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Senior Correspondent

A prospective client recently said:

“Lying about money doesn't seem like such a big deal. Mom did it with dad all the time. He was a real tightwad, so she moved money around from credit card to credit card, buying and returning lots of things so it was harder to keep track. And then, with all the credit card offers she got in the mail, she’d get a new card and move things around.”

I asked Myriam, “So how’s your parents’ marriage doing now?”

“Oh, they've been divorced for years. And my Mom’s really struggling, trying to make ends meet. Especially now when you can’t get credit cards so easily.”

I then asked, “And how are you doing with your credit cards?”

“They’re mostly maxed out. My credit limit was dropped on some cards a few years ago and I haven’t been able to get the balances back under control. I may have to declare bankruptcy and start over.”

The Price of Lying About Money

Lying about money hurts in more ways than one can imagine.

In any relationship, particularly with a significant other, the loss of trust around money is almost as devastating as the loss of trust in the form of sexual infidelity.

The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), together with Forbes, took an online poll in late 2010. It showed that about a third of American adults admitted to deceiving their spouse or partner about money. Two out of three adults either have deceived or have been deceived! Of those, 42 percent said that financial deception led to less trust in their relationship, and 16 percent said that it eventually led to divorce.

What Do People Lie About?

According to the NEFE article, the deception ranged “from hiding money, purchases and bank accounts to lying about the amount of debt owed or money earned.”

What starts as “a little white lie” — maybe something that you saw your mother or father do and that didn’t seem all that important — is actually very important.

It doesn't matter whether it’s:
Lying about how much you make
Lying about how much you owe
Having accounts you keep secret
Hiding bills or receipts
Hiding cash or other assets
Hiding expensive online or other habits

Any form of deception, once discovered, affects the other person’s ability to believe again.

We’re not saying you need to report every expenditure to your partner. It’s not about having to ask for permission, nor is it about keeping tabs.

But if your relationship is not based on openness and honesty, the uncertainty and distrust may well turn it into a statistic.

What To Do If You Are Lying About Money

As difficult as it might be, if you are among the third that is being financially deceptive: Stop it immediately.

If you can somehow rectify the situation because it hasn't gone far, do so and don’t repeat the behavior. It’s up to you if you ever admit it.

If you can’t rectify it, figure out how to come clean. You may risk losing your spouse or partner’s trust by admitting your behavior, but there’s a greater chance of your relationship surviving if you’re proactive than if you get found out. The last thing I’d like to suggest that you do, whether you've been financially deceptive or not, is to think about your values around money.

Do you give money so much power that it distorts how you behave with it?

Are you able to have open, non-judgmental conversations about money with people, including with your significant other?

Are there behaviors you inherited from your upbringing that are causing you to act around money in ways that make you feel uneasy?

Let us know in the comments section below if you had ever thought about money in this way — as something that could have that great an impact on the success of your relationships, present and future.

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