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It's not uncommon for a spouse to have a secret credit card or have more debt than they've told.

Financial infidelity can ruin a marriage. Learn how you can set up a financial system that allows you to be open and honest with your finances and work together with money!

Financial Infidelity in Your Marriage

Financial infidelity is more common than you think. 

A recent survey conducted for National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®) revealed that two in five Americans admitted to committing financial infidelity

Add to that TD Bank last year found in their survey that some of the top financial secrets included hidden bank accounts, gambling and credit card debts, and unpaid student loans. 

It’s a wide net and it can be scary both as the spouse in the dark and sometimes the one doing it. 

This sounds weird for that second half, but here’s another thing I’ve noticed – at least in this community when I get the emails many times, it’s not because someone is trying to ruin their marriage or their finances. 

There is some breakdown that snowballs into something bigger. 

There are plenty of ways couples can start drifting with their finances and slowly shift towards that gray area and finally cross the line. 

For example, you can have one spouse is carrying all of the responsibility with finances, it can start to become a burden. 

They start making judgment calls and from there it can quickly get messy. Remember Travis and Vonnie? He handled the day to day finances and she preferred to let him run with it, not really looking into their numbers. 

Over the years, overspending and no accountability led him to have to admit to her that they were on the brink of bankruptcy

An extreme example, but it highlights a point – communication and some sort of system is key to making things work. 

So how can you two prevent that from happening? And if it has happened or is happening now, how can you regain that trust and team up with your finances?

In this episode we’ll get into:

  • Red flags or signs that financial infidelity might be an issue 
  • Working to regain trust after financial infidelity
  • Creating an open and transparent system for your money together

Resources to Help You Merge Your Finances

If you’re looking to get better with your finances together, here are some helpful posts to check out:

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Financial Infidelity Red Flags: More Than Hiding Money

A few years ago, I had someone send in a question about a surprise bonus they were expecting

At work today, I thought of your blog when we received our vacation paychecks which is what my company pays us for any unused vacation time.  

Normally, the policy is that you use the vacation time or lose it, but this year, management wanted to reach a certain number of earned work hours and decided to pay workers for unused vacation time, thus providing an incentive working towards the earned hours goal versus taking vacation time.

So when we received our vacation checks today, some of my co-workers were like kids in the candy shop because this is money that their wives won’t know about.  

Wives don’t exactly know how much vacation time their husband has used or accrued during the year.  So when the vacation paycheck were received in hand, some of my co-workers were thinking about electronic gadgets to buy or planning to go out and have a good time.

Since your blog deals with building financial freedom together,  Do you think this is alright when my co-workers splurge a bit with money that their significant other won’t know about?  Or do you think my co-workers should tell their significant others about their vacation checks and put it towards their financial goals?

Now would you consider this financial infidelity? 

According to some, financial infidelity is when one spouse is making significant financial moves without the knowledge of the other.

How would you define significant? 

There isn’t a hard and fast number as every couple’s situation and therefore finances are different. 

Financial infidelity can ruin a marriage. Learn how you can set up a financial system that allows you to be open and honest with your finances and work together with money! #marriage #money

But there are some things you can look out for. 

  • Secret accounts:  We talked about recently that some times spouses have a fun money account that’s typically used for purchases like hobbies and gifts. But separate doesn't mean secret. Have you found statements for a credit card that you didn’t know about? Or if you have a joint credit card, have you been removed? These are bigger red flags for sure. And ones you need to address ASAP.
  • Missing Money: Does the balance on your joint account look much lower than expected? Another reason for both spouses to be a part of the conversation is so that there is accountability and an awareness of how the finances should be going. This can help you spot a problem when it’s smaller rather when it becomes a hige issue. 
  • Frivolous purchases: Not talking about an occasional small purchase here and there, but constant purchases that break the budget can add up to bigger problems. Those amazon deliveries, shopping bags around the house, are you aware of what’s being bought. 
  • Expensive hobbies: Again a purchase for a hobby in itself isn’t a red flag, but do they seem to have a spending problem with certain things? It can be that they spend all of their allocated fun money and start dipping into the joint account accounts.   It’s also a warning sign they have a compulsive spending problem. 

So if you see any of these what can you do? How do you start the conversations?

I want to share how one couple worked together to overcome financial infidelity.

Working Together and Regaining Trust

How can you move forward after one spouse has committed financial infidelity? 

Tai and Talaat McNeely, the talented creators behind His and Her Money had to deal with this situation. 

Years ago, as they were preparing to get married, they were doing all they could to get things on the right foot.

They got premarital counseling, they had conversations about money, their lives. Things were looking up for sure. 

Then Tai discovered financial infidelity. 

They were kind enough to share their story on an earlier episode and we do a deep dive into that, but I want to give a snippet here of how she found out, what talks they had to have, and the steps they took to deal and overcome this as a couple.  

Talaat McNeely: It was day one for me. We were having conversations about money ahead of being married and so our personalities came out.

I was the natural spender. I was reckless. I had a bunch of debt. I didn't have a clue at the time. And on the other hand, Ty is a natural saver. She was working in financial services. Perfect credit. My credit was messed up. So it was kind of pretty apparent that we were on two different playing fields when it came to the topic of personal finance and we knew we had to figure it out if we wanted to win.

Tai McNeely: Yeah, we must mention, too, that in the beginning we sat down with our pastor to have premarital counseling and she asked all the right questions.

And he answered it just like I thought you should. And I answered just like he thought that I should. And we put our credit reports and we reviewed our credit reports.

So I knew that Talaat had some financial setbacks because clearly, his credit report showed that. However, we had a big bump just about three months prior to getting married where I discovered financial infidelity and I discovered that he wasn't as transparent as he should have been before we got married about his finances because he was trying to handle it all.

He was trying to pay it off, pay down his entire debt before we got married. So, I mean, he was working more than one job. He was delivering pizzas and working a full-time job at the time. So I just thought I saw go-getter.

I saw someone that was determined and ambitious pumped about it. I was excited, but little did I know that he was working these multiple jobs so he can pay off this debt that I was unaware of before we got married.

Talaat McNeely: Well, I was I would say I was a reformed spender. And I was at the point as an individual to where I kind of had an awakening that the way I was going about money was all wrong.

I knew that I needed to make a change. And so I was at the point where I was ashamed of all of the debt that I had acquired. And here I am about to embark on a marriage, a new life.

I didn't want to bring these old bad decisions that I made into the marriage. So my thinking was, well, I just got to hustle up and try to figure out how to get rid of the debt. And I can't tell her this because she'll look at me differently.

She won't think I'm the guy that I built myself up to be. You know, when we were having these money talks, now that we're engaged, you know, I meant what I was saying. I was starting to understand money a little bit better. But the problem was I was still had to deal with my past mistakes.

They were still right there in front of me. There were still bills and bill collectors that I'm dealing with. All that was there because of the decisions that I had made previously.

So my thought, which was an incorrect thought, was I can't tell her because she won't she won't look at me and say she might not marry me because, you know, Tai said, she was all about and she's all in when it comes to personal finance and I was a mess.

Tai McNeely: I felt like my world came down, came crashing. You know, I felt like trust. Like, oh, wow. Can I trust him? Because here it is. He was not completely honest with me. I just had a lot of emotions going on, especially in my mind on what to do until I realized, hey, he's a good man. His money issues had nothing to do with him. How he treated me, he treated me like a clean, like my father always taught me.

So I knew that as long as we came together and went to court that, hey, we can do this. And if it wasn't for the fact, then as I mentioned, that I saw determination in my husband.

I saw that he was willing to change. I saw habits that he is changing. He was reading different financial books and stuff like that. It was very encouraging. So what we did, we had a long talk and we had to lay all our carrots out. We had to be completely honest with each other.

Now that some of the financial infidelity was uncovered, he had to tell me everything about his past financially, so I had to do the same. So once we maintain that, then we were able to work together and come up with a plan on how we can handle our finances. I'm the one that goes through our bank accounts, whether it's daily or every other day and things like that. But we both sit down. We both do the budget. We have meetings, financial meetings together. We talk about expenses that are coming up. They need to get paid. But far as the one that's going to the bank handling like the different transactions, I do that.

Talaat McNeely: One of the most important things that we did was we decided that we were in this together. We were married and we were one. There wasn't any for lack of a better term, his and her money.

There wasn't a there wasn't any. He isn't her debt. It was our debt. And Tai came one and shoulder did and said, you know what? It's not your debt anymore. This is our let's make a plan for us to figure out how we can get out of debt and that verbiage in that language.

It changed the game because it put us in show that we were going to be operating as a team. It wasn't going to be any individuals.

You can't operate individually in any area of your marriage and especially not your financial arena. You have to work together. You all have to play on the same team.

Creating an Open System for Your Money Together

There’s a lot of fantastic points to Tai and Talaat’s story.

First off, I want to mention that now they're completely debt-free including their mortgage and they run a business together.

But that journey wasn’t easy. It took work on both their parts. Some things that stuck out to me when they shared their struggle and triumph. 

  • Sought outside help
  • Had regular conversations
  • Talaat owned up
  • Finances became transparent – maybe more so than they would have before, but regaining that trust was important to both of them
  • They decided to tackle the debts together. 

How can their story help you two create an open financial system where you’re working as a team? 

  • Don’t start off with blaming and accusations. 
  • Open up about finances. 
  • Pull in someone else to keep things objective
  • Process your feelings honestly. Forgiveness can be a process. 
  • Discuss mutual goals that you want to work towards
  • Spending Expectations and Accountability (Money Dates)
  • Seek counseling

Support the Podcast!

Thank you so much for listening to the podcast!

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  • Grab a copy of Jumpstart Your Marriage and Your Money. My book is designed for a busy couple to set up their finances in 4 weeks. Get tips and tools that have worked for other couples on their journey of building their marriage and wealth together!

Music Credit

Like the music in this episode? Our theme song is by Gentle Regime. Additional music by Lee Rosevere.

About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..