Marriage-Risking Money Secrets

Dave Ramsey
CBS/The Early Show
Have you ever spent money and kept the purchase a secret from your spouse?

Author and radio host Dave Ramsey says lots of people keep financial secrets, and those secrets can be a sign of or cause problems in your marriage.

On The Early Show Tuesday, Ramsey said he hears regularly from folks with BIG secrets, such as major amounts of credit card debt, but there are plenty of others who keep small secrets.

Ramsey says being honest about where your money is going is always important, but especially during tough financial times.

Ramsey he's contacted frequently by people who have discovered that their spouse has built a credit card balance of $50,000 to $100,000! And, while you may not know many people who've done that, chances are good that you know someone who has bought a pair of shoes, or made a similar, relatively small purchase and snuck them into the house.

Obviously, Ramsey says, a new fishing pole or handbag is nothing compared to $50,000 in credit card bills. When and if your spouse does find out, he or she isn't going to be completely devastated.

"But this does show a lack of communication and cooperation in a marriage," he points out. "It's pretty common -- but then, so is being divorced and broke. That doesn't make it a good thing."

The question you have to ask yourself, Ramsey says, is, "What kind of marriage do I have that I feel the need to lie about a purchase? What's going on here?"

Ramsey finds that these financial secrets aren't a gender issue -- women aren't more or less likely to do that than men.

Rather -- it's a control issue -- someone in the marriage has taken control of the family
finances and is the big, bad boss of the checkbook. The other spouse feels as if he or she has no control over the money at all and as if his or her vote doesn't count when it comes to financial decisions. In response, he or she rebels against reporting to "the boss" and goes ahead and
spends money specifically because it's "against the rules."

Another "financial secret" people mention to Ramsey is giving money to the kids without the knowledge of their spouse. Ramsey says that's more likely to truly become a problem in
"blended" families, when a divorced parent wants to "protect" his or her child from the new "evil stepmother" of stepfather, and part of the way he or she does that is by handing out money.

That can drive wedges among the various past and current spouses involved.

If you're a spouse keeping financial secrets big or small, Ramsey suggest two things:

1) Admit your mistake. Tell your partner. Now!

2) Determine the real problem. You're allowed to be angry about the fact that your partner is too controlling of the family finances. Explain how you feel, and figure out together how you can have more of a voice in financial decisions. Maybe you think that you work, too, and deserve to buy a pair of shoes or a fishing pole if you want to -- as long as you're not being selfish and hurting the family. You're probably right, Ramsey says, unless you should be putting that $100 toward debt payments, or the family can't afford to eat the last week of the month because you bought shoes! Help your spouse understand that.