Husband vs. Wife: Can I Get a Separate Account?


Marek and Lori Fuchs have never fought in their 16 years of marriage—except over money. In this column, Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs, a real-life married couple with three kids (ages 11, 7 and 5), will articulate their very different approaches to personal finance. Last round, they clashed over savings strategies.

This round: He says, “I would like a secret money stash.” She says, “Oh, really?”

Mr. Fuchs says:  I know you're not much for secrets, my love, but I’d love to keep one from you in the form of an under the radar MasterCard (Stock Quote: MA) or Visa (Stock Quote: V), or a simple Citi checking account (Stock Quote: C) you don’t know a thing about.  I’m not talking millions in an overseas bank and I won’t use my secret stash for anything nefarious, obviously.  But—just as obviously—it would be nice if, during this life of obligation and responsibility, I could simply have the unquestioned chance to break free once in a while.  It’d add a little bit of fun at little, if any, cost. 

Mrs. Fuchs says:  Fun?  What are you going to do, amble around Tiffany’s (Stock Quote: TIF) buying me surprises?

Look, the issue came up in a recent 30 Rock episode (Stock Quote: GE) and (no surprise) it led to misunderstanding and recrimination. Tracy’s wife found out that he had a secret credit card that he was using to rent hotel rooms twice a week. Turned out, the guy just wanted to go to the bathroom in peace, but everyone ended up full of rage.

Mr. Fuchs says: Well, see?  The system worked.  He got to go the bathroom in peace.  It’s not his fault that others jumped to conclusions.  Gossip hounds.      

Mrs. Fuchs says: But see, once you start hiding money here and there, you are asking for trouble.  Except for those hiding money to escape from abusive relationships, couples should be open about what accounts they have and where their money is going.  It is awfully hard to build trust in a relationship when one partner has a secret.  I’d also question spending habits that you are feeling the need to hide from your spouse.  No legitimate financial planners would ever sign off on this.  Geez, we just got through talking about how we're going to discuss everything about bill paying.  Now this?  It is trouble on wheels. 

Mr. Fuchs says: A friend, who asked for anonymity and was granted it because his life is at stake, hasn’t found trouble.  He has what he calls a few ways of "clearing" money. It's like laundering it (i.e. a dividend check in his name that she never sees, it gets cashed and transferred to his personal checking account, with no record, as far as she knows).  From that account, he has his own personal credit card. He doesn’t do anything bad in that account.  He just enjoys a few luxuries that make all the scrimping and saving and sacrificing for the kids a little more palpable.  He buys new baseball gear, a nice lunch here or there, a round of golf when he’s traveling for work.  Never anything extravagant. He couldn’t, it’d blow his cover.

Where’s the harm in that?

According to said friend, "It brings to mind the scene in Goodfellas when the Robert DeNiro character tells his cohorts not to be showy or they’ll draw the attention of the Feds.” He pays for his collection of modest enjoyments with the credit card, which is paid online. Again, no record.

Mrs. Fuchs says: You are using one of cinema’s more famous homicidal maniacs to support your argument?  Listen, if you have enough money as a family or couple to allow for discretionary spending, then why not agree to allow it as long as it doesn’t jeopardize your finances?  However, if you do not have enough money, then what the heck are you doing secretly taking money away from your family and your financial responsibilities?  By the way, I also have a friend who has her own account.  However, her husband knows all about it.  She gets to buy things now and then without discussion or negotiation but there are no secrets involved! Perfect solution.   

More Marriage Money Battles:

Husband v. Wife: How Should We Save?

Husband v. Wife: Who Should Pay the Bills?

Husband v. Wife: Save for College or Retirement?

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