recently released the interesting results of a poll on money secrets in relationships and “financial infidelity” – keeping potentially damaging accounts or purchases hidden from their spouse.  The poll revealed that 1 in 5 people believe it’s acceptable to spend $500 without telling their spouse, and 6% of respondents had a bank account that their spouse did not know about.

On initial reading, I thought, “Oh, well 6% isn’t as bad as I might have thought.”  But then their article included this line: “If extrapolated out to the general population…that means about 7 million Americans have kept those accounts secret, committing financial infidelity.”

WOW!  7 million people have kept bank accounts hidden from their spouses.  In a climate where money fights and money problems are the #1 reason cited for divorce in North America, financial infidelity can potentially be as damaging as sexual or emotional infidelity.  While being on the same page with money can supercharge your marriage, keeping financial secrets can crush the basic foundation of trust.

While 20% of respondents said they’ve spent $500 or more without telling their spouse, 31% of respondents said it’s ok for their spouse to only spend $100 or less without telling them.  Men tend to be more secretive, with 8% affirming they’ve had secret accounts as opposed to 5% of women.

So how do we protect against this happening in our relationship?  Here are some things that we’ve done to help us stay on the same page and guard against this happening to us:

1) Discuss your finances regularly.

We discuss our financials, including our budget and our overall goals, at least once a month.  Staying in close contact about our finances helps promote openness and communication about our finances.  It’s much easier to discuss problems and challenges if we touch base regularly instead of a couple times each year.

2) Use only joint bank accounts.

It’s just too easy to hide things from your spouse if you don’t have joint access to all accounts, so just don’t go there.  If your spouse has a spending problem and won’t listen to your concerns about money, you might need marriage counselor, because there’s a respect and love issue going on there that’s deeper than a money issue.  Nancy’s name and my name is on all of our bank accounts, including accounts for both of our businesses.  Retirement accounts have to be in an individual’s name (can’t be shared), but we discuss them as one and have shared, joint access.

3) Don’t make a major purchase without discussing it first.

What constitutes a major purchase for you?  For us, it’s anything over $100.  If we err, we err on the side of caution, and at least inform the other if it is between $50-100.  You might be a high-income, high-net-worth household, and your threshold could be $500.  Discuss where you’re comfortable and decide on a number that works for the two of you.

4) Discuss problems as soon as they arise.

If things come up, don’t try to hide them.  Don’t try to face them on your own.  Own up to it, come clean, and clean up the mess.  It will be easier and go more quickly if you do it together.  Even if it’s something out of your control, bring it to your spouse and work through it together.  That will be much easier than hiding it and trying to explain it in the future.

5) Give each spouse spending money. 

If each spouse has their own spending/blow/fun money, there’s less of a reason to go hiding money.  That spending money can be used for whatever they’d like (within reason and the law).  While this won’t completely prevent  financial infidelity, it will decrease the rationale for financial secrets

What’s your reaction to this study?  How do you and your spouse stay on the same page?