5 Min Read
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Lying to a spouse, or a parent, or a kid about one's financial affairs? Terrible idea.
But there are absolutes, and then there is real life. Real life is messy sometimes, and confusing, and not always what you wanted.
And in real life, most of us lie about money. A lot.
According to one survey from the Baltimore-based fund shop T. Rowe Price, 77 percent of parents say they are not always honest with their kids about finances. Fifteen percent fudge the truth at least once a week.
When it comes to spouses, nearly half of Americans lie to their partners about money, according to research on "financial infidelity" by TODAY.com and Self Magazine.
Which begs the question: Is it ever OK to lie about money?
"Sure," says Mark La Spisa, president of Vermillion Financial Advisors in South Barrington, Illinois. "Money is private, and you are not obligated to share all your financial information with every family member. In fact, sometimes talking too much about money can open you up to be a victim."
After all, some lies are made with the best intentions. If you are struggling with serious money problems, for instance, you likely don't want to share that information with your 6-year-old.
Coming up with the mortgage payment or putting food on the table are very adult concerns - kids should not fret about those issues, which could cause long-term insecurities.
If too-young children ask about family finances, most people might say everything is fine, and there is nothing to worry about. Such a lie isn't malicious; in fact, it is done with their interests at heart.
Ask Trent Hamm, and he'll describe an elaborate money lie he once had going with his wife, Sarah. Hamm, a writer in Des Moines, Iowa, was siphoning money out of the couple's accounts, a little at a time. When Sarah noticed what was going on and asked him about it, Hamm made up yet another lie to cover his tracks: that the withdrawals were to cover the cost of lunch with a buddy.
In reality, Hamm was saving up to buy her a custom necklace, complete with five birthstones. (The couple have three kids.) "I felt guilty about it, but it was worth it," says Hamm, 35. "And I confessed it to her when she received the necklace."
Some of the most common money lies, according to the Financial Infidelity poll: hiding a purchase from your partner, claiming it was bought on sale or asserting that something new was obtained long ago.
Roughly 6 million Americans keep financial accounts concealed from their significant others, according to a poll by CreditCards.com. Such secrets might be kept to maintain a feeling of financial independence.
"There is a lot of fear around the question, 'Am I going to be OK in future?' " says Mikelann Valterra, a financial coach in Seattle and the author of "Why Women Earn Less." "They're creating pockets of security so they'll be able to sleep at night.
Valterra's advice? Tell your marital partner the truth. "When it comes to other relatives, you don't owe them anything," she says. "If they are constantly hounding you for money, being over-honest could harm you."
There are a host of other tricky scenarios that play out among families every day. If your child wants you to splurge on a pricey item, for instance, how do you respond? According to the T. Rowe Price survey, 32 percent of parents lie and say they can't afford it.
One of those parents: Toronto writer Samantha Kemp-Jackson. When one of her four kids wants to buy something overly expensive, Kemp-Jackson has no qualms about lying and saying the bank account is empty.
"Kids ask questions every 30 seconds, and if you have a deep discussion about every single one, you're going to be answering questions all day and all night," she says, laughing. "Sometimes I think it's perfectly fine to tell them a little fib about money, whether it's about your salary or some toy they don't need. Then you can go on your merry way and get the laundry done."
A shortcut, maybe, but a highly effective one.
Often the financial lies we're telling, however minor or harmless or even well-intentioned, may be unnecessary, says Robert Feldman, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and author of "The Liar In Your Life."
"We don't expect people to tell us what their salary is, how much money they have in the bank, or how expensive their house is," Feldman says. "You can often just say, 'It's private, and I don't want to talk about it.'"
That way, it's not necessary to come up with a lie. "Honesty isn't always a perfect policy - but it's still the best policy," Feldman says.