The Moneyist: I earn twice my husband’s salary and pay all the bills — now he hides all his savings

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Dear Moneyist,

This is something I have not shared with anyone until now. I am embarrassed because my family, friends and colleagues view me as a very intelligent person. I act like someone who has it all together, but deep down I feel otherwise.

I have lived with my husband since 1998, first as boyfriend and girlfriend, then as partners. We got married in 2014. Over the years I have trusted him with money. Each of us has our own bank accounts and we do whatever. I have always have earned at least twice what he makes, but it has never been an issue, as far as I’m aware.

Also see: A letter from a reader on the poverty line: ‘I know what it means to go hungry for five days until you get your next paycheck’

I pay all the bills and take care of everything financially. But after all of these years, I don’t know what’s in his bank account. I do know he is into stocks, but I am afraid to ask. On a few occasions I have asked that we talk about retirement and future money plans, and he has ignored me. I regularly forward him articles about money and retirement, etc., and he simply ignores them.

I am starting to worry because we are almost 50 and have a 16-year-old child who is about to go to college. Should I continue trusting him or gather courage and just push the subject, risking a potential cold war that drags on for weeks?

P.S. We struggle with communication in this relationship. I know he is a loner and a miser. He doesn’t spend much.

Silent Wife in Olathe, Kan.

Dear Silent,

I’ve had letters about husbands who were the main breadwinners keeping the family finances under lock and key, but I’ve never had a letter from a wife who was the primary breadwinner whose husband kept her in the dark. It seems like a role reversal that benefits one party only: the husband. He is literally having his cake and eating it, and probably investing in the cake company and — who knows — freezing slices for a rainy day.

If your husband is willing to sit back and allow you to pay the bills — while he keeps his savings and investments a closely guarded secret — his problems go way beyond money. People will often get away with what they can get away with: You pay all the bills because you allow him to pay none of the bills. He keeps his finances a secret because you don’t call him out and tell him to sit down and go through them like any other family.

If he were a house husband and you were the only breadwinner, that would be different. But even then you need be able to plan for the future. I don’t know what goes on inside his mind that enables him to justify this kind of secrecy. Maybe he was raised to be king of the world and do as he pleases. Perhaps he levies a “wage tax” — you pay the bills because you earn twice his salary.

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Most people are open about their finances, but money secrets are not that uncommon. Nearly 20% of people are keeping a savings, credit-card or checking account hidden from their live-in partner, according to this survey. Millennials (ages 18 to 37) are twice as likely to say they’re hiding a bank or credit-card account from their partner (28% versus 15%). More than half of people who live with their partner say keeping a secret bank or credit-card account is as bad as cheating.

Read MarketWatch’s Moneyist advice column on the etiquette and ethics of your financial affairs. This week: ‘I earn twice what my husband makes and pay all the bills, but have no idea how much money he’s saved?’

In remaining silent because you fear his reaction, you will not only condemn yourself to a lifetime of uncertainty, you may very well be jeopardizing your child’s future education and your own retirement. Is this the kind of man you want to spend the rest of your life with? Do you know how many good, responsible, honest and open-hearted people out there would love to meet a woman like you? More than either of us could imagine.

Your husband must start contributing to the family finances. Your child’s college education and your desire to start planning for your respective retirements are both good places to start. This is non-negotiable. It’s unhealthy to live with secrets. They too often lead to lies. In relationships and friendships, I have a series of red, white and — well — amber lines. Lying, lying by omission or keeping secrets is a red line.

You hold all the cards. It’s time to see yourself in a position of power. If necessary, seek therapy and/or financial therapy to find your voice. Remember this: Life will be a lot more expensive for your husband without you.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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