It’s no secret that many couples experience financial anxiety during the holidays, but did you know that the “most wonderful time of the year” also causes an outbreak of lying? According to a recent study by McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union, a high number of partners fib about how much they have spent or plan to spend while spreading holiday cheer.
The study polled a diverse group of 1,000 couples and found that one-third lied, disagreed or covered up regarding holiday spending. More than 50 percent of couples also reported paying with cash to hide large purchases, and more than one in ten hid spending by secretly taking out credit cards in their own names.
According to McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union President/CEO Shawn Gilfedder, the holidays tend to feed the anxiety couples are already feeling about money during this season of high expectations. “Many people switch into a defense mode regarding finances, but this only creates more tension in the relationship,” he says.
Licensed Marriage Family therapist Robert Budin reports seeing in his practice an increasing number of couples hiding debt from each other, often with disastrous consequences. “The number one cause of divorce is finances,” he says. “I see a lot of anxiety among people in terms of how they’re going to afford the holidays and endure the pressures of being stretched thin. Trust is the basis of relationships, and it’s severely undermined when one person discovers that the other has been lying about expenditures.”
The lying about holiday spending often occurs because of a spending addiction, says Budin. “Some people will attempt to spend their way through a depression. The spending gives them a momentary boost, but it doesn’t last long, and the debt produces more pain, leading to even more spending. They’re ashamed and afraid of being chastised, so they hide it.”
To avoid getting mired in debt and ending up not on speaking terms come Christmas morning, Gilfedder and Budin offer these tips.
Open up. Though it might seem easier to avoid talking about money, communicating about your expectations regarding spending for the holidays will help you both come to a workable compromise.
Be honest. Full-disclosure when it comes to holiday spending is your best bet, as is working to accept each other’s viewpoint when it comes to holiday spending. “Honesty really is the best policy,” says Gilfedder. “Work to agree with your partner/spouse on your financial goals and consider the long-term impact to your finances, credit and the relationship.”
If you aren’t ready during the holidays to tell your partner about your secret spending, consider coming clean in the New Year when you’re preparing your taxes, suggests Budin. “It’s much better for rebuilding trust to admit what has happened rather than being caught.”
Meet your debt hangover head-on. Know that while you may be on a holiday spending high right now, the time will quickly pass and the reality of your debt will hit hard come January. Gilfedder suggests visiting your local credit union and speaking to a Certified Financial Planner who can help you and your partner create a financial plan to deal with the debt.
Understand you can’t buy Christmas joy. “You can possibly make someone’s life easier with a gift, but you can’t make someone else happy,” says Budin, who also advises not saying yes to requests for excessive gifts when you really mean no.
Get help. If you find yourself with growing debt, make yourself a commitment to stop right away and seek assistance from a therapist, or attend a support group such as Debtors Anonymous, says Budin. “It’s not enough to admit your problem to yourself, because you’re likely to continue repeating the pattern. Get qualified assistance as soon as possible in order to stop the cycle.”
Being transparent about your holiday spending with your partner now may be uncomfortable, but the experience is preferable to getting caught in the act with an overflowing shopping cart or a hefty bill in January.