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Secret Stash of Cash: Good Idea or Grounds for Breakup?

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Do you have a secret savings account? If so, you're in the majority. Long ago, one of my financial planning instructors, who'd been in the business over 30 years, said that most of his clients kept a clandestine cache of cash.

My ears perked up at this. Having come from the credit counseling world, I knew that a good portion of couples I had worked with had underground debt. But a little something extra that they were tucking away for emergencies or luxuries? Fascinating!

I soon discovered he was right, but the question of whether doing so is wrong needed to be explored. After all, being open and honest with a mate is the foundation of a strong and healthy relationship. So wouldn't holding back be lying? Well, yeah, but squirreling away a few extra dollars in a savings account on the side can be OK.

Secret Savings Account Questions to Ask Yourself

To be sure that building your own secret stash is not destructive to your finances or relationship, take the "no harm, no foul" test. If the answers to all the following three questions are "nope," you might consider it:

1. Would the Other Person Be Hurt or Harmed?

Think hard. If you revealed your secret savings, would your partner's reaction be a shrug or a laugh? If it would, great. However, if you have any doubt about that, don't do it.

2. Does Holding Back Cash Negatively Impact Your Conjoined Finances?

As long as your personal account is not impairing your united efforts to save for something else or to pay for bills, having a little extra in the bank should be fine. If it does, forgetaboutit.

3. Does It Make You Feel Guilty?

Listen to your gut. If it feels wrong, that's reason enough to close out the account. Also, if you wouldn't like the other person to hide the funds from you, than that too is an indication that you shouldn't.

Why Keep a Secret Cash Stash

For many couples, keeping a little money separate can add to a sense of security. An anonymous married woman who keeps a secret stash explains:

"I don't use it on anything for me — it's saved for emergencies. But my husband does not know about it for that reason; he's a bit of a spender and his idea of 'emergency' tends toward, 'Oh, no, I forgot to hit the ATM for money and I have to run out and get pizza.' I don't want it to be dipped into unless our furnace blows up or the engine dies in my car!"

Makes sense to me.

Look, you may be married but the two of you aren't fused into one living organism. There is room for autonomy. Oh, and as for debt, liabilities should never, ever, be hidden. Owing money threatens rather than strengthens a couple's combined finances. If you're mum about that, you know you're doing something you oughtn't.

See more financial tips at Go Banking Rates:

Erica Sandberg is the author of Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families, a columnist/reporter for CreditCards.com, and writer for the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGate.

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