Checkbook Cheating and Financial Fidelity Noah Adams talks with Day to Day personal finance guru Michelle Singletary about "financial infidelity" -- when people hide purchases from their significant others -- and how to keep checkbook cheating from damaging a relationship.
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Checkbook Cheating and Financial Fidelity

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Checkbook Cheating and Financial Fidelity

Checkbook Cheating and Financial Fidelity

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

Well, here's something new to worry about. Have you ever hidden a big purchase from your spouse or checked the mail early to make sure only you saw a big credit card bill? If so, you're not alone. According to two surveys, financial infidelity is a problem in many relationships. And here to talk about checkbook cheating is Michelle Singletary. She writes The Color of Money column for The Washington Post and joins us regularly to talk about personal finance.

Welcome, Michelle.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY (The Washington Post): Thank you.

ADAMS: I'm almost laughing about this because, you know, I have had the occasional pair of shoes pushed way back to the back of the closet and just a little bit of this going on. But how prevalent is it?

SINGLETARY: It's a big problem. About a third of adults, age 25 to 55, who say they're in a committed relationship, either married or living with someone, has admitted that they are dishonest about their spending habits. And this is according to two surveys, one of which is being printed in Redbook magazine in November. It's a big problem for lots of couples, this line about your spending and what kind of debts that you have.

ADAMS: Now what surprised you when you read the data involved in these studies?

SINGLETARY: I think I was surprised that as large a group as 40 percent of women and almost the same percentage for men--about 36.8 percent--have a checking, savings or brokers account to which their spouse has no access.

ADAMS: Oh, really?

SINGLETARY: Yes. I thought that was a pretty high number; that so many people feel that they have to keep these accounts separate from their significant other.

ADAMS: Well, one should have one's own discretionary money--some?

SINGLETARY: Absolutely.

ADAMS: Yeah.

SINGLETARY: If you're in a relationship, you've gotta have sort of an allowance. And I tell couples that you should bring all your money together and then each of you have, you know, you decide what it is. You know, $50 a week, a hundred dollars a month--you know, for me it'd be $20 a month. You ought to have some money that you don't have to account for...

ADAMS: Right.

SINGLETARY: ...that you can use however you want. If your big thing is fancy coffee, then that's fine. I mean, my husband is a golfer, so he has, you know, what he can spend for golf, and I can't say a thing about it. He's lucky 'cause I spend money on nothing. But you need to have an allowance that you don't have to answer to.

ADAMS: What would be, let's say, the target amount that would set off something very serious?

SINGLETARY: I think $200 or more honestly. And I know for some folks that may seem kind of low, but you ought to--in a relationship if you're married you should not spend more than $200 without consulting your spouse. So right now you can't buy it. That forces you to talk about it, to discuss it, what kind of budget. And it eliminates those surprises that can really damage a relationship. I have stories of people going out and buying cars and not telling their spouses...

ADAMS: Ooh.

SINGLETARY: ...I mean, you know, expensive pieces of furniture, all kinds of things without consulting their spouses. And that's just a big no-no.

ADAMS: OK. OK. Let's say the differences become irreconcilable. Do you go to counseling? What do you do?

SINGLETARY: Absolutely. Talk is not cheap. It can be very expensive in a relationship if you don't talk about your financial differences and this financial infidelity. So get a counselor if you can't come to come compromise. And there are plenty of people out there. Listen, there's a whole industry now to help couples deal with these issues.

ADAMS: Michelle Singletary writes The Color of Money column for The Washington Post. She's also our regular Tuesday guest for conversations about personal finance. Thank you, Michelle.

SINGLETARY: You're welcome.

ADAMS: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Noah Adams.

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