“Sneaky” Spending Behavior

As with other syndromes described in this kit, there are several ways for this phenomenon to take place. If it occurs in the context of more generalized lies and deception, stop here and go to read about the intentional deception syndrome described elsewhere in this kit. If the furtive spending occurs in the context of a drug or alcohol abuse problem, stop here and go read about substance abuse problems also described elsewhere in this kit. A Bipolar Affective Disorder can also cause wild spending during manic episodes. However, such behavior is usually much more overt than the furtive spending addressed here. For all of these types of syndromes, the following recommended interventions will be ineffective. If the furtive spending does not involve alcohol, drug abuse, generalized lying within the relationship, or a likely Bipolar condition, then read on and consider the following interventions.

Furtive spending may occur within compulsive spending and debting behavior. If such is the case, then an excellent intervention is to get involved with a community self-help program such as Debtor’s Anonymous. Such a program helps to detoxify shame, reduce distortions of judgement, and better manage the impulse problems inherent in a spending compulsion.

If a spending compulsion is not apparently involved, secretive spending may reflect boundary problems within the relationship. In this latter scenario, the involved partner will frequently be under-assertive about privacy and their need to exercise more authority over finances. In a high percentage of such cases, only one spouse has the responsibility for paying bills and planning the finances. Also, there is usually no formal agreement about how to go about private discretionary purchases. The problem with this kind of scenario is that one partner has bought into being infantalized. The transgressing partner may have an actual emotional investment in having the other partner shoulder the detail work of the family finances. They may unconsciously desire having their partner play “mommy” or “daddy” for their convenience. However, the downside of such infantalization is covert anger. Even without conscious awareness, the “sneaky” spending partner will be acting out their anger of both their dependence and lack of authority. While this may seem a paradox, such paradoxes of human nature are often seen in the conflict between the need for dependence and the need for autonomy.

To remedy an imbalance of financial authority in the relationship, a double-pronged strategy works best: 1) Restore equal authority for finances by setting up a financial structure that requires detail work and accountability by both partners. 2) Create additional areas of personal spending authority by establishing private discretionary accounts for each partner. This latter strategy is extremely important and should not be ignored. The first strategy is incomplete without addressing the psychological need for some autonomy within the relationship. Both parties may underestimate this need because it may be so covert and unconscious. However, if it is ignored, many budgetary plans will subsequently be violated. This is because the financial structure of a relationship will optimally mirror healthy psychological boundaries. When a relationship does not tolerate any privacy or separate desires, it will usually start to dysfunction. A healthy relationship psychologically balances each partner’s need for separateness versus their need for togetherness. A financial structure that allows no private discretionary spending may not keep such a balance. Especially where one partner is under-assertive about selfish desires, they will have a tendency to satisfy their unconscious need for autonomy via “sneaky” spending instead of conflicted negotiation. For this reason, establishing separate private spending accounts can have a powerful emotional benefit for the furtively spending partner.