Should You Have A Secret Money Stash?

10 February 2017
 31% of people in a relationship have hidden financial secrets from their partner. This Valentine’s Day, could a secret money stash help or hurt?

Almost one third (31%) of those in a relationship admitted to keeping a financial secret from their partner or spouse, according to Canstar’s survey. This Valentine’s Day, we’re investigating how many Aussies keep an extra stash of savings hidden from their partners, and whether this habit can help or hurt in a relationship.

Aussies keeping secret money stashes from their partners

Separate – and occasionally secret – bank accounts would appear to be a common financial reality for many Australian couples. Research conducted by Canstar found that a “secret money stash” was the second most common financial secret that people were willing to admit they had kept from their partner.

The majority of couples (58%) said they believe everything should be shared in a relationship (“Everything is ours – all things equal”). But around 2 in 5 believed (39%) that couples should keep separate accounts and equally divide shared bills and savings (“Yours, mine, and ours – sharing when necessary”).

An ME Bank survey we covered in 2016 found that it’s an even split for Australians who prefer to keep their finances together or separate. Around 1 in 2 Australians in a relationship held a joint transaction account (49%), a joint credit card (48%), or a joint online savings account (39%).

Previous research conducted by Galaxy Research for TAL Life Insurance in 2014 had found that back then, 66% of married and de facto couples surveyed had joint bank accounts. Approximately 45% also had a separate account without partner access, and a further 3% had a secret account. An equivalent of 300,000 couples admitted to having secret bank accounts without the knowledge of their partner.

Aussies keeping secret money stashes from their partners

Top 5 financial secrets in relationships

We asked the couples and singles in our survey, “In your opinion, what are the top five most common financial secrets in relationships? Aussies – both single and in couples – said the top five most common financial secrets in relationships are:

  1. Having a secret money stash
  2. Lying about the level of personal debts
  3. Hiding gambling wins/loss
  4. Having a secret savings account
  5. Lying about their level of savings – saying it’s higher or lower

The top concern for males was that their partner might have a secret money stash, whereas females were more bothered by the idea their partner might lie about the level of their personal debts.

Whether we are single, in a relationship, or married, people seem to worry about the same secrets. The singles who took our study identified the same top 5 financial secrets as the couples in our survey did.

What financial secrets are people willing to admit to?

For those in a couple who admitted to having kept a financial secret from their partner at one time or another, the most common secrets were:

  1. Secretly splurging and lying about the actual spend
  2. Having a secret money stash
  3. Lying about their level of savings – saying it’s higher or lower

Couples who secretly splurged and lied about the amount they spent most commonly put these purchases on their credit card (32%), cash (27%), or a transaction account/debit card (23%).

Do you monitor your partner’s spending?

When we asked couples whether or not they trust their partner when it comes to money, overwhelmingly, 88% said they do trust their partner.

But when asked, “Do you monitor your partner or spouse’s financial habits?” 1 in 3 partners (34%) said yes, they keep tabs on their significant other’s financial habits.

Monitoring behaviour was higher for people who had admitted to hiding a financial secret from their partner: 38% of those who had hidden a secret from their partner said they monitor their partner’s spending.

The most common methods for monitoring a partner’s finances were:

  1. “I regularly ask my partner what they have spent money on.” (57%)
  2. “I go through their or our credit card statements to look for suspicious purchases.” (21%)
  3. “I regularly check my partner’s bank account balances online without them knowing.” (18%)

Interestingly, of those who said they don’t trust their partner or spouse when it comes to money, only 50% of them actually monitor their partner’s financial habits.

Should you have a secret money stash?

So we’ve established that around 1 in 3 people in a relationship do hide some sort of financial secret from their partner – but is a secret pot of savings something that could help or hurt your relationship?

A secret money stash usually represents “extra money savings” that are left over after you’ve paid your shared expenses and your own expenses. In contrast to a joint credit card, where there is a joint debt that you would both be legally required to repay, a secret savings stash is more likely to only involve one individual’s money.


Former Canstar Editor-in-Chief Justine Davies discussed this very issue with Jill Emberson on ABC Radio: Mornings: what are some of the considerations when deciding between joint or separate finances?

Firstly, it?s worth knowing that when it comes to conflict in relationships, money issues are consistently one of the top causes. 70% of couples are affected by money disagreements, according to Relationships Australia, and it is one of the four main reasons why relationships suffer.

Why is money such a stumbling block? It may be at least partially because the cliche of “opposites attract” often holds true when it comes to finances, with a spender often teaming up with a saver. When a cautious investor is partnered with someone who is comfortable with risk, there are bound to be money disagreements over how much to spend and how much to save.

Benefits of a separate bank account

Beyond that is the conflict over what to spend money on. Different interests, habits and outlooks, while adding enjoyment to a relationship, can also add conflict when there is a limited pool of money to allocate.

Then there are other more serious reasons for money conflicts, such as addiction, impulsive spending, and other reckless behaviours.

Finally, let’s talk about trust. Relationships Australia identified that lack of trust was one of the other four main killers of relationships, but our survey shows we’re not always willing to let trust go both ways.

Our survey showed that 81% of singles and couples said they would feel betrayed or “cheated on” if their partner kept a major financial secret from them. Even for those who admitted to hiding a financial secret from their partner, 71% said they would feel betrayed or cheated on if their partner hid something from them.

In fact, 1 in 4 people in a relationship said they would break up if they found out their partner was keeping a financial secret from them. This figure was highest for those who were single, divorced, or widowed.

Benefits of a separate bank account

Some great reasons to consider a separate bank account include:

  1. To retain financial independence. If the idea of a joint budget and shared household expenses leaves you with cold feet, separate bank accounts – with each person contributing a pre-determined amount towards joint expenses – could be a better option.
  2. To avoid arguments over different spending habits. Even if you combine most of your accounts in order to budget for communal expenses, it can be a great idea to keep one separate account each to use for personal spending.
  3. To ensure that bills get paid. If you or your partner are prone to overspending, a separate account that cannot be accessed can be a vital way of ensuring that bills still get paid.
  4. To quarantine your loss. More seriously, if one member of a couple genuinely cannot control their spending, then keeping money separate may be the only way to avoid losing it all. In this instance, keeping that separate account “secret” could be essential.
  5. To escape. According to Financial Counselling Australia, economic abuse is a very real threat within some families. Without access to your own money, it can be difficult to leave an abusive situation. Maintaining a separate and secret bank account could in some instances be a life-saving action.

Interestingly, the 2014 TAL survey found that we are likely to save more money in secret accounts than we do in accounts that our partners know about. The average balance of a secret savings account was $30,000, compared to just $18,400 in accounts which are separate but which their partners know about. Perhaps keeping a secret can motivate you to spend less?


Have your say for Valentine’s Day

What do you think – is a secret money stash a relationship sin, or a helpful tool if used wisely? Does valuing your Valentine mean pooling your money resources or keeping your own spending money private?

Join the conversation on Twitter (@CANSTAR) or on our Facebook page using the hashtag #ValueYourValentine.

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