As a young wife many years ago, my husband was suspicious about my spending. In an effort to defend, I began reporting my use of cash. Throughout each month I recorded my daily purchases on a small tablet:
5/3 Lipstick $2
5/7 Pantyhose $3
5/8 Lunch $4
At the end of the month I silently placed the list atop his dresser. Whether it was that my husband feared he could not trust me or I feared that he didn’t, I wanted an end to the question, “What did you do with all of the money?” I chose what felt like humiliation and transparency over conflict and non-disclosure.
I made my choice at a time when I was determined to make our marriage work. What was one thing I could do to reduce the constant conflict about petty purchases? I’d say I got it half right.
The half I got right was operating from a good intention to improve the relationship by reducing disagreement and increasing openness. The half I didn’t get right was that something was wrong in a marriage of two professionals living within our means such that one could not be trusted to buy a two dollar bean burrito without documenting and reporting.
Polls consistently show that as many as a third of married couples admit to having kept matters of money hidden from their spouses, despite knowing that it damages trust and leads to arguments upon discovery. Money secrets in marriage might mean anything from cutting the tags off of that new dress and saying, “What, this old thing?” when asked about it to bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. Divorce lawyers see the reasons ranging from hidden addiction to an intention to control.
During divorce, undisclosed assets or debts sometimes come to light. After divorce, it’s up to you to decide to be true to yourself about your finances. What is my income, really? How much am I spending? Saving? Paying in interest? How much do I really need?
As for me, my marriage money experience taught me that even small sums add up. It also taught me that I want any relationship around money, including the one with myself, to be trusting and truthful, not defensive or surreptitious.
So when someone admires my most recent purchase of a gorgeous pair of Chanel shoes, I bravely boast that I bought them for a bargain price…second hand. No shame. No secret.