Would you ever lie to your spouse about your spending?
Have you ever run up a large credit card bill and kept it hidden from your honey? Right now, are there new clothes stashed in the trunk of your car or in the back of a closet? Do you have an iPod your wife doesn't know you bought?
According to two surveys, financial infidelity is a problem in many relationships.
Nearly one-third (29 percent) of adults ages 25 to 55 who said they were in a committed relationship (either married, engaged or living with a partner) said they had been dishonest about their spending habits, according to a survey sponsored by Redbook magazine and Lawyers.com, a free online directory of lawyers.
The investment management company OppenheimerFunds came up with similar results in its recently released 2005 Women & Investing Survey. The company found that for both men (24 percent) and women (26 percent), cash was named as the No. 1 item that they are most likely to hide from their spouse.
And which purchases are people most likely to hide? Entertainment (20 percent) and electronics (16 percent) topped the list for men, while women named clothing (23 percent) and food (19 percent).
It's the next finding from the OppenheimerFunds survey that I think contributes to this deception.
Slightly more women (40 percent) than men (36.8 percent) have a checking, savings or brokerage account to which their spouse does not have access.
"Because so many couples now maintain separate banking and credit card accounts, the risk of deceit is even greater," said Alan Kopit, an attorney and adviser to Lawyers.com. "The fact that you have individual accounts is not open license to do whatever you want if you want to remain financially healthy."
In the Redbook/Lawyers.com survey, which will appear in the November issue of the magazine, women were more likely to keep information from their partners. It seems it is easier to hide extra purchases or overdue credit card bills if you're in charge of the household budget. Forty-one percent of women were found to be responsible for the household accounts, compared with 21 percent of men.
Kopit said the financial deception that couples practice is the outcome of a larger problem -- a lack of communication and shared financial goals.
"Couples have to communicate," he said. "They need to come up with some common financial goals . . . and figure out how to reach those goals."
I see all the time what Kopit is talking about. Check out this question I received recently during one of my regular online chats:
"If my spouse continually pays her credit cards three to four months late, how concerned should I be that her abuse of credit will affect my own?" the chat reader asked. "In the past 10 years, I have had to transfer her credit card balances over to me three times because she had rung up charges for thousands of dollars and was not making her monthly payments. Now that we own a home I no longer feel the need to step in to prop up her credit because I have excellent credit and no longer need her co-signage for a big-ticket loan. We have had many fights on the issue and I simply cannot get her to understand how valuable it is to pay your bills. Now that my daughter has just turned 13, I need to focus more of my resources toward her college savings, rather than my spouse's spending habits."
What this couple has is a classic failure to communicate.
Oh, sure, they're talking -- but arguing is not effective communication.
Read the chat posting again. Obviously this couple isn't communicating because he thinks the problem is his good credit name. But he needs to realize there is more at issue here than his credit score. He's angry and frustrated -- so much so that he doesn't see paying for their child's education as a joint goal. That can't be good for their home life or the life of their child.
His wife clearly doesn't see that her spending is seriously damaging her marriage and her family. Her spendthrift behavior is their problem.
I know that for many couples, communicating about money isn't easy. And if that's your situation, get some professional help. Here are some places where you might find some counseling:
* Your church or religious organization. An increasing number of churches offer couples counseling that focuses on financial conflicts.
* Check with your benefits office at work.
* Get a referral from a professional organization. For example, on the Web site for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (www.aamft.org), there is a nationwide database of therapists. The Financial Recovery Institute (www.financialrecovery.com) specializes in helping individuals and couples with money issues. Demand is so high for such services that the institute provides financial counseling by telephone. In addition to dealing with the emotional issues of money, the institute teaches basic money-management skills.
* A credit-counseling agency. Often individuals seek help from such agencies for debt consolidation, but these organizations also can provide financial counseling. For an agency near you, go to www.debtadvice.org.
I know it may sound super-simple to say communicate if you're having financial conflicts. But let me ask you this: "How's the lying working for you?"
* On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org.
* By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
* By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.