It may seem normal to hide certain purchases and expenses from your spouse, particularly those involving gifts for them. Such actions are meant more to protect the secret until the gift is given than to protect the fact that money was spent. Unfortunately, other situations exist where spouses keep purchases hidden, hoping never to have them discovered.
By some accounts, keeping purchases hidden from a spouse (dubbed Financial Infidelity) is even more damaging to relationships than regular infidelity. That may be because few of us even think to look for signs of secret spending.
I’m not suggesting that we all spy on our spouses. Some couples even choose to keep their finances completely separate. What I would recommend is talking more openly about money to reduce the need to hide spending. It doesn’t have to be a daily discussion; a 5-minute monthly update will often suffice. It may be that spending is hidden out of guilt of overrunning a budget category, but such situations are an excellent opportunity to reassess your budget. If you or your spouse feels the need to have some portion of your income allocated for no-questions-asked spending, then adding a fun money category to your budget may be a healthier way to solve the problem.
Disagreements on the amount of fun money you should each have at your disposal could help to expose underlying issues that could lead to hidden spending. The woman in the financial infidelity article referenced above was using shopping to cope with her depression.
It is temping to have one spouse handle all of the money issues. That can even work well in some families. In many other cases, however, such an approach is ripe for abuse. The uninvolved spouse would have no idea if secret spending were occurring. Families who are paid in cash, or cash their paychecks upon receipt, are also highly susceptible to secret spending. In such cases, no paper trail exists to discover the spending.
It may not be that secret spending itself causes marital distress, but rather that the behaviors of secret spenders affect other aspects of the marriage as well. Still, discovering a large unexpected debt would likely cause a serious fight. Open discussions about money may help to reduce the chances of your spouse spending without your knowledge. If you’re the one secretly spending, realize that the cost of doing so could exceed just the interest and fees you pay on your debts; your marriage could also be at stake.
One third of spouses surveyed admitted to some secret spending. Do you keep spending hidden from your spouse? Do you suspect that they hide spending from you?