Ask the Bitches: Do I Have a Right To Know the Private Details of My Partner’s Finances?

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
Lack of financial transparency... scares me.

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 don't have financial transparency in your relationship... you in danger, girl.

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?

Maybe your partner is deeply in debt or has terrible credit. And maybe they’re afraid you’ll leave them or won’t want to move in with them if you find out.

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).

I love your money--I mean YOU!

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:

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!

And babies, if this article made you think… if it kept you edutained… consider supporting our work with a donation. It takes a lot of work to keep the lights on around here and keep our staff paid, and while we wish we could do it for free… we fuckin’ can’t. Compensate our labor so we can keep spreading the Good Word of the Bitches far and wide!

5 thoughts to “Ask the Bitches: Do I Have a Right To Know the Private Details of My Partner’s Finances?”

  1. My parents’ 47 year marriage (Dad passed away before year 48) flourished under a “mine, yours, ours” approach to finances and bank accounts. They pooled the large percentage of their incomes into a shared bank account that mortgage, utilities, all the unsexy etc. stuff was paid out of, and then put the rest in separate accounts to be used as each saw fit. Dad bought a sailboat; Mom funded my horse habit and her own T.J. Maxx addiction, and though both occasionally gnashed their teeth at each other’s choice of expenditures (maybe a little more skewed to Dad gnashing than Mom…), each couldn’t say shit to the other because the bills were paid, the retirement funds were funded, and the investments were investing. It was a very happy, well-funded, and copacetic marriage, unfortunately cut short by ALS.

    My partner and I have taken a slightly different approach, especially as we’re in a long-term Goldie-and-Kurt-inspired relationship that will not include marriage or human children. I bought a house, so I pay the mortgage. He bought a fancy travel trailer because that’s what he lives in most of the time while working, but he chips in on utilities for the house because the man uses about twice the amount of water, electricity, and storage space I do. I brought home a dog on short notice with VERY little input from him, so I pay for most of the dog-related expenses, though my partner splits very expensive surgeries and toys. (We did agree that the next dog–because we’re planning our D.I.N.K.W.A.D. family the same way some people plan their children–will be his financial responsibility as the first dog contained a multitude of unexpected, expensive surprises, such as food allergies and behavioral issues that required professional training.) He makes tens of thousands more than I do, so we tend to split things like hotels and food on vacations by him taking the larger expenses and me covering the smaller ones. We’re both generous when it comes to spending on or sharing with the other, and keep an eye out for sales, gifts, or opportunities the other might take advantage of to save a buck or hundreds. We both have a good grasp on how much each other makes; our debts and our retirement funds are our own (secrets) to carry. I never want him to know how much I have spent on Halloween decorations for the house. I don’t need to know how much he spends on his cars. I know I could rely on him to support me for a short period if I were laid off; he lives in hope that I will become a NYT-bestselling novelist and he’ll get to retire early and live in a villa in Tuscany as my pool boy (only SLIGHTLY joking). Not knowing each other’s finances down to the nickels and dimes works for us, and probably keeps us both sane as we have separate priorities for the majority of our salaries, but that’s totally fine because we’ve worked out the division of expenditures.

  2. My husband & I have 100% transparency on our financials, but that is out of necessity. Right around when we got engaged, he was diagnosed with a chronic leukemia (low mortality rate, but the trade off is you are never “cured” and energy levels are low) and we became a single income home. We still have individual guilt-free spending amounts, but overall “my” money is our money. It’s been 8 years on this arrangement, and things are going strong.

    He happily turned over money management to me once we got married (surprise, I’m the PF nerd in the relationship – plus I’m a CPA 🙂 ), but I make sure he knows what’s going on as I refuse to let him become the stereotypical stay at home spouse being oblivious about money.

    1. This sounds like a beautifully equal arrangement. So sorry to hear about your husband’s diagnosis–but you’re one helluva spouse to have this attitude of transparency and respect!

  3. The time my husband and I came closest to divorce was when I found out he’d been overspending on the credit card and hiding it from me for months. It definitely was a trust issue. And it was a super difficult conversation to have because of the shame & anger around it.

    So I agree with the Bitches that transparency is crucial. The more explicit the better. BUT…it’s also super important to plan how & when you have the discussion.

    Don’t have the discussion when you’re already stewing about something. Choose a time when you’re feeling pretty good in general, so you can come from a place of loving curiosity. Ask a lot of questions. Try to avoid blame & accusations over past behavior.

    Especially if your partner is super cagey about finances so far. We gotta find out if it’s a dangerous cagey, or an embarrassed cagey. And being positive and curious will go a lot farther to helping them open up if it’s fear and shame keeping them quiet so far.

    1. VERY well said. Don’t ever start this sort of discussion while angry. It’ll just lead to an explosion and everything will be worse. Take some time to calm down before approaching things as rationally as possible. Not an easy feat with so many fraught emotions involved, but it sounds like it saved your marriage!

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