Brady had pointed out that the last time he came home with a truckload of junk, Patrice had left the house in a fury — and had pulled into the driveway shortly afterward in a brand-new S.U.V. “It was a test drive,” she explained. “I didn’t buy it, of course, but I used that test drive to prove a point that if he makes financial decisions without me, I should be able to make them without him, too.”
The problem is that financial secrecy can snowball, said Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Md. “It can start out with small lies and purchases, but can lead to more serious problems in the future,” she said.
And because relationship conflicts over money tend to be recurrent and intense, Garbinsky added, they have become a top reason for divorce. A 2017 survey from financial advisers Ramsey Solutions found that money fights were the second leading cause of divorce behind extramarital affairs.
When children enter a relationship, long-simmering money worries can be turned up to full boil. Parents know that raising a child is astronomically expensive. According to United States Department of Agriculture statistics, middle-income parents of a child born in 2015 (the most recent data available) can expect to spend $233,610 before the child turns 17.
When you have children, said Cyrus Purnell, a Memphis-based personal financial coach with Financial Finesse and father of three, it can be a lot harder to justify the more frivolous purchases you made pre-kids, causing a spouse to “go into the shadows” by lying, covering up or rounding down purchase prices. “The things that you enjoyed doing before you had kids could easily push out other expenses like child care, diapers, food and clothing,” Purnell said.
Technology can make hiding a purchase all too easy. “What I’ve seen is that people will just fold other transactions into a larger one,” Purnell said. “If you go to a grocery store, you can buy any gift card and add it to the bill. So the grocery bill goes up, and one spouse may say, ‘Man, we’re spending a lot on groceries,’ and the other can just blame it on inflation.”
Even ordering from Amazon can abet stealthy behavior. Its website offers an option to ship the item in an Amazon box “if you don’t wish to reveal the contents.” (That way, when your pricey skin serum shows up in a plain Amazon box rather than one emblazoned with a fancy brand, you can loudly announce, “Oh, thank God, my shoe orthotics have finally arrived.”)