Hidden Savings Accounts: Good or Bad?

Hidden Savings Accounts: Good or Bad?

As many of you know, I was raised by a poor single mother. What I have not yet mentioned is that my mother was in college during some of my most formative years, and she took an interest in feminism while I was still playing with dolls.

I remember distinctly when, for one of my mother’s projects, she had to watch TV commercials and rate them on their misogynistic undertones. This rating system became a bonding moment for my mother and me as she declared that only women were pictured in commercials for cleaning supplies. I pointed out that only women cooked on television, and our feminism liaison began.

As I got older, my mother mentioned some bigger ideas about women, including the idea that women should be prepared at all times for the unexpected in life. For many like my mother, divorce can wreak havoc on their lives – leaving them without the education, job experience and/or money necessary to begin a new life.  

An Account of Her Own

For this reason, my mother highly advised me to get through college before marrying, and at the university, there was one idea that I learned in one my own feminism classes: Set your own money aside for a rainy day. This principle establishes that a woman should have one savings account hidden from her husband, in case of divorce, especially if she would have difficulty maintaining her lifestyle should her husband leave.

This idea leaves me a little torn. Should a woman dedicated to raising her family squirrel away extra money in a hidden cubbyhole, just in case the marriage doesn’t work out? Or should she trust her husband to be fair in a divorce?

Ten years ago, I would have said yes, set up an account. But now, since I am married to a wonderful man, I say it depends. All people are different, and all marriages are different. These days, women may be better off talking through any fears with their spouses, obtaining an education and taking any other steps that could better equip them for any potential rainy day. Ideally, this kind of give and take would be the standard in marriages, but...sometimes it's not.

Chris and Alice

For example, one of my friends married a very controlling man. He decides everything, and she goes along with it, no questions asked. While this may be an ideal situation for them, the situation also concerns me.

Chris decided that Alice should quit her job to be a stay-at-home-mother (SAHM). This is great for Chris, Alice and the kids – and I truly believe SAHM is the greatest job in the world. However, this leaves Alice very vulnerable to Chris’s many whims and to his controlling nature.

When Chris decided to cut Alice’s grocery allowance, for example, she had to struggle to feed her boys. When he wouldn’t give her money for a nice evening out with friends, she was stuck at home. And if he ever decided he and Alice no longer belonged together, I am quite sure he wouldn’t hesitate to leave her out in the cold.

For this situation, I think a hidden savings account could help Alice regain her freedom, feed her children and give her peace of mind. Chris and Alice may also benefit from some counseling, but that’s another story altogether.

Overall, I am left torn about a woman’s (or man’s – there are also men in this situation) hidden savings account. I can see where such an account would be beneficial in volatile marriages. However, I think that being open and honest with your spouse is the best way to ensure you are both financially set for the unforeseen, in any situation.

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MoneyCone's picture

MoneyCone wrote:

Wed, 02/09/2011 - 13:41 Comment #: 1

It depends on the situation. No man or woman is going to like it if he/she found out that the other one's been hiding money! :)

kevin cimring's picture

kevin cimring wrote:

Wed, 02/09/2011 - 14:53 Comment #: 2

Hi Christa - this is a thought provoking post. I think you summed it nicely when you say "it depends. All people are different, and all marriages are different. These days, women may be better off talking through any fears with their spouses....".

Marriage is built on trust and ideally spouses should be able to trust each other and be open about finances. It also makes for more effective financial planning when both spouses are fully in the picture. That would be the ideal, but once again, as you say - all marriages are different!

Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog's picture

Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog wrote:

Wed, 02/09/2011 - 15:34 Comment #: 3

I think that it would be fine for a woman to do that, although slightly underhanded. I dont think that I could ever be upset at someone for planning for the worst (in the event that I found out). If she wants a separate savings account, that's fine, but where would the money go if it's not needed?

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 18:49 Comment #: 4

MoneyCone, I agree: I find it a little underhanded. But at the same time, I have heard so many sad financial stories: where one spouse is horrible with money and spends it all, where money is used as control and abuse (like with Chris and Alice), or where physical abuse is taking place. In all of these cases, I am sure the partner would hate to find out the money is being hidden, but again all these cases are extreme. In normal cases, I think husbands and wives should be open and honest about money.

Kevin, I also think both partners benefit from open financial discussions. I hope at some point that Chris and Alice go to counseling and become partners in all aspects of their relationship, including in finance.

Jeff, in most of these extreme cases, I believe partners hide money to protect themselves or their family from harm, like in the case of hiding money to better feed the children. In these cases, the money would otherwise go to the abusive partner's hobbies or bad habits -- Chris, for example, uses his money on parties with his friends. It's a terrible shame, but that's the life Alice lives.

Sandy @ yesiamcheap's picture

Sandy @ yesiamcheap wrote:

Thu, 02/10/2011 - 20:31 Comment #: 5

I want to say that everything should be open, but honestly, not all of my own finances are open...then again, I'm not married to my decade long BF. In this relationship I am the one making the money, but he is the one that owns the home and all of our "stuff". Were things to sour I start over from scratch and our combined debt.

I have a teeny account with $250 to which I might add $5 or $10 here and there but nothing major.

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Fri, 02/11/2011 - 18:27 Comment #: 6

Sandy, I agree that until you are married, a little financial autonomy is a good thing.

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AnonymousMe's picture

AnonymousMe wrote:

Mon, 09/26/2011 - 16:22 Comment #: 10

I too am torn on this issue... I do have an account at an online bank that I had before I got married, and I mentioned it to my now-husband once or twice, about a year before we got married, but he's never asked about it. I also have some securities investments that i fund from that account... not much at all, but just enough to save me if ever the impossible happened and I were left with nothing. I don't actually really fear this, but am just a tad hesitant to reveal these accounts to him... but it feels wrong not to tell him.

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Mon, 09/26/2011 - 18:43 Comment #: 11

@ Anonymous, I think having a little set aside for a rainy day is more common than many people may think, and i really think a little autonomous money isn't all that bad. But I hope you never have to use it -- rainy days certainly are not fun.