It’s common for couples to merge their financial lives once they’re seriously committed or married. Others choose to maintain separate finances. If you fall into the latter group, you may feel that what you do with your own money isn’t any of your partner’s business. And that’s a perfectly acceptable attitude to have, as long as both of you are one the same page.
However, there’s a big difference between managing your own money and actually hiding it from the other person.
“Hiding money from your partner is generally a form of deception, usually based in fear, neither of which bode well for the relationship,” said Todd Christensen, an accredited financial counselor and education manager for Money Fit by DRS, a nonprofit debt relief agency headquartered in Boise, Idaho.
In fact, hiding money or bank accounts is a type of financial infidelity, which more than one-quarter of couples consider worse than physical infidelity, according to a recent survey by CreditCards.com. Even so, 44% of respondents in a relationship said they’re hiding a big money secret from their partner.
Why Do People Hide Money From Their Significant Others?
Lauren Anastasio, a certified financial planner at SoFi, said that many people she works with keep separate and sometimes secret accounts from their partner. It’s something she rarely encourages.
“Some members I work with keep separate accounts because they don’t want to be a financial burden on their partner or the household, and like to keep ‘fun money’ where they can spend freely without judgment or burden,” Anastasio said.
Others have kept secret accounts out of fear ― they either don’t trust their partner to be responsible with the money, or they may be concerned that the relationship won’t last and they’ll need to have their own savings to fall back on, she said.
“If a relationship is built on a strong foundation of mutual trust and respect, there is generally no need to ever hide money or finances.”
In other words, people tend to hide money when there are deeper relationship issues, such as lack of trust or commitment. The problem is that keeping secrets ― including secret money ― doesn’t help to address those issues or work toward solving them.
“In essence, a healthy relationship generally supports a fully transparent relationship between partners,” said Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist based in Sonoma County, California. When you’re in a healthy relationship, you should be able to discuss all topics and issues, including finances, openly and honestly.
“If a relationship is built on a strong foundation of mutual trust and respect, there is generally no need to ever hide money or finances,” she said.
Situations When You Should Hide Money From Your Partner
That said, there are certain cases when it’s a good idea to hide money or accounts. But generally, it’s because the relationship is on its way out. “If a partner tends to be dishonest or manipulative, it can be necessary and wise to have secret money set aside,” Manly said.
Below are a few scenarios when you should hide money from your partner.
Your partner is abusive and you’re planning an escape.
If you’re in a relationship with an abuser, leaving is a scary and challenging process. In addition to physical and/or psychological harm, abusers also tend to manipulate their victims financially. That can include withholding money, controlling spending, hiding passwords to online accounts, or interfering with your job, thereby making you reliant on that person for basic needs such as food and shelter.
If you’ve made the brave decision to escape this situation, you’ll need to secretly build up savings over time so you can take care of yourself and any children involved during the transition. But don’t worry, you’re not on your own: There are resources available to help you leave your abuser.
A breakup is on the horizon.
If you aren’t married, you have no obligation to share the details of your financial life with your partner. And even if you are hitched, there’s no law that says married couples have to divulge their finances to each other. So if you know your relationship is heading toward an end, you might want to start squirreling away some of your earnings to cover the cost of moving out, replacing shared belongings, etc.
Here’s the big catch, though: If you’re married and one of you does file for divorce, you are required to disclose all your assets during the proceedings. And if you built up a secret breakup fund, your partner will not only learn about it, they may be entitled to a portion of it, depending on which state you live in.
Still, breakups can get messy and some ex-partners become vindictive. So if you are worried about getting cut off from joint accounts and credit cards during the breakup, having your own stash of cash can help you stay afloat. Just be sure to keep a detailed record of where the money came from in case you do have to disclose it.
You’re planning a surprise.
Hiding money doesn’t always stem from a serious issue within a relationship.
When you share everything, from your checking account to Amazon Prime, it can be hard to maintain an element of mystery. So if you want to get your partner a surprise gift for a birthday or anniversary, it can be tough to hide the purchase. In this case, you may need to resort to sneaky tactics like a secret savings stash.
Just keep in mind that if your partner notices financial behaviors that are out of the norm, such as making large ATM withdrawals or frequent cashback purchases, they might become suspicious and wonder if something serious is going on.
What About Hiding Money From An Irresponsible Partner?
Maybe you are happy in your relationship, but your partner wasn’t exactly blessed with money management skills. Perhaps they’re even incapable of sound financial decisions. You might wonder if this is a situation when hiding money is for the best.
When your partner has emotional, mental or physiological challenges that cause them to spend uncontrollably or wastefully, again, hiding money doesn’t help solve the problem. It’s a good idea to seek professional help, such as a financial planner or couple’s counseling.
You may even need diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional, according to Christensen. “Then, consider ways to protect ― not hide ― money for bills, groceries, rent, mortgage, etc. from your partner’s potentially uncontrolled spending.”
If your partner suffers from dementia or is a senior at risk of misinformed spending or fraud, you can discuss your options with your bank’s or credit union’s branch manager. “Many are providing training to their employees for just such circumstances,” Christensen said.
Avoiding Financial Infidelity
Every couple manages their finances differently, so the level of sharing and involvement you have in each other’s financial lives is up to you. The key is to avoid flat-out lying to one another or engaging in deceptive practices.
“A recommendation I make to every couple I work with is to be sure you’re on the same page,” Anastasio said. “Being transparent and open about your finances and how you manage money as a couple does not necessarily mean full disclosure.”
If you do feel the need to keep your own money on the side, it’s important to ask yourself why. “If you have honorable intentions or fears, I would encourage you to share those with your partner. They may understand and support your decision to maintain a separate account,” she added.
And if you discover that your partner kept an account or money secret from you, try not to assume the worst. “Your partner may have valid concerns and emotions that led to the decision and they’ll be more likely to share those with you if you approach the conversation from a place of understanding rather than accusations,” Anastasio said.