Many people have debts that they keep secret from their partners, a study commissioned to launch Money Week shows.
Te Ara Ahunga Ora The Pensions Commission surveyed the public and found that 12% of people who were in debt and living with their partner kept at least some of their debt secret.
Another 35% admitted their partners may be a little unclear about how much they owe.
The results don’t shock financial fitness coach Lynda Moore, who is studying to become a financial therapist, because “financial infidelity” is rife among couples.
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Financial infidelity is a term that covers people who make financial decisions and then keep them secret from their partners.
Running up secret debts is just one form of financial infidelity, she says.
If the commission had asked people if they had secret savings and secret bank accounts, they would have found they were common, too, she says.
A Money Week 2022 survey by Te Ara Ahunga Ora The Retirement Commission reveals what families have had to do to cope with the rising cost of living.
“Quite often this happens because of different money personalities,” says Moore.
“Some people just want money hidden because they don’t want their spending partner to get to it,” she says.
Other reasons for financial infidelity can be wide-ranging, including gambling addiction, she says, and even people in blended families who secretly support their ex-spouses and children without telling their new partners.
When couples don’t talk about money, they don’t know where the lines are, says financial fitness coach Lynda Moore.
But debt is big, and when discovered, it could feel as bad for the cheating partner as sexual infidelity, says Moore.
Tom Hartmann, editor-in-chief of the Commission’s Sorted website, says debt can come with feelings of shame and guilt.
He says in German that the word for guilt and guilt is the same: guilt.
“We’re not always proud of some of the decisions we’ve made,” he says.
Sorted Editor-in-Chief Tom Hartmann says people shouldn’t talk about debt with their partner if they feel guilty about it.
He says some people don’t actively keep their debt secret, they just don’t talk about it.
“There’s a difference between silence and active cover-up,” he says.
People aged 18 to 24 who describe themselves as partners have not discussed their debt with their partner, the commission researchers found.
Debt secrecy is more common among men than women, the commission found, and older couples were more likely to be completely open about money than younger couples.
Some couples find it difficult to talk about money, the commission’s research shows, with 37% of respondents saying they and their partners have no or minimal financial goals.
Hartmann says this can be a function of individuals who have different attitudes and ambitions for their money life.
The commission’s research also shows that couples have different ways of managing their money lives, which can contribute to less-than-open conversations.
The commission found that 45% of couples managed fully joint finances, while 41% combined some but not all aspects of their money life, while 14% managed separate finances.
A degree of financial autonomy in relationships can be of value to couples, says Hartmann.
“We know that for a successful relationship you need good communication, but also a dose of autonomy,” he says.
Financial fitness coach Lynda Moore says financial professionals like mortgage brokers can find themselves in an awkward position when couples admit their true debts while helping them prepare home loan applications at banks.
There is a growing body of guides on how to make effective money conversations tailored for New Zealand households.
Earlier this year, the charity Good Shepherd released its Healthy Financial Relationships toolkit, which aims to teach couples how to avoid sabotaging their conversations about money.
“What the toolkit is doing…is training all New Zealanders to talk to each other about money constructively and respectfully,” said Ayesha Scott, AUT’s senior lecturer, at an online event launching the toolkit in July.
AUT’s Ayesha Scott is an expert on healthy financial relationships and economic abuse.
She hoped this would help households avoid some of the stress and problems that could arise if families were unable to talk about money.
The toolkit also describes what a healthy financial relationship looks like.
Sorted has also published guides to better financial communication, including how to deal with negative reactions from your partner.