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Money and Lies

A lot of people lie to their spouses about money: one in three according to a study cited yesterday in The Wall Street Journal; another recent study put the figures at more than half of women but a little more than one-third of men. We may never know the exact number, but we do know it’s enough to be more common than not.

Billfold pal Janet Paskin wrote a good post yesterday on the Wall Street Journal’s work/life balance blog, The Juggle. The topic at hand: It’s not uncommon for people to lie to their significant others about money. This is probably already common knowledge, but also still surprises me every time I hear about it. And this may make me sound naive, or like a hopeless romantic, which I totally am, but isn’t planting untruths in your relationship eventually going to bloom into something really terrible—some sort of monstrous thing that will eat both your hearts and make you burst into tears when you hear Phil Collins’s “Against All Odds” playing softly at the supermarket? Take a look at me now: The lies have destroyed us.

Have you lied to a loved one about money? I have not, but maybe because I’ve never had a reason to. A friend told me a story once about how she had amassed a giant load of credit card debt (c. $30,000), and kept this from her boyfriend until he proposed to her. She said, “Before I say yes, there’s something you need to know about me.” And the truth came out. He was shocked at first, but since it was true love, he stuck with her, and they paid off that debt in three years. The truth will set you free, you guys.

Photo: Flickr/Xanetia


16 Comments / Post A Comment

Does having a high level of debt make someone unmarriageable? I am legitimately curious. Can we discuss this in a non-1800s manner? Should I stop talking about my student loans on OKC dates? So many questions.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Username Money matters in marriage because you will be probably doing things like buying a home together, or at the very least, getting your names on a lease for a rental. Email me your many questions, because this sounds like something we should dive into for a column.

@Username It all depends on the dowry.

Dancercise (#94)

I don’t think it makes someone unmarriageable, but I agree with Mike – it’s important to know going into a marriage because you’re most likely going to be sharing income and expenses with another person. Even if you keep separate accounts, there will probably be joint purchases. I think this is especially true when the two partners have a disparity in income levels.

Case in point: A good friend of mine has almost $100,000 of student loan debt. She’s a teacher, and her boyfriend is an engineer at Google. They are talking about getting engaged, and she feels guilty that he will essentially be taking on her debt and helping her pay it off with their soon-to-be-joint incomes. He is absolutely willing to do so, which is wonderful, but it’s still something they need to have open and honest conversations about before walking down the aisle.

bangs (#379)

@Username As someone who is not in debt and makes a reasonable amount of money, I’d be seriously worried about marrying someone with large amounts of debt and no way of getting out of it. I briefly dated a guy who was terrible with money and I have a hard time seeing how it would have worked out long term (though I ended it because he was generally awful, nothing to do with money).
I’m a financially very cautious person though.

@Mike Dang Glad you’re tackling this subject. I hope you will also try to speak to the idea that a big student debt load is not a financial death sentence, especially if you have a steady and reasonable-paying job and most of the debt is federal. My understanding is that as long as you’re on time with payments, the SIZE of the debt doesn’t much impact your credit score, and with all the programs available now, nobody should be paying more than 10% of their income for more than 12 years on most kinds of student loan debt.

Also, because the interest rates are so low, it often makes sense to stick with your payment plan rather than pay your loans off in one go, should you have that opportunity. For instance, if a young recent graduate with a steady job and $50k in debt received a $50k windfall, there are many other, better things they could and should do with that money than wipe out their debt.

We’ve got a huge problem in this country with the cost of higher education and the impact of student debt on the unemployed/underemployed. The fact that the Obamas only just finished paying off their student loans 8 years ago is in one sense scary, but in another sense it shows that student loan debt need not be a dealbreaker for a smart young couple trying to succeed at life.

(Also, note that the Obamas earned $1.5 million in 2005 and $4.2mil in 2007, more than enough to easily pay off two Ivy League educations. The fact that they didn’t until 2008 speaks to what a not big deal student debt is for otherwise financially sound people.)

lalaland (#437)

@Username Also as someone who is not in debt and makes a reasonable amount of money, in all honesty, it would probably be a factor. BUT. I am not in any debt partly because my parents generously paid for my college and partly because I work in an industry that pays fairly well. I know I am lucky/fortunate for both those things. Ultimately, it would boil down to two things:

What kind of debt? If it’s student loan debt, I think that’s totally understandable. Massive amounts of credit card debt would lead me to worry, moreso because is that indicative of a key difference between me and the other person, as I tend to be fairly financially cautious?

Do I really like this person? Duh, but as cheesy as it sounds, it would be “worth it” if it was the right person.

@Username And to get at the OP’s original question, once you understand and are no long terrified by your student loan debt, there will be no reason to bring up this otherwise quite boring topic on dates!

OK LAST WORD on this. @lalaland has a good point: let’s say all you know about two people is one is completely debt free, and the other has $500,000 in debt. Person 1 COULD be an uber-responsible Mike Dang type. Or they could be a homeless heroin addict. Whereas person 2 is most likely just a middle-class college graduate with a mortgage. But they could also be a hopeless gambler! Or the ex-owner of a failed restaurant! Or the current owner of a successful restaurant!

Gross levels of debt have nothing to say about a person’s responsibility, morality, or suitability as a partner.

lalaland (#437)

@stuffisthings Definitely! And I’m not trying to stereotype this at all as lots of debt = bad person, no debt = good person. Etc. Etc. Just like how Logan (sorry Logan) sounds like an awesome person, and tons of fun, but if I were in a relationship with her, it would probably stress me out to no end and that would probably not be an ideal relationship. Unless I just fell in love with her and it wouldn’t matter!

Basically @Username, lots of caveats here, but essentially no, it does not make someone unmarriageable.

lalaland (#437)

@lalaland Well, it would probably matter a little, but you’d just get a lot of Mike Dang-esque lectures from me.

bangs (#379)

@lalaland I agree with you. It would depend on whether or not it was “responsible debt” or not. Also, as someone who is in her 30s and dates guys her own age (or older), most of my target demographic is out of their “responsible debt” phase. And being Canadian, student loan debt of my era tends to be reasonably low (though I went to school with people who amassed stupid levels of student loan debt for stupid reasons). So essentially, my target demographic *shouldn’t* have much debt and having a lot of debt is a bit of a red flag.

I’m still dealing with the way my ex handled my student loan debt. He would vacillate between chiding me for spending money (on things that I needed like food, bike repairs, clothes for job interviews), and acting resentful when I nixed plans (travel, restaurants etc) because I couldn’t afford to do things. We split all of our expenses, even meals out while we were still in the ‘dating’ phase but it was a big issue for us I think mainly because he was either used to dating ‘rich girls’ or something.

I feel like he thought I expected him to be able to help out with my loans if we ever did get married. I don’t.
I feel like whoever I am with needs to be understanding that I am legitimately not flexible about where my money goes.

I know that it’s generally rude to be all up in everyones face about money, I guess that’s the point of this website, but I also sometimes get the idea it’s especially uncool for women/girls/ladies/single ladies to air out their financial problems. That might just be my personal read on it, but yeah.

I don’t think I have lied to a significant other. Instead, I just didn’t bring it for a while, until the relationship became close enough where I could feel comfortable talking to him about money. This was important, especially because he came from a fairly well-to-do family. Even though he was very careful with money and about exercising the privilege associated with it, it helped talking about my more tenuous relationship with money as a very middle-class college student with debt.

I lie to everyone in my life BUT my s.o. about money. In fact, just yesterday she just saved me from a potentially very embarrassing overdraft situation, and from thousands of miles away no less.

navigateher (#555)

If you’re ever going to buy a house (or take any significant loan) together the truth is going to come out anyway. I think it’s liberating to be completely honest to at least someone about everything (incl.finances) in your life, however I may or may not have lied about the price of something I bought for myself because it seemed ridiculously expensive even to myself and I didn’t want to admit being the kind of person who spends money like that. But it was my own money and I never got into serious debt, so it’s probably ok.

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