When we started Bitches Get Riches, we thought we’d be writing mostly about paying off student loans and building credit scores. And to be fair, we’ve done a lot of that! But more and more we find ourselves coming for Dear Prudence’s job. Because it turns out handling finances within a romantic relationship is hella complicated! And sometimes we get a question about financial transparency among partners that does us a concern.
Like this one:
Hey bitches! I know personal finance is personal, but if your significant other is being cagey about their finances even after you’ve been together for years and want to move in together/get married, is this a red flag? I don’t expect them to disclose all their spending habits or whatever, because yeah, personal finance is personal. But I feel like it’s reasonable to want to know what their income is and how much debt they have, especially if they know those things about you and you’re planning on a life together. Those things affect the rent you can afford and all sorts of stuff. But they act like I’m unreasonable and invasive for wanting to know, which makes me wary.Anonymous Rex
You’re right to be wary. And you’re definitely not being unreasonable. Let’s unpack this suitcase of red flags.
How personal is personal finance?
When we say “personal finance is personal,” (and we often do) we mean that your mileage may vary. It means that everyone’s situation is different and therefore you can’t rely on one-size-fits-all solutions to individual financial problems.
We do not mean that personal finance should be private. Let alone secret!
There’s a big difference between the “personal” and the “private” (though they do overlap in the middle of this Venn diagram). Especially when you’re talking about joining your lives through cohabitation, marriage, and shared bills.
But even if you’re not marrying someone, we give a big ole’ side-eye to anyone who keeps their personal finances too close to the vest. Keeping finances separate in a relationship is one thing. Keeping the knowledge of said finances secret is another thing entirely. [side-eye intensifies] Particularly if the secrecy only goes one way.
Financial transparency helps you
We strongly believe that people should feel no shame about their personal financial issues. The world would be a better place if we all talked openly about our money issues. After all, that’s part of the foundation of Bitches Get Riches—talking about money stuff without shame so that we can all learn and grow together! It’s why we told you how I got fired and how Kitty’s first six months post-job sucked balls and the literal number of accounts I have.
If you’re not ready to share the details of your finances because you’re getting through some emotional trauma connected with your money… that’s ok! Being out of the closet, financially speaking, can be a goal to work towards. After all, you’re a capital-L fuckin’ Lady—you don’t go all the way on the first date.
But we argue that it’s unhealthy to keep your money situation under double secret probation forever.
Salary transparency—the act of informing your coworkers about your take-home pay—is literally how we got the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And simply sharing information about wages has been helping folks improve their compensation for ages.
Plus, crowdsourcing financial information can inform you of options you didn’t even know existed. This whole personal finance internet ecosystem has grown up around the concept that pulling back the curtain on individuals’ financial problems and techniques can help others get ahead financially. Again: literally why we’re even here!
Why wouldn’t you want to learn and grow with your significant other, the person you trust most in the world?
Anyway so that’s how Anonymous Rex should address the “personal finance is personal” miscommunication. Hand-wave it away and move on to the real, steaming, succulent meat of the issue!
Financial transparency is crucial to trust in healthy relationships
Anonymous Rex is dealing with something deeper than a partner who’s just a little shy about their bank account. This is a trust issue. And a relationship without trust is… not great!
If you are in a money- or asset-sharing relationship with someone, you deserve—nay!—you have the right to financial transparency within that relationship.
What are they hiding, anyway?
This was literally the case with financial power couple Kiersten and Julien Saunders of Rich & Regular. After Julien found out Kiersten had hella debt, he literally told her “If I knew you had so much debt when we started dating, I never would have asked you out.” Ouch. (Worry not, romantics. The two used that fight as the basis for a beautiful marriage and business partnership, which you can read all about in their book. See? Financial transparency for the win!)
Alternatively, maybe your partner is a trust fund kid sitting on a dragon’s hoard of wealth, and they don’t want that to affect how you see them (super insulting to your character, but go off).
Not that I would know anything about that. Kitty and I both married poor men and systematically made them rich.
Don’t make decisions in the dark
Shouldn’t you be able to make the choice to stay or go with all information on the table?
It is not fair to hide financial information from a partner when that information could affect them. Withholding financial details when you’re in a serious relationship—especially when that relationship gets to the signing-marriage-contracts-and-mortgage-applications stage—smacks of manipulation. And that ain’t healthy.
You deserve to know if getting on a lease together could negatively impact your credit! You deserve to know if their debt payments are so high that you’ll be carrying the full burden of the household bills. And you certainly need to know their money situation before you take on joint property or bank accounts.
Whether they’re hiding a Scrooge McDuckian money vault or a credit score that closely resembles their body weight, if they don’t disclose the full picture, then I’d strongly reconsider moving in together. And I’d advise refraining from marriage until you know the full picture.
Here’s more on all that highly romantic paperwork and asset sharing:
- Season 4, Episode 2: “We’re Moving in Together but Don’t Plan To Get Married. How Can We Split Finances Fairly?”
- How To Get Married: Bureaucracy, Finances, and Legal Paperwork To Do Before “I Do”
- How Dafuq Do Couples Share Their Money?
The financial abuse of it all
Keen-eyed readers are sitting here waiting for me to bring up the dark side of financial transparency. Because up to this point I’ve made the assumption that Rex is existing in a reasonably harmonious, healthy partnership. But that isn’t always the case.
I am, of course, talking about financial abuse—just one dimension of domestic abuse.
Financial abuse is defined as “behavior that seeks to control a person’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain economic resources, and threatens their self-sufficiency and financial autonomy.” In abusive relationships, it’s frighteningly common. One study suggests that 99% of domestic violence cases include aspects of financial abuse.
We’ve covered financial abuse at length (and you should read that article in full), so I’m just going to focus on what it has to do with financial transparency in relationships.
Defensiveness, secrecy, and unequal responsibility
Targets of domestic abuse are made more vulnerable through ignorance—and that includes financial ignorance.
Which is why domestic abusers often hide significant financial details from their victims. They withhold not only access to money, but knowledge of the full picture of joint finances. This keeps one partner off balance and in the dark, unable to make informed financial decisions or create contingency plans. And it enforces an unequal power dynamic in which one side has all the knowledge and power and the other is left vulnerable and ignorant.
The opposite can also be problematic. An abuser will demand full access to and control over their partner’s finances, and will make money decisions without their partner’s input or consent. There must, therefore, be a reasonable, trusting balance; an equal level of transparency that goes both ways. This can go far towards leveling out the power imbalance in the relationship
I obviously don’t know the full extent of the issue with Rex’s relationship. But this is the biggest red flag to me: that problems around financial transparency can be a slippery slope to financial abuse.
Now that we’ve been through the legitimately dangerous angle of financial transparency, let’s end with how money boundaries work in a healthy relationship.
Is your partner entitled to any amount of financial privacy?
My husband and I have expensive hobbies—hunting and guitaring, respectively. We have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to spending on those hobbies. I don’t ask him how much he spent on some newfangled duck-murdering device, and I don’t tell him how much I paid for an XLR cable.
The bills get paid, the retirement funds get bigger, and all these fat fucking chickens get fed. So long as these priorities are handled and no surprises pop up, financially speaking, I’ve made my peace with his hunting expenditures. And while I suspect hunting is a lot more expensive than playing guitar, I respect that it’s none of my fucking business.
This is an intentional arrangement. We’ve both agreed to it. And it has limits: any individual expenditure over $2,000 must be discussed. It is but one dimension of our married finances. We regularly reevaluate and discuss those married finances. Crucially, together.
How much do you tell your partner?
This concludes today’s Ask the Bitches! What did you think? Do you disagree with our take on financial transparency in romantic relationships? How do you discuss private financial details with your partner? Let’s keep the discussion going in the comments below!
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