A survey of about 1,000 Americans found that one in 10 would describe their partner as a financial bully. Our readers, however, insist that that might be a label easily assigned to a partner who is simply being financially responsible.
When we put out a call to out readers last week to see if any of them had similar experiences, we found that many of you wouldn’t define the actions described as financial bullying. Instead,that keeping track of your partner’s expenses was simply budgeting and being financially responsible.
It’s not bullying, it’s vigilance
Adam: “Having disagreements about spending in a relationship is hardly bullying, it is natural and unavoidable and has happened since the dawn of money.”
Rebecca: “I thought it was called teaching financial responsibility.”
Sean: “Families should work together to maintain a budget, often one spouse is more reckless than the other, that’s not bullying, that’s being responsible.”
Sarah: “Financial bullying?! Sharing a life together and a bank account means both parties get to be involved in spending decisions.”
Nicole: “My husband knows how much money I spend. From a certain amount, I always ask him, if he’s OK with it. I won’t call it ‘financial bullying’, I call it ‘living together’. Someone has to keep an eye on the family’s money.”
There’s bullying and then there’s being passive-aggressive
My ex-husband routinely spent our rent/bill/food money on restaurants, taxis and other things we really didn’t have the budget for. Finally I got sick of being behind on rent and always running out of money for food, and put my foot down. He refused to sit down and do a budget with me, saying “Why don’t you just do it?” So I did.
I made a budget of all his personal spending, and finally I had to make him choose between taxis to work and lunch at restaurants, which felt bizarre and incredibly uncomfortable for me. He chose taxis over lunch, and after that, whenever colleagues would ask him why he wasn’t joining them for lunch, he’d tell them that his wife wouldn’t allow it.
So my question is, who was the financial bully in this situation, me or him?
Remember: a partner’s spending habits can affect our lives for years to come
A reader from Arkansas says she was financially bullied by her then-husband for years:
But not the way you mean: when I suggested he cut back on his credit-card use on the card held in my name, he sharply increased his use, increasing our debt to $23,000 in a matter of months. That’s what I call financial bullying.
Even checking the accounts doesn’t stop financial ruin:
A few years after we were married, my ex-husband developed a drug abuse problem. I was balancing the checkbook every month. He would take money out of our accounts to buy and sell drugs and not tell me. When the accounts wouldn’t match up, he would berate me for not being accurate. He spent all of our money and ran the credit cards up to the max.
When we got divorced we had two credit cards, one for the home and one for his “business” that never got off the ground. The agreement was that I would pay off the family card and he would pay off the business card. Of course, he never did and the creditors came after me – I wound up paying both of them off. My credit was wrecked for seven years.
Some agreed that bullying does occur when the funds are not shared and enjoyed equally:
Reading the comments here I guess none of the commentators has experienced this.
I have and it certainly was bullying. Talking about finances together is very different from keeping a tight eye on your partner’s spending and questioning every last penny. In my situation, this was coupled with a wholly one-sided approach to discussing joint spending which characterised what I suggested as ‘spending on me’ while what they wanted as ‘spending on us’.
Unless you’ve been in that sort of relationship, I recommend that you aren’t so quick to judge.
Been there too. Money I earned was “our money”, money she earned was “her money”. She was serious. She would get hysterical whenever I bought a magazine yet she felt she could blow hundreds in one shopping spree on whatever she felt like having.
The line between financially bullying and abuse can be easily crossed:
A female reader living in New York wrote:
I am in an arranged marriage, to a man who is self-made after a struggled childhood, with disregarded needs, as defined above. However, unless purchases are made to his own liking, he is extremely tight with money. For many years into my marriage – around five – I had no say in the type of food I ate or clothes I wore. My request for a choice of three types of breakfast cereals was seen as “an attempt to cremate his money”. My clothes came from Walmart or Value City.
When we went out, I was expected to eat at home, and could not have a $1 coffee or $1 hot dog in case I got a little peckish under the guise of ‘saving money’ and ‘aggressive savings targets’. If an eggplant spoiled in the refrigerator, the spoiled part was taken and smeared across my face and down my arms, to teach me the value of money. The rear of the television set was checked for warmth on arrival home from work to prove I had been watching TV all day and therefore ‘wasting electricity’. My grocery shopping was severely monitored, as I ‘made it my mission to waste money’.
I think it is important to note I had no earnings of my own during this period.
Fast-forward many years. Now I have my own earnings. My favorite shops are Nordstrom and Anthropologie [where I shop] on the regular and hide [purchases] in the closet. [I] accuse [my] better half of a bad memory when the clothes, bags and shoes make an appearance – with no apologies or regret whatsoever for my behaviours!
However, I think it’s fair to say that we have a sizeable bank balance and the mortgage is a year from being paid off in full.
Your turn: do you agree that there’s a thin line between budgeting and financial bullying?