Committing Financial Adultery – Lurid Examples, Gray Areas and Your Stories

by Darwin on January 22, 2013

Financial adultery is a newer term you’re probably going to be hearing a lot more about.  This recent survey indicates that HALF, yes, half the people surveyed have committed financial infidelity.  As the economy languishes and people continue to struggle with low-paying jobs and increasingly burdensome amounts of student debt, this notion of couples hiding money secrets from each other is becoming increasingly common.  Just within our circle of family and friends, we’re aware of several stories along the continuum from outright financial adultery or perhaps innocent sins of omission.  I’m curious what your take is on these situations and what stories you have to share.  Since some people we know read my posts, I’ll try to anonomize the accounts as much as possible, but here we go:

  • Wife Hiding Credit Card Debt on New Cards – So, we have a friend that confided that she’s been paying off credit card bills for various department stores and whatnot with money from her job.  She pays all the bills so he has no idea.  She said he’d be mad if he found out about the credit card bills she’s run up shopping.  The unfortunate thing, I assume, is that since he’s a relatively high earner and probably putting money away from his salary into various accounts, they could probably be using his extra money to just pay off the credit card debt if he only knew about it.  Think about it, rather than earning, say, whatever the stock market does, or 1% in a savings account, his wife’s income is paying probably 20% + on credit card interest.  At a minimum, doing a balance transfer to a 0% card would save plenty monthly!  For instance, with the Discover IT card, they could transfer the full balance to a 0% rate for over a year with only a one-time fee of 3%.  That’s a huge savings over rolling over double digit debt continuously.
  • Husband Hiding Business Collections Companies Chasing Him – Since my brother no longer talks to anyone in our family, screw it; he’ll never read this.  So, he owned (and still owns I presume) a Tree Service company.  It had some crazy cash swings where he’d get a huge job and make thousands one week, but then have a piece of equipment break and have to shell out thousands to fix it and keep running.  He also paid his employees fairly well (I did it for a summer) and in my opinion, didn’t always run the business optimally from a cash-flow standpoint.  Anyway, he always had this weird phone thing going on at his house.  It was blocked for all incoming calls except for certain numbers they “allowed”.  So, if I called him from a friend’s house or a cell about work, my call could never go through.  It was really annoying.  He said he did this because people were calling his house at all hours of the night with emergency tree jobs each time there was a storm or something.  Sounds kinda reasonable.  What I came to learn later was that he was really doing this so the creditors couldn’t call him.  Since I was still living with my parents during summers off from college, they’d be getting a ton of calls harassing them about debt due from my brother.  They’d yell at the collections agencies that he hadn’t lived in the house for years and they weren’t even in contact with him, yet they’d keep calling.  I’m now aware that they do this solely for harassment and embarrassment figuring after it goes on long enough, eventually they’ll get their money.  Subsequently, still years later when my brother and I were no longer talking, and I had an unlisted phone number in my own house in another state, I started getting calls from collections agencies about him.  It’s crazy!  I have no idea where they even got my number or info from, but they started harassing me asking if I knew where he lived or how to reach him and telling me he had “obligations”.  Anyway, I’m sure his wife had no idea as to the extent of the various collections issues since he had this crazy phone block thing going on.  Who knows, maybe she eventually caught on and that’s why they had so many issues and stopped talking to all of us.  But initially, I’m pretty confident he was committing financial infidelity.
  • Gambling Habit Eating Up the Budget – I have another old friend who ended up having some pretty serious gambling issues.  Looking back, I remember when we were younger we gambled a lot with baseball cards, Nintendo games or whatever we could muster up.  We had a little ring of probably 5-6 of us that were routinely gambling.  For whatever reason, he happened to have the bug later in life and ended up getting into financial difficulties to the point where it was causing some serious marital strife.  I don’t know to what degree he was always sharing his losses, but usually gamblers don’t share their losing streaks, only when they win.  I think many gambling situations probably lend themselves to some sins of omission.
  • Gray Areas – What about if you make a lousy investment and it loses money (you bought Groupon LOL!)?  Does that really matter if it’s a side trading account?  My wife has no idea what I trade or how I do with those funds.  She doesn’t ask, nor really care.  Fortunately, I’ve never concentrated all my holdings in one spot where I could make a major mistake like that but I’m sure some people have.  Is that financial adultery?  How about small habits your spouse isn’t aware of that cost money?  Cigars?  Eating lunch out with the office buddies all the time when she thinks you’re eating at the cafeteria?  Blowing money at the strip clubs when she thinks you’re on a golfing trip?  Likewise for the ladies, all the shopping he has no idea you’re doing?  These are kind of gray areas that probably depend on your relationship.
  • Our Situation – My wife and I have had a couple “surprises” throughout our relationship I suppose, but I don’t think either of us have ever done anything with the intent of deceiving the other; more like sins of omission.  Early on in our relationship, I wasn’t fully up to speed on her credit card debt coming into the marriage but it wasn’t much.  On my end, I’ve always done the finances and pretty much pay all the bills, save, invest, direct it to different accounts, including my various unconventional investments (real estate, CAD outsourcing business, etc) without too much discussion.  She trusts that I’ll make the right decisions and not piss away our hard earned money, but I’m not routinely updating on how everything’s doing.  Is that deceitful?  I don’t think so; she’s just not interested.  I suppose if something was doing poorly and she asked, I’d certainly be forthcoming.


What Are Your Stories of Financial Adultery?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

krantcents January 22, 2013 at 11:38 pm

One of my friends who died of brain cancer managed to rack up debt in his waning days thanks to gambling. He was a high earner who had no debt until the end. You might think the cancer caused the debt and you would be wrong! He was always a gambler. His insurance covered his care 100%. The debt was totally from gambling. Further, wife never knew how much he earned. This all occurred roughly 10 years ago.


Darwin January 23, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Crazy stuff happens in some relationships. I suppose I could be masking a proble too and my wife would never know. Thankfully, I have a clean conscience! I don’t spend shit LOL. No hobbies, no vices other than coffee which we both enjoy at home. Can’t really think of anything she’d be mad at me for.


IndenturedServant January 23, 2013 at 4:27 am

Hey Darwin, consider this regarding your own personal situation…..If something catastrophic happened to you right now, would your wife know how and where to access all the irons you have in the fire? Would she be able to get out of your investments without loss or stay in them without loss? If she cannot sort it out while you are happy and healthy, the added stress of losing you will make it even harder once you are beyond participating.

I try to keep updated *instructions* filed away in a secure location not only for my wife but for those who will have to deal with our demise should we go together. I also update my wife monthly on what is cooking where. She is not really interested like your wife but she needs to know.


Darwin January 23, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Oh I have an entire excel spreadsheet in our lockbox w every account, asset value, acct # and login credentials. I update it annually. My wife had no interest in reviewing it but she knows where it is if I die. When I went to India last year I forced her to go thru it with me. About that time of year again tho, tx for reminder!


Joe @ Midlife Finance January 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm

That’s a good idea. I need to do that. My excel is on my laptop.


101 Centavos January 23, 2013 at 5:19 am

I know of a couple of situations from the office where gambling ruined finances, and in one case, the marriage as well. With casinos around every corner, lots of stories like that in Oklahoma.
Sorry to hear about the deal with your brother.


Darwin January 23, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Shit happens when you marry the wicked witch!
Yeah, gambling’s a big one; online makes it real easy to hide a problem now too.


Nunzio Bruno January 25, 2013 at 11:44 am

In the investing Gray Area – I think as long as you approach it as being something like the riskiest small % of your total financial picture I don’t think it’s then a Gray Area at all – the goal is to have that money grow even if there are a few bumps along the way. As to your question of deceit, I don’t think it’s necessarily financial adultery but it probably is a good idea to communicate right. If not to keep each other informed then to help give your wife a kind of mental simple balance sheet so she can make the best decisions possible while she’s out in the world. I think the more readily and available information is the more efficient everyone can be when it comes to allocating resources 🙂


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