Bonnie Eaker Weil

(WOMENSENEWS)–Martha Pimenter is a Houston businesswomen whose business partner is also her life partner. The couple shares everything, even bank accounts. Despite their good relationship, Pimenter can’t help setting a little cash away on the side.

She’s got around $2,400 in her secret stash. And she’s not the only one.

It’s impossible to quantify the number of women in relationships who hide cash in their closet or have a secret banking or credit account. They’re not about to confess the tendency to pollsters.

But anecdotal evidence and interviews with financial planners suggest the habit is widespread. One study by Money magazine in 2005 found that 71 percent of 1,001 men and women with incomes topping $50,000 had secret money hidden away.

And why’s that?

“It’s just like a little piece of security blanket or nest egg,” says Pimenter, 39, who keeps the money in a bank envelope. “One of the scenarios that runs in my mind is if there’s an emergency and we need cash, there’s a little bit of cash there that no one knows about.”

What Mother Always Said

Many women can remember being counseled by their mothers–many of whom lacked their own reliable forms of independent income–to always hide something away.

Even now, recently married women are told by friends and confidantes to always keep an account in her maiden name, and keep an ID with her maiden name, “just in case.”

New York author and relationship therapist Bonnie Eaker Weil doesn’t go along with that. She says that how you use and hide money could spell trouble for your relationship.

“How you manage your money reflects your overall mental health and emotional maturity,” says Weil, who is often tapped as a guest for Oprah Winfrey’s TV show and is the author of the 2008 book “Financial Infidelity.”

“Money is a trigger for a power struggle,” she says. “It’s a way for revenge. It’s a way to get back at somebody. It’s a way to deal with your emptiness that you have either from childhood or it’s an emptiness that’s missing between two people in a relationship.”

Weil reports that some 82 percent of people hide purchases from their significant other and 40 percent lie about what they buy. Given these statistics, she says it’s far better to come clean about your stash. If the partner finds out about it, she says there could be trouble because it smacks of infidelity and a loss of trust.

She’s Not Buying

Myra, 38, a single mother from Milford, Conn., who doesn’t want her last name used lest her husband figures out that she’s a “secret stasher,” isn’t buying that.

This small business owner and architect has a $25,000 stash and she calls it her “he-money,” or, “money he don’t know about.” Women in relationships always need some cash in case they need to make a quick escape, she says.

“I had my first child when I was 18 and I had to work hard to earn my money to support my kid,” says Myra. “I was very dependent on the person I was with. Just to get five bucks to go to the corner store to get milk or eggs always turned into this big ordeal. I made a decision at that point in time that I would never depend on anyone ever.”

At that time, in the late 1980s, Myra was making $7.50 an hour, but her boyfriend would take the money. So, she started cashing the checks before she got home and put half the cash in the tampon boxes under the bathroom sink.

“He wouldn’t look in the tampon box,” says Myra, who now hides her Avon sales earnings from her new husband. “I married a different man, a good man, and I was still hiding my money in tampon boxes because I always felt I needed that in case anything ever happened.”

Myra explains her history like this: “I was raised by a single woman; I got it from my mom. She was in a real abusive relationship and when I was 8, we took a red-eye flight to Puerto Rico. She paid for it with cash she saved in tampon boxes.”

Not all women who save money fear abuse. And it’s not all women who do it.

Track Deposits

Thomas Kidd, 51, a freelance writer from Austin, Texas, hides money from his wife. Mostly because he likes to gamble at the horse track.

“Let’ say I get an expense check for $2,200,” says Kidd, who has been married for two years. “I’ll deposit the $2,000 and I’ll take the $200 and stick it in my little reserve fund. Or I’ll go to the track, hit a nice little trifecta and boom I throw that in there too. It makes me feel very smart and virtuous at the same time.”

Sandy Shore, a financial planner with Novadebt, a New Jersey-based consumer credit counseling organization, says she hears about such stashes all the time, usually in the context of the couple trying to rid themselves of excessive debt and one person trying to hold on to their stash.

“The person is calling us trying to see if they can still keep it a secret,” says Shore.

As the economy continues to recede and credit card interest rates continue to rise, couples who previously relied upon credit are discovering that their dollars are not stretching as far as they once did. This is putting more stress on their relationships and on their incomes. And now that financial markets make it difficult for even an above-average consumer to qualify for a home equity line of credit, a secret stash offers a tiny bit of hope in case the economic sky falls.

Yet in the end, hoarding money does more harm than good, says Michelle Evard, a Phoenix-based certified financial planner.

“This hoarding of money is not good in a number of ways,” says Evard, who advises women to be open about what they want to spend and why they want to spend it. “You are lying to your spouse and we all know that is bad . . . Is your financial relationship with your spouse unfulfilling? If most of the time what you want is your own money that no one will question, then plan your finances that way. Have a weekly fund that either one of you can do whatever you want with without question. Sometimes it is just compromise.”

Adrienne Gibbs is a Boston-based freelance writer.

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