In Search of Gay Money: Financial Fibs Erode Trust in Partnerships
As gays and lesbians writing about money, we’ve grown weary of reading all the personal finance content that’s written from the perspective of straight marriages. So at Queercents, we’ve turned the tables on money and relationship advice by asking: What if all of our favorite money columnists were gay? Would their advice be more relevant to our lives?
We think the answer is yes! And as such, this is our weekly series called In Search of Gay Money where we reprint their advice by swapping out pronouns and a few other words to make it seem like everyone is queer! This post fits well with yesterday’s review of the new book, Financial Infidelity.
In Search of Gay Money: Financial Fibs Erode Trust in Partnerships
By Liz Pulliam Weston and Queercents
With money and relationships, there are lies. Then there are Big Lies. Telling your partner you bought something on sale when you didn’t is a lie. Hiding five-figure credit card debt is a Big Lie.
Rhonda, a lesbian in North Carolina, has started to panic about her Big Lie. What started as a few charges here and there on her credit cards have ballooned over four years into an $18,000 tab.
“My partner is not really aware of how much I am in debt,” Rhonda wrote me in an e-mail. “I feel out of control.”
Most of us understand that Big Lies can be devastating for a relationship. But many of us still have a tough time staying absolutely truthful with our partners when money’s involved.
A survey that lawyers.com and Redbook magazine commissioned from HarrisInteractive in 2005 tells the tale. Harris interviewed 1,796 adults, ages 25 to 55, who were married, engaged, partnered or living together. Among the findings:
- Virtually all the people interviewed (96%) said it was both partners’ responsibility to be completely honest about financial issues.
- Nearly 1 in 4 (24%) believed so strongly in this principle that they said openness about money is more important than being faithful. (As lawyers.com legal editor Alan Kopit put it, “They’re saying, ‘It’s one thing to fool around. It’s another thing to fool around with my hard-earned cash!’”)
- Still, almost one in three (29%) admitted they had lied to their partner about finances, most often about personal spending (21%) or spending on the kids (12%).
- One in four (25%) said a partner has withheld financial information — again, usually about personal spending (20%) and spending on children (11%).
Little lies, big lies
Several posters on the Your Money message board copped to financial infidelities, both large and (seemingly) small.
Poster “LesbianMom” confessed to not telling her unemployed partnered about a $20,000 bonus, instead squirreling it away into an interest-bearing account. She had several reasons for the deception, including being tired of her partner’s lending money to his spendthrift mother.
“I feel that if she knows we have some extra money, she will feel compelled to say ‘yes’ the next time her mother comes crying about how broke she is,” LesbianMom wrote. “So I’m saving her from the guilt. She can honestly tell people we don’t have it.”
Poster “PoolBoy” wrote that he sometimes sneaks “a $20 here or there” while paying the bills and uses it for various splurges without telling his partner.
“It’s been going on since we’ve met. I buy what I want when I want it, as long as it’s reasonable,” he writes. “Sometimes he figures it out when he sees a new shirt, but then I say, “I’ve had it for awhile, it didn’t fit right’ or something.”
The importance of a slush fund
“DaddyBear” wrote that he used to lie about how much he paid for things and hide purchases from his partner. He didn’t want to fight with him “over spending that much money,” or whether the spending was necessary.
(You may be nodding your head about now. Conflicts over money are common: Three out of four of the people Harris surveyed said they fight at least occasionally about money, and 11% said money was the source of most of their battles.)
DaddyBear and his partner finally solved the problem by agreeing that neither would spend more than $300 without consulting the other.
“It’s been harder for me because I like tech toys and gadgets,” DaddyBear admitted, “but it has stopped me from doing a lot of impulse buying.”
Setting such limits, and creating allowances or “slush funds” so partners have spending money of their own, is a good way to cut down on conflict, said financial planner Diane McCurdy, author of “How Much Is Enough? Balancing Today’s Needs with Tomorrow’s Retirement Goals.”
“One partner may think it is foolish to spend (money on a certain) item, while the other thinks, ‘why not?’” McCurdy said. “This is why it is important to allow each to have financial freedom in the household budget.”
Every lie is a relationship-killer
Obviously, though, it’s not just the little items that cause the fights. Partners can have vastly different approaches to spending or fundamental disagreements on how to achieve their goals.
That’s why McCurdy thinks any relationship lie about money is a red flag. “I do not think it is all right to fudge numbers,” she said.
Lies erode trust, compromise the teller’s integrity — and can make the person who’s lied to feel really, really bad. Poster “FemmeLady” offered a perspective from the other side: what it feels like to be lied to.
Shortly after they started living together, FemmeLady’s partner told her she won a new iPhone in a raffle. She later found a statement from a credit card she’d opened secretly to buy the toy.
“I was crushed for many reasons,” she wrote, most importantly because “she thought her iPhone was more important than our joint goals, ones we’d written together, talked about and set out to accomplish, together.”
Lies may signal significant problems in the relationship. In the Harris poll, people who said they were happy in their relationships were far less likely to have lied or been lied to than those who were less happy. Nearly half of those who said they were “not satisfied” said they had lied or been lied to; only one in five of the “very satisfied” crew reported that they or their partner had been untruthful.
Do the lies cause the unhappiness, or the unhappiness the lies? The poll doesn’t say; all that’s clear is that lying can be an indicator of trouble.
Also, financial infidelity often accompanies sexual infidelity, notes Ruth Houston, author of “Is He Cheating on You? 829 Tell-Tale Signs.” A cheating partner often hides spending on a lover, and may hide assets in anticipation of a break-up.
Lies can prevent partners from getting on the same page. Many times, McCurdy said, couples have settled into potentially destructive, black-and-white attitudes about their partners. People who are natural savers can see their freer-spending partners as childish and irresponsible, while the spender partner may view the saver as a miser and a kill-joy.
In these cases, she said, both partners need to work hard to understand their partners’ perspective and be willing to make compromises. The spender may need to curb the shopping trips, but the saver may have to loosen up the purse strings.
The iPhone lie, for example, resulted in a long talk that helped FemmeLady realize the couple needed a little more flexibility in its budget. From her partner’s perspective, using all their money for joint goals didn’t leave room for the fact that they were individuals, with different wants and needs. “To her … I wasn’t respecting she was still her own person, in addition to being a partner,” FemmeLady wrote.
“She didn’t excuse away the lying or blame it on anyone, she accepted her deceit,” she wrote. “After that we started getting an allowance and (have) done it ever since!”
Talking about these issues, rather than trying to avoid them with lies, can help partners work out their differences and create a plan that gives both what they need, McCurdy said. The saver can still be assured that their household is building financial security, while the spender doesn’t have to delay all gratification.
“Remember goal setting, the common household goals, can be accomplished together,” McCurdy said, “with a little joint planning and discussion.”
Little lies tend to lead to bigger ones
When deception has snowballed into serious debt — as in Rhonda’s case — professional help might be needed, Kopit said. A financial planner and a couple’s therapist may need to be called in to help straighten out both the money mess and the behavior that led to it.
Separate accounts hide many sins
Rhonda says she’s never been great with money, but her real problems started when they decided to move in together. Her partner, who made more money, gave her an allowance for household expenses, but it never seemed like enough. She charged $200 to $400 a month on her cards, as well as Christmas expenses and gifts for her nieces and nephews.
Rhonda and her partner keep separate bank accounts (like 18% of couples in the Harris poll), so it wasn’t hard to hide the ballooning debt. And the credit card companies made it easy to keep spending, Rhonda said. “They just keep raising my limits and letting me transfer balances and talking me into keeping my cards,” she said.
People who try to conceal big debts may feel like they can solve the problem before their significant other finds out, lawyers.com’s Kopit said, but they’re usually wrong. The money problems that led to the debt in the first place rarely get fixed as long as the debtor hides the problem — and often the bills snowball until the debtor can no longer keep up.
“The judgment day will arrive,” Kopit said. “It’s going to happen.”
The first step, he said, is to “fess up” to the problem. Then work jointly to fix it. The confession probably will be painful, as will the spending changes needed to pay off the debt. But concealing problems, financial or otherwise, is no way to solve them.
“Your mother and dad told you to tell the truth,” Kopit said, “and that was good advice.”