Petty Cash is a weekly advice column where the experts (plus a millennial InStyle editor well-versed in pettiness) weigh in on your awkward and annoying financial faux pas.
DEAR PETTY CASH,
I've inherited from my mother the time-honored tradition of hiding/lying about most of my purchases. My partner says he really does not care — and I'm spending the money I make — but when he does find out about something slightly extravagant it's always a conversation.
On one hand, I shouldn't do this. On the other hand, he doesn't know what it costs to buy things like serums and high-waisted jeans. Should I stop lying or keep on keeping on?
HONESTLY, there’s nothing I love to do more than lie about how much money I spend on myself. I think my predilection for financial fibbing began in my teenage years — I always had a job, but I also had parents who were gravely responsible for every last cent of their incomes, and consequently, the incomes of their children. If I spent $5 on a bottle of nail polish, I’d hear about it — so I just started to lie.
These days, things are different. I’m single, I have no dependents, and my money is largely my own to spend without the oversight of thrifty parents hovering nearby. Conceptually, I know that no one gives a flying fuck if I spend myself into financial ruin — but I still lie about my spending habits anyway. If I wanted to really unpack that, I’d probably find a way to link my impulse to lie to the fact that women are groomed to subconsciously feel guilty about treating themselves, or the belief that doing so is “wrong.” I’m not cool with that — in other words, I lie because feminism. Really though, I just don’t like to admit to myself how much I’m spending on blazers and bourbon and high-quality wood-fired pizzas in one month’s time.
But we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you.
“Using the word ‘inherited’ is an interesting way of describing your own patterns as an adult when hiding the majority of your purchases,” says Julie Gurner, Psy.D., a psychologist and executive coach. “It deflects some amount of responsibility.”
The fact that your first instinct is to blame your spending-and-lying behavior on something you inherited from your mom (as opposed to going full Ariana Grande and saying ‘'I want it, I got it') means you believe, on some level, that spending like this is not a “good” thing to do. Mentioning your purchases to your husband further drives that point home — otherwise, why bring it up to the first place? Be honest with yourself: Do you feel like your spending is a problem? Do you perhaps want your husband to step in and reprimand you, as opposed to engaging in financial self-flagellation?
Or maybe the reason you’re lying runs deeper than that. As I mentioned before, I truly believe that women often feel judged for spending on themselves — no matter if it’s fancy serums or a slightly more expensive box of tampons, simply because you prefer them. Women still earn less than men, even in 2019 — but what we are expected to do with the money we’re earning is an even touchier subject, a byproduct of a patriarchal notion that women need men to guide their financial choices. I’m but a wee millennial, and I grew up watching my father handle all of the bills, despite the fact that my mother was perfectly capable of doing so (and, sorry dad, way more reserved when it came to spending). Across the board, the idea of women competently managing their own money is still relatively new — for example, until 1988, if a woman wanted to get a business loan, she needed a male co-signer. That was just 30 years ago.
So yes, while earning money separately from your husband might not be a revolutionary idea, deciding what the f**k you want to do with it is. Perhaps that makes you uncomfortable, or you suspect it makes him uncomfortable, and that’s why you lie. In that case, you might feel better about your spending by owning it. As far as you’re concerned, that serum and jeans were as crucial as the air you breathe, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
And once you’re honest with yourself, it’s time to figure out how to be honest with your husband. You’ll probably be delighted to learn that he needs to be a little bit more forthright, too.
“Your partner isn’t exactly being straightforward,” Dr. Gurner says. “For example, although your partner states he ‘really does not care,’ the clear message in having ‘conversations’ with you about your purchases (when they are known), indicates that he does care — it’s an issue for him, and you know this.”
What’s interesting, Dr. Gurner says, is that you’re both coming from the same place: that is, lying to each other to avoid a stressful conversation.
“Every time you make a purchase, you realize that it’s either have that conversation or avoid it by hiding or lying, and you’re not alone in wanting to simply avoid the stressor,” Dr. Gurner says. “It’s why your partner says he doesn’t care about the purchases to begin with, when he indicates in his behavior that he does. He’s avoiding that conversation, too.”
So, how do you remedy this situation? You have to do exactly the thing you don’t want to do: Talk about. Put on some of that fancy serum, slide into your expensive ass jeans, and call your husband to the kitchen table for a come-to-Jesus kind of conversation.
“Talk about the things that are important to you, while listening and considering the things important to him,” Dr. Gurner explains. “Whether you are spending your own earned money is of little importance — it’s an issue of being on the same page with your finances when you share a life together. Go in with an open mind, realizing that you will both likely need to make some concessions and allowances from your ideal. If you both are willing to have the honest conversation now, it will free you both up from disagreements later — so that you don’t feel you have to hide, and he doesn’t feel the need to have ‘conversations’ to reign you in.”
Of course, you ultimately have to brace yourself for this conversation to result in exactly what you fear: Having to buy less jeans and serum — in which case, my thoughts are with you during this difficult time.