Financial infidelity is on the rise: Here's how to stop it

Talking about money and being open avoids disappointment down the track.
Talking about money and being open avoids disappointment down the track. Photo credit: Getty.

An increasing number of millennial couples are choosing to keep their finances separate and unless they talk openly, financial secrecy could ruin the relationship, experts say. 

A 2017 money and relationships survey by Rabobank showed that household finances are a source of tension for just over half of Kiwi couples - and 38 percent of women and 28 percent of men have hidden spending from their significant other.

Newshub spoke to financial advisers and a divorce coach about financial secrecy: what causes it and how to stop it sinking a relationship.

Lynda Moore, a money mentalist and co-founder of Equal Exes, said that financial infidelity is "huge and growing." Anecdotally, 80 percent of breakups blame money as the cause and both sexes can be guilty of keeping secrets. 

"[For] women, it may be because they're concerned about family finances and want to 'tuck money away just in case or they're unsure about the relationship and want an 'escape fund'.

"It can also happen if they feel their partner is too controlling over the money," Moore said.

Men keep financial secrets for the same reasons as women but can also arise from a feeling of entitlement.

"[An] 'It's my money, I'll spend it how I want' attitude is more about power and control," Moore added.

However, financial infidelity is not only a breach of trust - it also creates financial fallout - a sticking point that stops couples moving ahead. 

"[Ladies] might buy a dress and tuck it into the wardrobe, guys might buy some tools and pop them into the toolbox [unseen]: that's low level and easy to solve," Moore said.

But if one partner hides a large debt or money going to an ex-partner, it creates a lack of trust: a relationship deal-breaker. 

To stop financial issues ruining a relationship, Moore's advice is simple: talk.

"Talking is the best way to manage [money] and stay together as a couple," Moore said.

Agreeing on priorities and setting aside money for each person to spend removes the temptation for secrecy.

"Have joint goals or projects so you always have something you're working towards as a couple. 

"Have your own money in your own bank account that's yours - the amount depends on the financial situation: it might be $20 [up to] $1000 per week," Moore said.

Jordi Garcia, a financial adviser at New Zealand Financial Planning, said that for around 90 percent of his retired clients, almost all of their finances are joint. For young people, that's not the case.

"Of those under the age of 45, around a third of them are keeping their money separate," Garcia said.

Getting to know someone takes time but if financial discussions are put on the back-burner, couples may end up disappointed.  This is what happened to a couple in their late 20's who had saved for four-to-five years to buy a house.

"Everything [was] kept separate and they had a joint account in which they each put money in.

"It turns out that he's $20,000 in overdraft that she wasn't aware of," Garcia said.

Some of the debt went towards tools and a new vehicle, but lack of upfront communication spelled trouble for the couple down-the-line.  

"She's gutted: she thinks they've been saving for the last few years and was hoping to look at buying a house later this year.

"He was reluctant to talk about it because he felt guilty," Garcia explained.

We're all creatures of habit: change can be difficult. If one partner enjoys going out and spending on drinks, bling and the latest smartphone and the other wants to stay home, the message is simple: be open and honest.

"[Each] of us has different expectations and we often don't talk about it.

"Appreciate how [the other] sees things, talk things through and build a plan that works for the two of you," Garcia said.

Brigette Arnold, a financial adviser who works with Equal Exes to help clients through divorce, said that while opposites attract, different experiences may cause one person to focus on financial dreams and the other on fears. 

Arnold shares her top three tips for successful financial discussions:

  1. Get all the issues on the table: identify how each of you values money, past experiences, financial baggage (debt, credit history, etc) and the alignment between them.
  2. Be aware of your combined financial position: assets, business operations, savings, fixed expenses, mortgages and liabilities.
  3. Get a financial plan with the support of an independent financial adviser. This should include financial expectations and priorities and provide a framework for life decisions, with flexibility for change.

As finances can be the source of disagreement in relationships, it's tempting for money discussions to sit at the bottom of the to-do list.

Rather than seeing it as a source of contention, talking about money helps couples work together - and avoids the risk of future fallout from being kept in the dark.