More and more women are lying to their partners. Not because they’re having an affair, but because they are heavily in debt. Are you being financially unfaithful?
By Katreen Hardt
Lying in bed with her boyfriend, Hannah Loaring broke into a nervous sweat. She knew what she was about to tell him could bring their two-and-a-half-year relationship crashing down. And she was terrified.
Hannah hadn’t been unfaithful or fallen out of love. But the secret she had kept from boyfriend Lee Vine, 37, since they met, was a form of cheating. She was £15,000 in debt, and Lee had no idea.
“I hadn’t meant to get myself into such a financial mess,” explains Hannah, 32. “But I’d never been responsible with money and despite having a good job as a graphic designer, I went on more holidays than I could afford during my 20s.
“Each time I went away – whether it was to Thailand or America – I paid for it with credit cards. It was on one of those holidays to India in January 2008 that I met Lee, a travel agent. We felt a connection straight away and, although he was travelling for another year, we stayed in touch and got together when I flew out to meet him for a holiday in Australia and Bali (again paid for on a credit card) that August. When he returned in November, we became a fully fledged couple. But all the time, I was on a high, living in denial about the £15,000 I owed.”
In April 2010, the pair moved into a flat in Brighton. At first Hannah, who earned £24,000 as a graphic designer and had previously been living with her mum, thought she could manage her credit card repayments. But she struggled to pay the £550 a month rent with bills on top, alongside her minimum payments of £700 a month for her three credit cards.
“I was too embarrassed to tell Lee that I owed anything. I’d been living with a “pay now, worry later” attitude but it had caught up with me. I couldn’t believe that I was 30 years old and up to my eyes in debt, I felt ashamed. I thought that if I told him, he’d know I’d been dishonest and it would burst the bubble about how he saw me.”
Hannah’s story may be extreme. But more than 60 per cent of women admit to being less than truthful about money matters. Whether it’s lying about spending habits or concealing debts, it seems financial infidelity is on the rise among couples, with women the more dishonest sex.
New research by the Money Advice Service found that nearly 39 per cent of women still don’t feel comfortable discussing their finances, even if it is with a person they trust.
“Talking about money is still considered a taboo,” says behavioural psychologist Karen J Pine. “It evokes strong emotions, such as guilt, fear and embarrassment.
“These feelings can affect our confidence in broaching it with a partner. People can feel ashamed to admit that they don’t know how to sort out a money matter, so they keep quiet and bury their head in the sand. But financial adultery really can do as much damage to a relationship as an affair.”
Three-quarters of people in failing relationships admit to arguing about money. “Lying to your partner about your finances betrays their trust, and a relationship based on dishonesty is often destined for the rocky road, not least because if the partner who’s been deceived finds out they will feel cheated and disrespected,” says Karen.
Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis says that coming clean is only the only way out of this difficult situation. “But go to your partner with a solution, not just the problem. Talk to a non-profit debt counselling agency first and put together a payment plan, so your partner knows you’re serious about getting rid of your debt,” he advises.
In over her head, and unable to take the stress of lying to Lee any more, Hannah blurted out the truth in bed last July.
“Lee had always been really great with money,” she says. “He saved whenever he could, kept an eye on his bank balance and had never been in debt. He did sometimes ask why I had no spare money, like when we’d go to the supermarket and I’d get scared because he was putting more expensive items into the trolley and I knew I couldn’t afford to pay for them.
“I’d say I’d lent a friend some money and was waiting for her to pay me back. I wasn’t even spending much day to day, just struggling to make my credit card repayments.
“When I came clean, he was stunned, and could not believe the betrayal. I tried explaining, but when I said it out loud, I realised how desperate the situation was – it was like I’d cheated on him with money.”
Despite trying to work through the dishonesty and formulate a plan to pay off the debt, a month later the couple decided to end their relationship as the trust had gone.
“I was devastated,” Hannah recalls, “but I understood. I moved back in with my mum, kicking myself that I’d ruined the best relationship of my life. It was time to reassess. I realised I needed to clear my debt once and for all.”
Hannah sought help from her bank, which consolidated all of her credit cards into one loan. It had a high interest rate, but at least she knew exactly how much she’d need to pay off each month if she wanted to be debt-free within a year. It was a tall order, but she took on 40 extra hours of work each week, babysitting, waitressing in her free time, and working at a vintage clothing store. She also sold 95 per cent of her belongings at car boot sales. She sold her Fiat Punto car for £800 and, within nine months, she was able to pay off her debt.
“I didn’t go out or buy anything for myself – I spent 24/7 at work,” she says.
Surprisingly, it isn’t just debt that women are hiding from their partners. Mum-of-three Michelle Underwood, 36, from Surrey, is secretly saving behind her partner Paul’s back.
“We’ve been together 11 years and in that time I’ve managed to squirrel away about £6,000,” Michelle confesses.
“I like that I’m financially independent – it’s a kind of security blanket. If I ever need the money to buy something, I can. Although I’m actually very careful with money.”
Michelle’s financial secrecy stems from having struggled to make ends meet after her relationship with the father of her two sons, Jason, now 17, and Matthew, 16, ended in 1998. She racked up £5,000 worth of credit card debt from trying to pay the bills alone.
“There were days when I had as little as £20 to feed and clothe the children, and pay the bills. I vowed I’d never be like that again,” she says.
Banking on ourselves
When she met Paul, 36, an NHS estates officer, in 2001, Michelle didn’t discuss whether she had savings and neither did Paul.
“I see money as a private matter. At the time, I was doing data inputting and earning very little, so after I got some compensation from a car accident six years ago, I put most of it into a private savings account without telling him. I top up whenever I can.”
Michelle gave up work in 2005 to be a full-time mum to the couple’s daughter Emily, eight, and her two older sons who still live at home. Paul gives her £200 a month for extra treats, half of which she is able to put into her secret savings account. She manages to spend only £100 a month as he pays for most things around the house.
“I spend some of the money on my children when they need something, and on little treats for myself such as magazines or the odd top. But I try to not to dip into it too much,” Michelle explains.
“I often feel guilty hiding the truth from Paul, worrying that it’s money we could be spending as a family. I hide bank statements and hope he doesn’t open my post. It’s not that I think Paul and I will split up, but in the back of my mind, I have the reassurance to know that if we do, I won’t be in the same position as when I separated from the boys’ dad – always worrying about how I was going to put food on the table.”
“When Paul finds out, I hope he’ll understand, as he knows how I struggled in the past,” says Michelle.
For Hannah, honesty was ultimately the best policy. She and Lee stayed in touch after they split, and Lee was impressed by how hard she worked to pay off the money she owed.
“After agreeing to be totally honest with him, in February 2011, he suggested we give our relationship another go and we’ve never looked back. Within another 12 months, on top of the £16,500 I’d raised to pay off all my debts, I’d managed to save another £15,000 after continuing my extra jobs. In September, we’re packing up and going travelling indefinitely, which I’m blogging about at Furtherbound.com. But this time it’s with money I’ve saved from work, rather than borrowed on credit.”
Ditch your debt
How to get back into the black:
* Pay yourself first – you need to eat, get to work etc, so ensure you have allowed enough to do this, then start making small cutbacks such as making your own lunch or walking, rather than driving to the shops. The savings soon add up.
* Know your incomings, outgoings and what you have left over. Try a free online budget calculator to keep on top of this. For example, at Moneysavingexpert.com/banking/budget-planning.
* Talk to the people you owe money to, be honest and explain your situation. Most will be happy to help you create a repayment plan which suits you both.
* Get help: there are lots of organisations that are able to offer you free advice to help you get back on track with your finances. For example, contact Citizens Advice (Citizensadvice.org.uk), the National Debtline (Nationaldebtline.co.uk) and the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (Cccs.co.uk).
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