The red flags that your partner is financially unfaithful


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Picture this. You open the mail one day and make a very unromantic discovery: unbeknown to you, your partner has been racking up credit card bills and a final notice has been posted to your home.

You had both committed to a tight household budget, the mortgage was taking a fair chunk of your income and it seemed your lifestyle costs had exploded in recent months.

But it turns out your partner was piling on credit card debt to treat themselves. You felt guilty because you saw one of the purchases was a gift for you.

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You pluck up the courage to raise this with your partner but they wave it off, make fun of it, and say, "Oh yeah, I've had that for years, long before I met you. Just hadn't bothered to close it."

You ask another probing question: "Do you use it?" Your partner says yes ... and that's the end of it. Or is it?

This may be the first sign of financial infidelity in your relationship.

Take the time to have an open and honest conversation with your partner about money. You both might be carrying some excess money baggage that has led to this, so check in first to ensure everything is okay.

Beware the warning signs

When we enter relationships, we enter with our own level of financial independence and awareness. Over time, your level of financial independence can become blurred when it comes to spending.

And it gets trickier to maintain financial independence as you merge lives and bank accounts without talking openly about your spending habits.

In addition to this, your own experience with your parents (or money baggage) may have an impact here.

We know it can start with the little things: your partner buying small indulgences online, such as clothing, accessories and other feelgood items, without telling you. Those impulse buys can be harmless, but they can also cause trust issues, especially when they disrupt the household budget.

Down the track a little, you might even agree to let your partner deal with the money matters for both of you. Massive red flag here!

With your partner in charge, it makes it relatively easy for them to keep their spending secret.

People's lives get turned upside down in cases of financial infidelity and when they regain their financial literacy it's too late: the damage is done and you're in a crisis.

Know where your money goes

Have you ever told a little white lie to your partner relating to a purchase? You're not on your own. If this is something you are doing often, or your partner is doing often, you need to get to the bottom of it.

Those little indulgences (money sins) start small: you remove price tags before your partner sees them or you simply suggest something is "an old thing" that you've had stashed in the cupboard for a year rather than acknowledging it as a new purchase.

Don't be the victim of your own complacency in a relationship. Taking responsibility for your financial health is good for your wellbeing.

You need to know where your money goes (in and out the door) and you need to understand your investments - that is, everything you share or don't share with your partner.

How to protect yourself from financial infidelity

There are some simple steps you can take in your relationship to maintain honesty and trust:

  • Set regular times to discuss spending.
  • Make talking about money normal. 
  • Check in on your money goals together and make sure that you are on the same page.
  • Enlist someone, such as an accountant or financial adviser, who can independently support discussions.
  • Enable "safe" confessions (have a no-judgement rule for raising money sins). 
  • Don't delegate household money matters to your partner entirely.
  • Continue to read books, magazines and articles to build your financial literacy.
  • Don't let any difference in incomes make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Always feel empowered to ask money questions. There is no such thing as a stupid question. 
  • Agree to make equal contributions to separate accounts so that you can indulge a little without recrimination.

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Jacqui Clarke is co-founder of boutique accounting and advisory firm, Maxima Private, and has more than three decades' experience helping Australians build, manage and preserve their wealth. She is the chair of SMEG Australia and non-executive director on two ASX-listed boards. Jacqui is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand, a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, a chartered tax adviser and a fellow of the Taxation Institute of Australia. She is also the author of Stop Worrying About Money.