”)

Later in the same report, family therapist and author Dr. Bonnie states: “You’ve got like 82% of people hiding purchases.”

I’m not sure where the 29% and 82% numbers connect. Maybe the 29% figure is people who lie about overall spending habits, and the 82% number is people who have ever concealed at least one particular purchase.

Dr. Bonnie goes on to talk about what she calls “POP shots,” with POP standing for “pissed-off purchases.” That’s where one person makes an extravagant purchase because he or she is mad at the other or to “make up” for when the other person made such a purchase. If I heard it right, the video suggests that such purchases total around $424 billion in the U.S.! (For more on “pissed-off purchases,” check out: The $2,000 Kiss (at Alpha Consumer). For more on Dr. Bonnie's book, Financial Infidelity, check out numerous reviews on personal-finance blogs, such as: Review: Financial Infidelity by Bonnie Eaker Weil (at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity) or an excerpt of the book at Financial Infidelity as an Addiction (at Free Money Finance).)

The MarketWatch video also featured clips of a woman named Tara, an apparently frequent practitioner of financial infidelity—and it truly was like watching a train wreck. Tara faced the camera and bragged about how she would sneak her high-end clothing purchases home, surreptitiously clip the tags off, tuck them into her drawers, and then act like she had the clothing all along—rather than them being new purchases.

“I’m so good at fashion espionage,” she exulted.

So good that she’s on the Internet revealing her specific practices to the world and thinks it’ll never get back to her spouse?

To cap it off, she talked about her own pissed-off purchases, describing how her husband had come home from a trip with purchases such as new Italian loafers and had not been “thinking about her” (apparently meaning he hadn’t come home with purchases for her). So as “revenge,” she went out and made her own purchases. It’s not clear what either she or her husband do for a living, and whether they can comfortably afford their spending habits. For all I know, they are “millionaires next door” too—but I’d be willing to bet a fair amount that they aren’t. But even aside from the likely impact on their finances, it sure looked like a relationship I would never want to be in.

It made me want to go find my wife and give her a kiss.

My wife does not have “perfect” spending habits (under personal-finance blogosphere or frugality standards)—any more than I do. We both have certain strengths and places where we are better about saving money—and places where we are not as good. And I think we complement each other.

We don’t affirmatively disclose every purchase we make to each other—but there is no hiding or lying going on either. We both open the mail, so either of us might get to our bank statements or credit-card statements first; and we can get both into our Quicken accounts, where most all of our purchases show up one way or another (though my wife doesn’t care for the software angle as much as I do and still prefers to balance her checkbook using the paper register). I never thought about how it would play out before we got married or as part of our choice to get married—but I think we have both played a big role in improving each other’s and our collective personal finances.

If you are in a committed relationship, do you think your choice of spouse or partner has had much of an impact on your personal-finance progress—and if so, how? Do you affirmatively disclose each and every purchase to each other—or have some sort of threshold past which you disclose purchases?


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