Top of main content

Secret Spending: If You Hide Purchases From Your Partner, You’re Not Alone

It always starts innocently enough. Man, woman, young, old, we’ve probably all made an impulse online purchase then stashed in it the closet, or spent more than we’d like to admit on that unforgettable music festival.   

We’re all entitled to a guilty pleasure on occasion—it’s your money and you’ll spend it as you please. But secret purchases that weigh heavily on your consciousness could be a cause for financial insecurity and relationship strife. Nearly one in four millennials have hidden purchases from their partner, and 32 percent admit they’re prone to excessive or frivolous spending, according to a Northwestern Mutual study. And it’s not just small impulse buys; 19 percent of poll responders on CreditCards.com said they had spent more than $500 without telling their spouse or partner. 

The stresses of secret spending have real impact—but if you’re guilty as charged, you’re not alone. Opening the lines of financial communication is crucial with anyone with whom you share expenses, but younger people with less wiggle room in their budgets can especially benefit from honesty serving as the only financial policy.

Chris, 31 Splurge: Trip to Bali. "I didn't tell anybody i was going until about a week before. I wanted it to be too late so my family had to accept it. They would've known I couldn't afford it. I have no regrets."

Why we spend in secret

Have you ever cut off the tags of a new sweater as if it’s been in your wardrobe for ages? It’s these types of behaviors that can cause financial anxiety.

“Some couples still don’t talk about [money]. It depends on the level of your relationship, your relationship with money and how you were brought up,” says Jessica Moorhouse, personal finance expert and host of the “Mo’ Money” podcast. “We’re afraid of how our partner will react. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

Money makes people feel vulnerable, almost naked, explains Moorhouse, noting the false link between net worth and self-worth “We’re afraid of being judged because we have debt,” she says. Or perhaps you don’t want to admit to your other half—much less yourself—that you’re spending on designer duds instead of funding your 401k.

But when kept in check, maybe it’s no big deal that you never disclosed that much-needed mani-pedi-facial or cool new headphones. In fact, in a survey by Ameriprise Financial, 59 percent of couples said they don’t tell their significant other about something they don’t consider to be a large purchase. Many Americans spend money without telling their partners—though most agreed that anything over $400 needs to be discussed.  

Erika, 29. Splurge: Designer bracelet. When I saw it on the designer's website i thought, 'I have to have it.' People stop me all the time and ask where I got it, but I hide the price because I get embarrassed.
Javy, 27 Splurge: Custom studded varsity jacket. "Fashion is what I invest in the most, but I downplay it because its not fashionable to say the price of things. I'll always hide it from my parents -- they're the hardest on me when it comes to money."

The money talk

It’s normal to have differences in opinion on how to spend and save. But it’s healthy to get—and stay—on a similar financial page as your partner, Moorhouse recommends a monthly spending meeting to evaluate the state of your finances.

“Monthly family finance meetings aren’t as scary or dreadful as they seem. You can even start to look forward to them! What are your financial goals? Have you met any? Do they make sense? Can we remove one and replace it with new life goals like wedding planning or home purchases?” she explains.

“Build a budget and compare results over the month: Did you meet, exceed or miss your financial targets? Have you paid down some debt, have you grown your net worth?”

Discuss what finances you will combine and what you’ll keep separate, as well as any other guidelines—such as, how much can you spend without consulting your partner? What items do you both deem necessities or no-brainers, and what do you consider a splurge?

Work with your partner to develop a sound spending plan; aim for a 50-30-20 ratio of living expenses (50 percent), savings (30 percent) and “wants” (20 percent), which allows you to scratch any impulsive itches while keeping focus on the future. No more need to hide those shopping bags.

Jess, 34 Splurge: Fancy Italian toothpaste. "After I turned 30 I started splurging on toiletries more. I feel a general happiness when I wake up in the morning because it smells great.
Liesl, 33 Splurge: Silk and velvet cape. "It makes me feel like a goddess. I felt I deserve a splurge. I hid it from my family because they're still helping me pay rent.

Did you know...

Millennials in China spend one-third of their income on shopping, going out and sporting activities, yet still manage to save 22 percent of their earnings.*

*Source: HSBC China  

Disclosure: HSBC commissioned this article. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of HSBC.