Lying About Money: The Price of Infidelity

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Audio Lying About Money

A prospective client recently said:

“Lying about money doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  Mom did it with Dad all the time.  He was a real tightwad, so she moved money around from credit card to credit card, buying and returning lots of things so it was harder to keep track.  And then, with all the credit card offers she got in the mail, she’d get a new card and move things around.”

I asked Myriam, “So how’s your parents’ marriage doing now?”

“Oh, they’ve been divorced for years.  And my Mom’s really struggling, trying to make ends meet.  Especially now when you can’t get credit cards so easily.”

I then asked, “And how are you doing with your credit cards?”

“They’re mostly maxed out.  My credit limit was dropped on some cards a few years ago and I haven’t been able to get the balances back under control.  I may have to declare bankruptcy and start over.”

The Price of Lying About Money

Lying about money hurts in more ways than one can imagine.

In any relationship, particularly with a significant other, the loss of trust around money is almost as devastating as the loss of trust in the form of sexual infidelity.

The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), together with Forbes, took an online poll in late 2010.  It showed that about a third of American adults admitted to deceiving their spouse or partner about money.  Two out of three adults either have deceived or have been deceived!  Of those, 42 percent said that financial deception led to less trust in their relationship, and 16 percent said that it eventually led to divorce.

What Do People Lie About?

According to the NEFE article, the deception ranged “from hiding money, purchases and bank accounts to lying about the amount of debt owed or money earned.”

What starts as “a little white lie”—maybe something that you saw your mother or father do and that didn’t seem all that important—is actually very important.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s:

  • Lying about how much you make
  • Lying about how much you owe
  • Having accounts you keep secret
  • Hiding bills or receipts
  • Hiding cash or other assets
  • Hiding expensive online or other habits

Any form of deception, once discovered, affects the other person’s ability to believe again.

We’re not saying you need to report every expenditure to your partner.  It’s not about having to ask for permission, nor is it about keeping tabs.

But if your relationship is not based on openness and honesty, the uncertainty and distrust may well turn it into a statistic.

What To Do If You Are Lying About Money

As difficult as it might be, if you are among the third that is being financially deceptive:

  • Stop it immediately.
  • If you can somehow rectify the situation because it hasn’t gone far, do so and don’t repeat the behavior.  It’s up to you if you ever admit it.
  • If you can’t rectify it, figure out how to come clean.  You may risk losing your spouse or partner’s trust by admitting your behavior, but there’s a greater chance of your relationship surviving if you’re proactive than if you get found out.

The last thing I’d like to suggest that you do, whether you’ve been financially deceptive or not, is to think about your values around money.

  • Do you give money so much power that it distorts how you behave with it?
  • Are you able to have open, non-judgmental conversations about money with people, including with your significant other?
  • Are there behaviors you inherited from your upbringing that are causing you to act around money in ways that make you feel uneasy?

Let us know in the Comments section below if you had ever thought about money in this way—as something that could have that great an impact on the success of your relationships, present and future.


Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial peace of mind.

  • Susan Schiller

    Lots of wisdom here that can save marriages and families from the anguish of lost trust. Your story opens up our own hearts, and I’m glad my parents had a good relationship with each other and good financial practices! I’ve kept my finances an open book with my husband, but in my first marriage my husband kept everything under lock and key, away from our home, so for many years I had no knowledge of what was happening… it was dreadfully painful! Thanks for making your own life an open book with us, Sharon, and for sharing the stories that unlock the treasures in our own hearts, even beginning with exposing deception.

    • That story was of someone who wanted to talk to me about getting her finances under control — name changed, of course — and realized after our first conversation just how much family baggage she had to get at and release! I was fortunate enough not to have to deal with deception issues around money in my family … but we had others just as destructive to clear up. 😉 So glad you’re living with transparency now, Sue!

  • Anne Allen

    Very insightful…I remember growing up my mom had ‘secret’ money that my dad didn’t know about and it always struck me as odd…if they were married, why wouldn’t they know about all the money? This was a really great read, thank you!

    • Thanks, Anne. I agree, why the secrecy? I’d guess someone before her, maybe her own mother, did the same …

  • Barbara Becker

    Interesting that couples would not talk about their finances and strategies. When two people work together on a financial plan, they have awesome results.

    • I’m always amazed, Barbara … but it only takes one of the two being uncomfortable talking about (or dealing with) money for the conversation to stop … or never start.

  • Thank you for this Sharon – it goes well with your other post about money legacy and hard work. It seems that what we learn early about money impacts us the rest of our lives. I’m glad for a second chance to get financial things right and in a way that will allow me to teach my future children or those within my sphere of influence about a healthy respect for money and for being people of integrity no matter. I don’t want to sow any bad seed – I don’t want the sour rewards of bitterness they breed. Great post!

    • This is indeed a generational issue, Marvia, as is most everything else that is learned in infancy and not taught elsewhere … meaning: out of the house. And because there is this whole taboo wrapped around money, it’s a topic people don’t tend to go out and ask about. So, any unhealthy patterning has a ripe environment in which to thrive! I’m so glad to see this awareness growing in you!

  • Robert Manea

    I actually know a few people like this, and it boggle my mind.. My wife and I are upfront and honest with each other on our debt.. can’t have it any other way..

    • Good for you and your wife, Robert. It really IS the only way!

  • This is a great post. Too much debt and mishandling of money can lead to deeper trust issues. It is best to be honest when it comes to money and your marriage. Thank you for sharing.

    • What’s interesting to see, Christy, is that even a lot of debt and poor money management can be handled if there is eventually real openness and honesty. I’ve seen couples make the decision to turn their finances around, get “real,” get themselves on a plan of their own choosing … and get back on top of things. And what that achievement does for a marriage is priceless! 😉

  • I totally agree with this. I have seen so many people, myself included years past, tell lies about money and it lead to hurt always!

    • There may be a phase in life where financial deception (whether of ourselves or others) works for awhile. But it eventually comes back to bite us! The question then is if there is still time to make amends … and catch up financially.

  • Love your honest approach to educating men and women alike about money. Still working on correcting the issues I’ve grown up with around the subject of finances. However, thanks to your direct approach and my desire to fix what is broken I’m making headway.

    • I know you are, Carla, and it’s such a joy seeing each step of the way … BTW, aren’t we about due for a “catching up with one another” call soon? 😉

  • Mike Gardner – The Time Doctor

    Honesty is the only way to make any relationship work, I make it easy for people, they have my complete trust from the word go, they do not have to earn it but they can lose it and once lost it is lost forever

    • Yours is a generous position, Mike, of starting relationships from a place of complete trust. Have you found over the years that many people disappoint you? Or do you find that, given a chance, people will usually retain that initial trust?

      • Mike Gardner – The Time Doctor

        Hi Sharon,

        It is really interesting, there have only ever been three people who have lost that trust, all very close to me at the time, as I am soon to reach that magic 50, I don’t think that’s too bad a record. In general I seem to be surrounded by very trustworthy people.

        • You’ve raised my faith in “humankind,” Mike! To have only lost trust in three people over the years is phenomenal. Of course, it could have something to do with you, too, and the energy/expectation that you exude … Good stuff!

  • This is one of the biggest problems in marriages and the root of divorce! Thanks all the wise insights!

    • You’re so welcome, Elizabeth. Money on its own is such a volatile topic for many couples. That’s surmountable. But deception around money is what really has the ability to pull marriages down, as you say!

  • Fantastic Post. I would say truth about money is very important. Even before you get into a relationship you need to be honest about your money. Thank you so much for sharing this insight. I learned a lot.

    • Glad it was useful, Katrina. Lots of the things I write about are “present in our day-to-day lives” but not necessarily brought into awareness. I find so many women grow just by being made aware … especially when it’s something like a behavior brought forward from childhood and never questioned. And, if unhealthy, once acknowledged … it’s gone! 😉

  • Great post. So true and so many things resonated. Makes me so glad this is one area where we do talk about everything. It can be such a minefield in a relationship and shouldn’t be.

    • Congratulations, Marie! You’re so many steps ahead of others … minefield is right! 😉

  • Marilyn Arriaga

    great post with very important points. I am so glad I don’t owe any debts or credit cards. I see so many struggle with it and how it destroys their sparkles and lives

    • Marilyn, sounds like you understand (and have control over) your money. Brava! You’re right about how mishandling it can destroy lives …

  • Yetunde Daramola

    Thank you for sharing this sensitive topic. Bad finance habits have led to the break down of many marriages. However the most important thing is trust and deciding very early in the marriage to be open to each other about finance.
    I am learning everyday to be more in control of my finances, committing it all to the Lord first.

    • I’m excited for you, Yetunde, to be on the journey of increasing the control you have over your finances. It’s a wonderfully empowering thing!

  • sheila gallant-halloran

    great tips

  • MamaRed

    Ah, so wish I had met you MUCH sooner in life (not that now is too late) it’s just that my relationship with money has been an interesting challenge for me and I’m now starting over. Thanks for your wonderful advice and clarity Sharon.

    • I’m just glad we’ve met now, MamaRed! Don’t hesitate to ask if there’s anything you need more clarity on … 😉

  • Jackie Harder

    Nicely done! Great advice.

  • Norma Doiron ´*•჻.

    Totally agree. Lying about money only gets us in trouble. Besides, if you have nothing to hide, why hide it? Just the fact that you are hiding it tells me you know you are doing something wrong… Great share!

    • Norma, I’m not so sure people are intentionally “hiding” things because they have something to hide. It’s much more likely a reflection of their entire relationship with money that doesn’t allow them to face it, talk about it, think about it or whatever. My point is that most don’t know what they’re doing, or why they are doing it. And it’s fixable … 😉

      • Norma Doiron ´*•჻.

        Absolutely. I meant that hiding should be one of the first signs of trouble. Not necessarily intentional, no. But a signal to self or those around you… 🙂

  • This is an excellent post Sharon! I think that the thing about telling lies (regardless of what it’s about) – is more about what the person is “hiding” from themselves rather than the lie itself. Thanks for sharing your insight 🙂

  • Lorii Abela

    Thanks for the
    tips. Openess to one’s partner especially on financial matters is really
    crucial in every relationship. Could openness be basis to fidelity?

    • Openness IS the basis for fidelity, Lorii. If you think about it, what secrets could possibly be useful in developing trust with another. Even if that openness is to talk about problems, they can’t be fixed if not addressed … and if not addressed they will most likely result in infidelity (or deception of some sort). No?

  • Meire Weishaupt

    Thanks for the post! It is really important to decide together about the money, since there are serious consequences for both the way the money is used!

    • You’re right, Meire. I’ve never figured out how one half of a couple feels he or she can have total control over the money … when the money is one (of many) things that make the “everyday” work well, in a fair and balanced way. Without that, the risk of falling off the tracks is pretty high!

  • daniele holmberg

    Wow, that makes me sad..I cannot believe people would lie about money. I am in charge of all off our accounts but we regularly discuss our money together::) Thanks for the post:)

    • The more I hear about you two in your couple, as I read comments from both of you, the more it sounds as if you have a solid, healthy balance. May you keep that forever! 😉

  • LizB4

    Great Sharon! Luckily I don’t have this affliction, but can imagine it would be very bad. thanks for sharing!!

  • Bob Krause

    Thanks Sharon for sharing.

  • I love this post because money should be an open and honest subject in a relationship. Sadly, it’s not. After growing up with my parents lying to each other, I vow to never let that happen to me.