A bit on the side

Most married men I know well have a bit on the side. Just to spice up their life. It means, too, that they don’t have to go begging to the wife too often, although some beg occasionally just to allay suspicion. I’ve always had a bit on the side. In my case my wife knows but she doesn’t know the detail and she’s never asked. I think she prefers not to know.

And I’m wondering whether the high incidence of this cheating, if that’s an appropriate description, among my mates says something about me, because a survey by the financial corporation ING Direct has found that only one in five coupled men and women keep a secret stash. Almost twice as many men as women use this cunning kick to buy things their partner won’t approve of, in which case, for men, it is probably better described as a slush fund. And almost twice as many women with a stash use it for saving rather than spending.

I’ve noticed in recent years that the female half of many divorcing couples I know – most but not all – alleges that hubby must have thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars he’s been hiding, and so lawyers and accountants are paid handsomely to find it.

No such overseas stash for me. Mine’s in my back pocket, and it pays for beer, tools and perhaps dinner out. It is replenished, by the way, with the proceeds from carefully engineered windfalls.

My wife and I are among the 67 per cent of couples found by ING Direct to have a joint account. We may be in the minority in that group because we have only joint accounts, my cunning kick aside. I can’t see how we could have managed with separate accounts – in our case my wife was a fulltime mother for more than 20 years, and so she managed and still manages our finances. I made the money, she made the home, teamwork that worked well, but she has told me she never felt that my pay was our income – perhaps that was the fading attitude of previous generations, perhaps it was that she no longer felt independent. Marriage can do that.

Now that she’s working her pay and my pay are together briefly in the same account before dissipating electronically into other people’s accounts, and so it may be just too hard to feel even vaguely that some is hers and some is mine. And I had better check that she doesn’t have her own stash! We’ve never argued about money, by the way, unless, of course, she’s spent it all.

The 33 per cent of couples who have separate accounts must feel like flatmates when they sit down to split the bills. Power bills and mortgage payments are one thing, but how do they split such incidentals as a bag of apples? I’ll bet one partner is consistently out of pocket. We’ve never had a budget, or at least not for very long. Once or twice we tried to put aside each week an amount that would ensure we had the funds when a bill lobbed, great in theory but the system survived only as long as it took the first big unexpected bill to arrive.

And budgeting and banking has changed in the past 20 years. My wife and I, and I suspect many people, don’t save money, apart from as superannuation. We have working funds and plastic cards, and I have a stash. Works for me.

How do you and your partner manage your financial relationship? Does a secret stash help?

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