April 3, 2014

A few years ago I worked with a man who was going through a divorce. He and his soon-to-be ex-wife had a kid, and he was coming to terms with his newly single life, and being independent.

He was also dealing with a much different financial situation.  His then wife had spent their kids’ entire college savings on online video games – to the tune of $30,000. Gone, just like that.

I was shocked.

$30,000 on video games, right under his nose? To make matters worse, she became a total recluse, and found an online lover. You can’t make this shit up.  Of course he decided to end it and left.

My heart broke for the kid. He could very well be in the same position that I’m in, mired in student loan debt, because his mom spent all his college money on online distractions.

Just last week, I was at a café and overheard a woman venting to her friend. You could tell she was pissed.

“He said he was going to stop, but I found out he spent $10,000 on video games and beer last year!”. Her friend was trying to politely console her.

I kept thinking about financial infidelity, or when your partner actively breaks your trust, hides things from you, and spends your money in a selfish and destructive manner.

How can you get over that? When the money is gone, it’s gone.

We like to think that love transcends money, but money is a key player in our relationships. It’s the number one cause of divorce, and people are scared to talk about it. Money becomes a symbol of power, oppression and privilege.  People use it to fuel secret desires, hidden addictions, and foolish hobbies.  Money can be the demise of your relationship, because unfortunately, sometimes love isn’t all you need.

Make money a key player in your relationship.  Have a ménage a trois with it.

Don’t let financial infidelity happen to you. Be honest with each other. Share your interests and hobbies. Come up with a savings plan. Attack your debt. Think of the big picture, and most importantly think of each other. Actions are not without their consequences. A partnership requires trust, and money is not excluded from that equation. Communicate. Again and again and again. Not all of it is easy or fun. But no one wants to feel like they are being duped or becoming resentful of their partner’s actions.

Have you been financially cheated on? Or know someone who has?


Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com.

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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60 responses to “Financial Infidelity”

  1. Many times when I was still single, my mother would tell me that in case I would get married, me and my future spouse should make it a point not to quarrel about money. How I wish it was that easy but admittedly, it was one of the reasons why we had to part ways after struggling to stay together for more than 20 years. Imagine that? This is why this post struck me so much because you are right. Money can really ruin a relationship!
    Jen @Sprout Wealth recently posted…What Should I Do Now That I’m Done Paying Off Debt?My Profile

  2. DEBt DEBs says:

    Very thoughtful post. It is such an important part of a relationship and people who say it’s not are probably in denial or haven’t hit their worst nightmare, yet. Being aligned with your partner is key, because spending money can be an addiction, not unlike other vices. It’s just a bit more socially acceptable than gambling, alcoholism, overeating, gaming, drugs. It is easy to kick though, thankfully!
    DEBt DEBs recently posted…Booze BudgetMy Profile

  3. Wow, that’s a crazy situation! It makes me realize that there is no test to determine who is qualified to be a parent and who’s not. I have not been in that situation, especially because I don’t have a joint account with the bf. But I would feel super heartbroken if the bf ever went behind my back on a big decision. We discuss a lot of the purchases, even if one person is putting the money towards it.
    Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life recently posted…The Deteriorating BudgetMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Haha you’re right. No test required 🙂 I don’t have a joint account either, but if that happened to me, I’d be irate first, upset second, then just depressed. I think having shared goals and interests are important. In this case, it sounds like she went off and found her own little world to go to.
      deardebt recently posted…Financial Infidelity My Profile

  4. Ouch, that would hurt!! I haven’t been in a relationship in a long time, but my last bf was very good with money. I think money is one of the top reasons couples get divorced. It’s so important to be honest with each other, but I don’t know what I’d do if someone I was in a relationship wasn’t…
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…How Bad Do You Want It?My Profile

  5. E.M. says:

    That is just awful. I don’t even know how you can spend $30k on online games or why you would want to. Talk about an unhealthy addiction. My ex loved to spend money. He was doing really well with saving, and after we broke up, he admitted he blew through like $5k, mostly on alcohol/parties. It made me really sad for him because he really regretted it, and had worked so hard to make saving a priority after living paycheck to paycheck.

    My boyfriend and I discuss our purchases even though we keep our money separate. It helps keep us in check!
    E.M. recently posted…Second-Guessing the Decision to Move?My Profile

  6. Mackenzie says:

    Whoa…. I can’t believe people actually do this. I feel so bad for that kid whose mom spent his college savings. How does one even deal with that?

    Great post Melanie!
    Mackenzie recently posted…Greetings From Portland!My Profile

  7. Alicia says:

    Money is very open between us, but sometimes value of things is very different from one person to another. I will admit when we were first trying to figure out how we fit together, there was a learning curve, and I did utter the words “your money is literally going up in smoke!” because of a not-so great habit of his (ignoring the health concerns as well).

    I am not saying that I agree on spending 10k on video games whatsoever, but if your partner is doing his part for the relationship (and assuming you’re in a good financial situation, and it’s not actually $800/month, etc), I don’t see the harm… but be open about it. Not hidden away like your co-worker. It’s about what you both value.

    Some things you value together like “getting out of debt”, or building a solid financial footing together. Some things I value more than he does… he doesn’t care if I have a fetching new coat, but I like clothes. He likes technology. But sometimes I use my opinion of what I value on his purchases, and then I think he’s wasting money. If he wants a new computer monitor, fine – he saves for it and I stay out of it now.

    I think I have an entire post I could write on this topic, so I won’t bore you with a 1000 word comment 🙂
    Alicia recently posted…Financial Update – March 2014.My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      You would never bore me, dear! I love your thoughtful comments. Seriously. Smoking is such an expensive habit, it’s not even funny. Same with alcohol! Those vices really get you. I think you can spend on what you want, if you agree and have the same values and you can afford it. In this situation, the money was clearly earmarked, and then used behind his back. It’s all about the motive and this was not nice!
      deardebt recently posted…Financial Infidelity My Profile

  8. Online video games are a frightening and EXPENSIVE world. My ex was an addict (though he still doesn’t admit it, hence the reason he’s my ex 😉 ).
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted…Credit Scores: What They Are and Why They’re Important.My Profile

  9. My wife and I have joint accounts that we are both able to access, so it really makes it kind of hard to have any sort of financial infidelity. That, and we both trust and love each other. I’m a big fan of combining finances to prevent issues like the one above. I don’t even know how some one would spend so much on video games… it must have been a pretty intense candy crush addiction 🙂
    Ryan @ Impersonal Finance recently posted…emergency fund in actionMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      I think it was one of those RPG where you buy lives or something. I don’t know a thing about video games….but I agree, both parties need to have access to info, and check regularly, and check in with EACH OTHER!

  10. anna says:

    Wow, hundreds of dollars on online games sounds high, let alone thousands! I think it’s comparable to actual infidelity… I feel bad for the people involved. I think this tends to be a great example (albeit unfortunate one) of the importance of both partners/spouses to be in the know of their combined financial situation, though, you know?
    anna recently posted…Honeymoon 2 of 3: Easter Island!My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Exactly! Both people need to be in the know and have access to account info! No more having one person do the finances. Empower both parties to take responsibility for the situation.

  11. This post reminds me a bit of one Hayley at Disease Called Debt just did. Interesting and funny-ish that you both decided to talk about finances and relationships this week.
    Shoeaholicnomore recently posted…Thing Thursday 4/3/2014My Profile

  12. Peter says:

    OMG… what video game is that? Just curious. Great reminder for married folks. Money is very powerful force and something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. One of the per-marital counseling course I took with my wife was on money and I believe it has paid dividends in many ways already. Money talk is an absolute must with your spouse.
    Peter recently posted…most destructive words that every man receives: “Be a Man”… What?My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Not sure, but something like an RPG game where you buy lives, or something? Money talks need to happen all the time and I think both partners should have access to account info.

  13. Michelle says:

    DAMN! I can’t even wrap my head around this. One, because video games are so boring. Two, I can’t understand how someone could steal from their kid, and three that you could be in a committed relationship and just “miss” that this was happening.
    Michelle recently posted…10 Things I Learned During My Year Of Not ShoppingMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Isn’t it insane?!?! I don’t know a thing about video games, which was why I was so shocked that this was possible. There are probably things in the story I don’t know, because I think that’s a serious issue to a) do what she did, and b) not notice it!

  14. I couldn’t handle being someone who didn’t care about money but just spent it without thinking about the consequences. I think being on the same money page is just as important as being on the same page romantically in a relationship too.
    Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses recently posted…Unpaid Internships – Stop Selling Yourself ShortMy Profile

  15. That’s why you keep finances separate. It helps reduce arguments. your money is yours, mine is mine. Some expenses we share.
    No Nonsense Landlord recently posted…Rent Collection: It’s April 2; do you know where your rents are?My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Our expenses are currently separate and it works for us. I think the real issue is when one person has all the knowledge and control — both partners need to be fully invested!

  16. This is very true, my friend told me that they have a separate account with his husband and sadly she doesn’t have an excess of her husband’s online account. For me, it’s very respectful to my friend’s side, because her husband knows her bank online account.
    Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way recently posted…March blog income and stats recapMy Profile

  17. Yes, being honest is the best thing about a relationship. When a relationship breaks, honesty is the last thing you’ll expect out of that relationship. The incident you described here is just unthinkable. What kind of mother can do such sort of thing? Is it really real? I have just only one thing to say OMG.
    Martha Gonzales recently posted…Cover College Expenses with Ease through Auto Title LoansMy Profile

  18. J. Money says:

    This is horrible!! But can’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness! Haha… Wow…. did NOT see that one coming…

    (And also, great tips at the end ;))

    • deardebt says:

      It’s crazy right?! People really do unbelievable things. And there is nothing wrong with getting down and dirty with your money! I know you know that, Mr. Budgets are Sexy 🙂

  19. WHAT!! $30,000 on online games…that’s insanity. I don’t want to stereotype…but I thought it was the husband who spent the $30k on games. Money is the #1 reason for the cause of divorces…have to really communicate about financial issues. I’m not sure I agree with No Nonsense Landlord…I’m fine with having separate finances…although not always possible, I’d prefer a relationship where we have a similar financial goal whereas the yours is yours and mine is mine doesn’t seem like you’re working as a team. Just my humble opinion.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Is it REALLY Okay to Take Paternity Leave?My Profile

  20. Morgaine says:

    Wow! I cannot even imagine spending that kind of money on online games, that just blew my mind! Hubby and I keep our finances separate not because either of us isn’t good with money (he’s better than I am and I’m the one with a pf blog!) but it eliminates arguments over how we’re spending our money. We have friends where the husband nitpicks every little purchase his wife makes and that would drive me crazy. However, even though we don’t have joint finances we do discuss any major purchases. I get that the $30K was probably spent little by little over time, but even once she got to $1K spent, she should have admitted it. Actually since it was probably joint savings and was set aside for the kid’s education, she should have admitted it when she spent $1. I also wonder if people are willing to hide financial infidelities what else are they capable of hiding?
    Morgaine recently posted…Monthly Goals Review – March 2014My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      We also have separate finances for now. It works for us. I couldn’t imagine the nitpicking with spending. Also, you can see in this story that the financial infidelity was one part that led to a shutdown of her social life, and an actual online affair. If they can lie about money, they can lie about other things too!

  21. Debt is still very much a taboo subject amongst some couples I think. Myself and my hubby have had our fair share of not being completely open with where our money was being spent and it’s definitely added to our debt troubles in the past.

    I think financial infidelity isn’t black and white. Where kids are concerned, I have trouble understanding such silly spending though.

    Money issues can definitely make or break a relationship so getting to the root of the problem is so important. Why is the other half spending on such things for example?

    I believe debt issues in a relationship can be overcome providing both parties in the relationship admit and understand their financial problems and then resolve to move forwards.
    Hayley @ A Disease Called Debt recently posted…Personal Finance Blog Roundup – Friday’s Fab Links #28My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      I agree — most things in relationships aren’t very black and white, which is why it’s tricky. Love, emotions, children, security, jobs, etc all play a part in the life you create with someone.

  22. Isabella says:

    Hubby and I have always been very open with each other about money during our many years of marriage, and we have always shared our bank accounts. In the beginning, there wasn’t much at all to even argue about or discuss! I think it is really important to have the money talks when two people get serious about each other. It is imperative to have the same financial values and goals regarding finances. It would drive me insane if I had a husband who couldn’t or wouldn’t manage money!

    Today at work, a young teacher told me that she never went out on a second date with a man because he insisted on valet parking. She knew that those values just did not align with hers. Extreme? Maybe not. It is really hard to convince people to change their views on money. It’s best to pick the right partner out of the gate.

    • deardebt says:

      It’s really important to have those similar values! As your relationship grows, and hopefully your money, so does the need for communication.

  23. $30,000!?!? Holy S$)%&$(*%! My husband can’t even pull the trigger on a $30 game!
    Money is the root of all evil and it complicates things when you’re in a relationship.
    my husband and I talk about our money/finances constantly – I think couples need to. We do have access to each other’s accounts so that helps in the transparency. Prior to getting married, we went on an Engaged Encounters trip where we basically shared all of our financial responsibilities – all the debt, all of it. It’s important to lay all your cards on the table in the beginning so that way, there’s no real reason to ever really hide anything else.
    Anneli @thefrugalweds recently posted…The Blurry Line Between Frugal and CheapMy Profile

  24. Your points are well taken as to communication between spouses. Honesty, openness and cooperation are key to any marriage.
    However, addiction issues trump all of this. This is mental disease. It requires treatment and years of intensive therapy and even then it can still be a problem. Untreated mental disease will not be solved by anything you mention in this post. This really needs to be understood.
    Your points are not negated by what I am saying it is just the normal rules of relationships cannot solve these mental problems. Just one man’s opinion who has had experience with addiction issues.
    STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION) recently posted…Philip Seymour Hoffman: Estate Planning Lessons For Us and Especially WomenMy Profile

  25. Mr. 1500 says:

    $30,000 on video games? That is ludicrous! As the commentor above pointed out, it sounds like his wife has addiction problems that go deeper. Yikes. How sad and terrible. No-one wins here.
    Mr. 1500 recently posted…Performance Update 15/50: March CrapnessMy Profile

  26. A main player in my parents’ divorce wad their spending habits and their lack of communication regarding them. The same goes for The BF’s parents. Because of our parents’ situations, we both keep an open channel of communication about EVERYTHING, including money.
    Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans recently posted…March 2014 Net WorthMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      That must have been a real eye opener for you two growing up! Even though it was tough, you guys have learned so much and now you guys are committed to not being like that. I applaud you!

  27. Wow that’s a terrible story. Financial infidelity is almost as horrible in my mind as actual physical infidelity. When you trust someone with your money you’re also trusting them with your heart, your safety and your emotional and physical comfort. It would be very hard for me to continue a relationship if my sig other spent our money without my knowledge.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted…Is Your Debt, Your Fault?My Profile

  28. Incredible. I can’t fathom that type of situation. It’s a good reminder to make sure that financial discussions happen on a regular basis. I think things can get out of hand if it’s not a shared responsibility.

    Addiction takes it to the next level though. It’s hard to see eye to eye with someone who can’t wait for the next “hit”.

    • deardebt says:

      Mental health and addiction really take something like this to the next level 🙁 It is really sad and seems unfathomable. I bet you there are tons of stories out there like this, though.

  29. Nina says:

    I find video/computer games boring, always have, no appeal there for me (PF blogs are my vice). But as a parent, I can say that my kids are constantly online playing this thing or that (not costing them other than when they go over our data allocation) to the point that I know I have to do something to get them off of this stuff. I have a friend whose bright teenaged son basically became a vampire living on these games all night and despite all of her interventions has not gotten it together enough to go to college/get a job/detach himself from the controllers. You know more about this case that I do, but who knows, maybe her son was thrilled that she was blowing all his college money on video games. Mine would probably be thrilled and is too young to be thinking about college. 30K was a shocker. I wonder how many college kids have blown their college funds on online gaming. Addiction can take hold of anyone, and we need to watch out for our kids, families and elders. I’m sure the internet is littered with real stories of isolated seniors getting taken for their retirement funds (or at least their retirement years) through gaming too.

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