7 Financial Lies People Tell Their Spouses

Couples should have a shared understanding about spending, debt, and savings rates. Read how lying about money can undermine that understanding and the marriage itself.
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Communication is a cornerstone of a successful marriage, and nothing undermines communication like deception. Unfortunately, money is one of the most common things people lie about, and mistruths on that topic can pose a serious threat to any marriage.

Habitual lies on things such as income, spending, gambling and debt can test the fabric of any union and ultimately erode the level of trust — a vital part of any relationship.

A recent MoneyRates.com/MSN.com poll, conducted between Jan. 16-20, asked respondents which of the financial lies below they were most likely to tell their spouses. Review the results below to see whether you’re likely to tell any of these lies to your husband or wife:

1. “We’re not made of money!”

Claiming you can’t afford something you just didn’t want to buy: 39 percent (3,764 votes)

Sharing the resources that go into a household budget is a matter of compromise. Even if you are the sole or primary bread-winner, there needs to be some consensus on financial matters, including major purchases. If you reflexively use the excuse “we can’t afford it” to shoot down requests that you don’t like, you face a conflict the next time you want to buy something that is equally discretionary.

This kind of discussion comes up frequently when the needs of children are involved, and unless you and your spouse reach a thoughtful consensus, you risk always being the “bad cop” in the eyes of your kids.

2. “I can’t remember the exact price.”

Downplaying how much you spent on something: 27 percent (2,594 votes)

People often feel guilty when they overspend, and they tend to sound guilty as well. How much did that cost? “Oh, it was on sale” or “I don’t know exactly — it wasn’t much.” If these answers sound deceptive, it’s because they are. This kind of deception can create suspicions that may be worse than the reality.

Perhaps worst of all, you may also be reinforcing your own bad spending habits. If you won’t be accountable to your spouse, chances are that you won’t be accountable to yourself for how much you spend.

3. “What credit card bill?”

Concealing how much debt you have: 9 percent (876 votes)

People come into relationships with all sorts of baggage: health problems, childhood traumas, emotional scars from past relationships and so on. Financially, a common form of baggage people bring to a relationship is a debt burden. The instinct to lie about it comes from the fear that a potential spouse won’t want to share in your financial problems.

However, since debt doesn’t go away easily, it is almost inevitable that you will eventually be caught in this kind of lie. If that happens, it’s anyone’s guess whether your spouse will be more upset by the credit card bill itself or the fact that you didn’t feel comfortable disclosing it earlier.

4. “I broke even.”

Not admitting the extent of gambling losses: 9 percent (818 votes)

According to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, 75 percent of problem gamblers are in debt because of their habit, and 25 percent have committed crimes as a result. Given such damaging consequences, perhaps it is inevitable that some people would lie about gambling losses, but this deception only compounds the problem.

Lying about gambling can delay the decisions necessary to address financial difficulties, and stand in the way of getting help for someone with a serious addiction. And perhaps most damagingly, lying about gambling can ultimately demonstrate that the habit is coming between you and your spouse.

5. “My paycheck was a little lean this time.”

Understating how much you earn: 8 percent (769 votes)

You might think people would be more likely to overstate what they earn rather than understate it, but the latter is exactly what some people do. Obviously, the objective here isn’t to impress; instead, it’s more about control. By understating income, a person may seek to retain exclusive control over a portion of that income — a sort of “slush fund” that is withheld from the household budget.

Remember, though, if you file your taxes jointly, your spouse also has to sign the return. There’s a good chance he or she will spot the unexpectedly high income number on that return, and you’ll have to explain why you’ve been selfish and untrustworthy.

6. “Of course you can get it.”

Acting as if you can afford something you really can’t: 7 percent (652 votes)

The opposite side of the coin from refusing to spend money on anyone but yourself is being too eager to please others. Being generous is admirable to a degree, but if it reaches the point of buying things you can’t afford, it becomes a from of enabling. It allows your spouse to ignore the realities of a household budget, which can put all of your finances in jeopardy.

Remember, you can only stretch debt so far, and if you create the expectation that you can always meet every financial request, the disappointment will be all the greater when, inevitably, you can’t.

7. “I do pretty well for myself.”

Overstating how much you earn: 1 percent (134 votes)

This type of lie might begin during the dating phase of a relationship. After all, you want to demonstrate that you are successful in your work, so maybe you create the impression that you earn more than you really do. The problem is, it’s hard to walk back from this kind of lie once you start telling it.

Certainly, if the relationship turns serious, you’ll be expected to provide that inflated income for the household budget, which could lead to an embarrassing situation. Better to be truthful from the start: Establish yourself as someone savvy enough to live within your means, whatever those means happen to be.

Finally, here’s a tip: Just because you see other people lie to their spouses about money, that’s no excuse for you to do it. If you want a happier-than-average marriage, start by being more truthful than average with your spouse on money matters.

Have something you’d like to share about financial deception in relationships? Share it below in the comments section.

About Author
Richard Barrington has been a Senior Financial Analyst for MoneyRates. He has appeared on Fox Business News and NPR, and has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, CNBC and many other publications. Richard has over 30 years of experience in financial services. He has earned the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation from the Association of Investment Management and Research (now the “CFA Institute”).