Tell Me What to Do

Financial Infidelity

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As a wise prophet once said, “mo money mo problems.” Not to quibble with Biggie, but money causes big problems whether you have a ton of it, not enough of it or if you’re anywhere in-between. This week, Jaime talks about the heartbreak, shame and legal ramifications that come with financial infidelity — and answers your questions about whose money is whose in a relationship, how money can damage friendships and tackling spending triggers.

FYI: Tell Me What To Do contains mature language and themes that may not be suitable for all listeners.

Please note, this show is hosted and produced by a team that does not have any clinical or other mental or physical health training. If you are having a health or mental health crisis or emergency, please contact 911. For non-emergency mental health and addiction needs, try for national and local resources.

Show Notes 

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[00:40] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Hey, guys, you’re listening to Tell Me What To Do. I’m Jaime. This is a show where you ask the questions and I tell you what to do. If you have a question or a topic you want to talk about on the show, just call me at 1-833-4Lemonada. Or for those of you who refuse to try to spell Lemonada, it’s 1-833-453-6662. All right. So what’s going on in my head this week? 


[01:08] Jaime Primak Sullivan: I really want to give a shout-out to people who take the time to make dairy-free ice cream. I know it sounds like what’s the word when — Is it irony? No, no, no, no. What’s the word when, like, you take something that is made from dairy and you make it dairy-free? It is irony. Dairy-free ice cream. But it allows me to go out with my kids right now. The one thing that we are doing as a family is we’re going out for ice cream once a week. And there’s a drive-through. And like, we all get something and it’s like, finally, there’s something for me. Because as we already addressed on my first episode of Tell Me What To Do, solid poop has been an issue for this Sullivan. Regular ice cream would just not be good. So I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to people who take the time to make things like dairy-free ice cream and gluten-free pizza so that the parents with troubled tummies can participate in dessert, because we deserve a little dessert. One thing also is, do you feel like you have spent more money during quarantine or less money during quarantine? So I have done a ton of online shopping, just in case you guys want to know who the person is ordering those teeth whiteners, the MILF bathing suit, the backpack that basically could save you from a volcano while simultaneously going with your favorite outfit. I have ordered all of it. The Amazon guy who’s been to my house — and not just Amazon. I’ve ordered from local businesses.


[03:17] Jaime Primak Sullivan: I’m like, ooh, support local. Michael is like OK, do we have to support every local business? Like, you don’t even ride a motorcycle, so why did you order a motorcycle helmet? I’m like, well, we might need it if I help the kid skateboard. You don’t know. You can’t ever be too prepared in parenting. Money is a very interesting thing because I have a fear of money that is unhealthy and it comes from — you know, when I don’t really know where something comes from, I blame it on the dead daddy issue. Because I assume that’s where it comes from. I grew up upper-middle-class in New Jersey, and my parents never really said no to things within reason. I mean, there weren’t really big ticket items back then. Like, what were you buying? Like a Walkman? I remember in fourth grade, I wanted a Nintendo, Cabbage Patch kids. But like, it’s not like today where kids are like, I need a $900 cell phone and a Chromebook and an iPad and you’re just like, great, let me sell my frickin’ ovaries to get you your Christmas list. 


[04:32] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Back in the ‘80s, you had like a Teddy Ruxpin. What was that running your mom? $38 bucks on a Friday. We were good. My parents didn’t really say no to things. When my dad died, I remember like my mom not really understanding how she was going to budget. And not really understanding, like how my father managed their finances. She never took the time to learn. And I don’t think he ever thought he had to teach her. So I developed this really unhealthy fear of being broke. And I don’t know why, because I never was broke, but I was just terrified of not having enough money. So I always worked numerous jobs. I still to this day have like 18 different streams of income, even if by stream I mean trickle. I still am fearful of money. That made me very cautious, I think. And I want to explain how even being cautious about money, you can still fall into certain money traps in your relationship. When I met Michael, I had money conversations with him very early on. 


[05:54] Jaime Primak Sullivan: We were dating and I said to him, are you uncomfortable talking about money? And he kind of laughed because Southern people tend to shy away from conversations about money. It’s almost like a taboo subject. And so he kind of chuckled. I think it was like our second date. And he said, no, I don’t think I have any concerns about talking about money. And I was like, great. How much money do you make? And he was like, oh, OK, so, like that conversation. And I was like, yeah. I want to understand your spending habits. I want to know if you know how to manage money. And I could tell he was uncomfortable because when we date someone, we want to know. Are your friends cute?. What kind of car do you drive? You know, do you eat pussy? Do you have a nice car? 


[06:40] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Like, all those things are important. Sure. Do you come from a good family? Do you go to church? Great. Do you have good credit? Do you owe money to the fucking IRS? Is there a lien on your house? Ask the questions. Because let me tell you something. I’m going to tell you right now, 41 percent of Americans are committing financial infidelity right now. Yet we do conversation and conversation about romantic infidelity. We file for divorce over a blow job in the fucking alleyway behind the local bar. Our hearts get broken when we find text chains between our spouse and someone they work with. But we don’t take the time to look into when our spouses are taking out home equity loans behind our backs. When they are refinancing, taking out second mortgages, when they are opening credit cards in our names without our knowledge. When they are incurring debt, making investments, spending our 401Ks. They are gambling our money away. They are loaning our money away. They are investing our money away. They are killing our credit. And we are worried about, you know, who they’re sending DMs to on Facebook.


[08:08] Jaime Primak Sullivan: The thing about finances and financial infidelity is people are not having the uncomfortable conversations. How many times have you lied to your partner about money? It turns out literally over 15 million of us are currently hiding things like credit cards or actual bank accounts from our significant others. That’s despite the fact that a third of Americans think financial infidelity is worse than cheating physically. And I am one of those people. If you are the person right now ashamed or afraid to tell your spouse about financial infidelity, listen to me: the damage you will do not only to the foundation in your marriage, but to the financial footprint that you are leaving for you and your spouse and your children, it will be much worse than if you just sit down and say, I need to tell you something. We need to talk. I took out a loan without your knowledge. Here’s why I did it, and now I’m struggling to pay it back and I don’t know what to do. The first thing I want to tell you, and it is really important, and I made this note because I tried to think about the things that I did with Michael. I started the financial conversation early. 


[09:37] Jaime Primak Sullivan: It’s like S&M or any of the other sort of risqué things you want to introduce, you want to start it early, you want to start it slow. Talk about their financial habits. Have you ever filed for bankruptcy? If that feels like a weird question to you on a second date, I assure you that a bank calling you 16 years from now foreclosing on your home will feel worse. The other thing that was really important to me is finances when it comes to the kids. I asked a lot of what-if questions for Michael. Are we going to be the parents that pay for college? Are we going to be the parents that buy cars when they get their driver’s license? How were you raised? What is your expectation? Sure, things change as you go along, right? People’s financial situations change. Maybe you go into it thinking you will buy cars, then you can’t or you won’t buy cars, but then you can. Whatever it is. But I’m not interested in having a watershed, knockdown, drag-out fight when my kids turn 16, because Michael and I never had the conversation about what the expectation is. And I also need to know psychologically, what issues do you bring to money? Because I have dead dad issues. Michael deserved to know that. I have real concerns and fears about money and they are not going to leave me. I am always going to nit-pick you about money because this is an issue for me. It is a trigger for me. It is a psychological issue for me. 


[11:14] Jaime Primak Sullivan: So you need to know that’s not going away. The other thing is, what is your expectation on honesty? Because the number one thing spouses who get caught lying about finances, you know what they say? You never asked. It’s the number one thing they say. Because money fibs, money omissions, money lies, they start out relatively innocent, like concealing one charge, you know, opening one credit card. Transferring one balance. But this becomes habit, it becomes behavior. And then, you know, you get away with it once, you get away with it twice, and if you know the heartbreak of finding out that you’ve been betrayed by your spouse financially weren’t bad enough, the financial fallout itself can last your entire lifetime.


[12:17] Jaime Primak Sullivan: The IRS doesn’t care that your husband had every intention of paying the money back. They don’t care that your children will have nowhere to live if they take your home. I don’t think people really understand that the nice people who answered the phone at your bank answer to an institution that doesn’t give two shits that you have memories in that house and it is the only place your children have ever known. They don’t care. If you find out that you are nine mortgage payments behind because a bank calls you to tell you, it is your fault. Financial infidelity happens because couples don’t talk about money. They don’t talk about bank and credit card statements together. They don’t have open dialog about spending. They don’t run a fucking credit check on themselves. I have a friend that went to get a car and found out that her credit was in the shitter after being in the car dealership for three hours. And she called her husband and said, how can I have such bad credit? And he played it off. “I don’t know. We’ll figure it out. I’ll make calls for you.” And it was only when I said to her, don’t let him make the calls. The financial ruin is coming from inside the house. You make the calls. And in making the call, she found out that he had opened credit cards and let them run without being paid in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And when she cried to me, she said, “I didn’t even know he could do that. How could he open a credit card in my name without my permission?” It happens every day. It’s happening to somebody listening to this podcast right now. 


[14:12] Jaime Primak Sullivan: In successful financial relationships, both partners are aboveboard. They have a clear view on money coming in and money going out. What’s listed on their tax returns and how they’re filing, their mortgage and all things financial. If you are in the dark about anything that is your fault. Now, we have questions from you guys. So let’s hear the first voicemail. 


[14:58] Martha: Hi, Miss Jaime. It’s Martha. I’m a 55 year old woman living in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have worked most of my life. I got married when I was 40. I made a lot of money. I built my own home. And I got married to a man I met in eighth grade. And he keeps his own secret little checking and savings account so he can spend whatever he wants because he keeps track of now what money goes into the checking account and he keeps putting money there and taking it back out. And so I don’t have money of my own to spend. And, you know, I used to make $180,000 dollars a year. You get a little used to spending money on whatever you want. And when he came into the marriage, he didn’t have anything but a sad corduroy recliner. So, yeah, we’ve been struggling with, you know, who’s money’s who’s. And he’s been getting some inheritance from his parents. And I fear now every cent I spend, which I’ve never had that my whole life. It’s always been my own money. OK, love ya. Bye bye. 


[16:14] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Martha, I am going to try to say this to you as kindly as I can. There are a lot of factors, first of all, that go into what you’re saying. You said I have worked most of my life. You got married when you were 40. You made a lot of money. May I ask where your lot of money is? May I ask what your saving habits were? Did you invest? Did you save? Do you have equity in your home? I understand fear of money. I guess I’m just curious, taking him out of the equation, if you made your own money and you made $180,000 a year. Where is all your money? Forget eighth grade boyfriend guy. Where is all your money? Why are you afraid, and why does it matter to you what he puts in and takes out of his little savings account? Because if he came into your life with nothing but a recliner, you were living before he came into your life, right? So why are you suddenly afraid of money? It’s perplexing to me how this man has caused you some sort of financial cripple. I don’t know. I think we need to hear more from you, and I would really like to because I love you and I don’t want anybody to live in fear financially. But if I’m understanding you correctly, you had a great job, you didn’t get married till later in life. You made a lot of money. You built your own home. And then you got married to a guy who puts a little money here and there into his own little savings account, and suddenly you feel strapped? 


[18:05] I’m missing something. There should be no struggle with whose money is whose. You got married at 40 years old. You were an entire grown woman with a retirement fund and property value and a credit score. There is no confusion about whose money is whose. So if he’s playing around with an inheritance from his parents, let him play around with it. It’s his money. And if you’re confused about whether he should be able to take that money in and out or not, that’s telling me you have not had the proper conversations that you need to be having. And that is whose money is whose? How are we as a couple saving together, spending together. Like there should be zero confusion about finances in a relationship. Zero. Absolutely zero. So without me even having to know what you’ve done with your own money, you need to be having conversations right now about how you’re going to save together, how you’re going to spend together, how you’re going to invest together. What does retirement look like? 

[19:17] Jaime Primak Sullivan: These are not things you tiptoe around. These are things you crack that egg wide open. So I would start there. But I know you left your phone number, I’m probably gonna have to call you because I need more information.


[19:33] Jaime Primak Sullivan: OK. I’m so excited that we got an email from Susan, not mom Susan. A totally different Susan. And Susan says, “Jaime, I have a friend who is constantly wanting more, more and more by way of materialistic items. It seemed to start with demanding no less than two carats in an engagement ring, then wanting a new fully-loaded vehicle when she already had a new fully-loaded vehicle, then wanting her new husband to take out equity on his home because she doesn’t have the money to buy her a rental property to manage. Then moved on to purchasing her mansion seemingly well beyond their means. Always wanting more and always talking about it in a way that makes others feel inferior, which makes me and others not want to be around her. Her problem isn’t hurting anyone, and it’s really none of my business.” Really glad you acknowledge that, Susan. “So I find it hard to come at her with the issue because it’s not like it’s hurting me. Maybe it’s hurting their bank accounts and credit, but not me. It just makes me feel very annoyed and disgusted by her mentality and not want to be friends with someone that is like that. Others notice it and feel the same way and avoid spending time around her because of her mentality. We have been friends for 15 years and she wasn’t raised like this and hasn’t always been this way. I don’t know where it’s all coming from. I wish she could just eat a big old slice of humble pie. But how do you tell someone that? Is it even my concern? Should the friendship end?”


[21:07] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Whew. There is a lot going on here. Well, first of all, Susan, I think there are two things in the Tier One category that I would want you to look at. One is typically when people feel like they need to discuss material things, they demand big ticket items, they are constantly shopping, talking about what they bought, looking for more. They are trying to fill something in themself. So if you love this person, if you value this person after 15 years, you may want to approach it like, “I think there’s something else going on. And I value you and I’d like to have that conversation. If it makes you uncomfortable, I apologize. I’m not trying to pry. I just know you weren’t raised this way. And I would rather treat the issue than the incident.” Right. Because this is, from what you’re explaining to me, a fairly new habit. The second thing that is going on is I think you are feeling something and that is normal. A lot of times when people talk about things they have and they continue to get more, we can’t help but feel like we have less. It’s the same conversation people have surrounding equality. If we give them more, does it mean we have less? No, it’s not pie.


[22:36] Jaime Primak Sullivan: If your friend has a bigger house, or a newer car, or a bigger ring doesn’t mean you don’t have a ring you love. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a car that works and it doesn’t mean you don’t have a house that’s comfortable. Look, everybody has nuance. Everybody has annoyances. Finances is a big one for people because we need money to survive. So when people flaunt it, when they spend it excessively, when they don’t respect it or have good spending habits, it is a grate on our nerves because it is a survival for so many. And people are living paycheck to paycheck. This is real life. So it’s hard not to feel irritated by someone who’s like, my car isn’t new enough. My house isn’t big enough. A wise prophet once said “more money, more problems.” And I believe that wholeheartedly. More money, more problems. My guess is she is dealing with other — is actually not dealing with other problems. And that’s why she’s so focused on finances. That’s why she’s so focused on wanting more. I would bet you, if I had to guess, she is either feeling unseen in her marriage or they are struggling in the bedroom. 


[24:03] Jaime Primak Sullivan: That would be my guess. He probably doesn’t initiate sex. She doesn’t feel seen. The way that she tries to validate the marriage is by him buying things for her. Look, we must be doing great if we’re buying a new home. We must be doing great if he’s buying me rental property. The other thing to take into consideration is gifts may be her love language. And the only way she feels loved is if someone is buying her something. Your question is, how do I tell her that? Well, if you’ve been friends for 15 years and you don’t feel you can have the conversation, then I think the bigger question is, is this someone you still want to be friends with? Should you end the friendship? If you can’t talk to your friend about how you feel, then yes, you should end the friendship. OK, we have another voice mail.


[25:01] Caller: Hi, Jaime. I don’t think I want to share my name, but I’ve been watching you on Coffee Talk for a long time. I love it. You finally have a podcast out. I saw that you were doing financial talk on your next episode, which I’m looking forward to. I wanted to pose the question of poor money cycles. So I have done a lot of money mindset work. I’ve read books. I’ve had coaches talking about my money mindset. I’ve done affirmations. And I’ve made pretty good money in my life, but I can’t seem to hold on to it. And there is a correlation between my stress and my emotional wellness and my spending. So even when I’m making more money or I have money coming in, if I’m having stress or emotionality, I tend to go spend. And I spend like a teenager, where I’m just careless and reckless. And then I’m in this cycle of having to make more money in order to pay off that debt that comes with that emotional spending. So I didn’t know if there were other people that had this issue that might want to dig deeper into what I can actually do or think about in order to change this pattern. I do believe it is tied to my self-worth, which I do work on all the time. But this one just seems to really haunt me. And as I get older, it’s becoming more and more important for me to hold on to my money. So thanks so much. Have a great day. 


[26:28] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Well, anonymous. I am so glad that you brought up spending triggers. Because some of us have eating triggers, drinking triggers, crying triggers. In my case, running triggers, and not the exercise kind. If you trigger me, I will leave you. It’s just how I’m wired. It’s the defense that I’ve built. Many people have spending triggers, and they have been exasperated by the pandemic. Because people have anxiety. They can’t go out. So they online shop. I want to explain to some people who are unsure what it is exactly. A spending trigger is in an emotion that causes us to give into spending temptations. Spending triggers generally subconsciously make us spend money to magnify or replace emotions that we feel. be it good or bad. Meaning if we have spending triggers, we will spend when we’re happy and we will spend when we’re sad. And typically when we are triggered, these are usually spur-of-the-moment or unplanned purchases. So these are not things that have been sitting in our cart for three weeks debating whether we actually need. It’s like things that we just on a whim like me, see tooth whiteners and go, you know what? I drink a lot of coffee. I should probably white my teeth while I’m home. By the way, I bought it and it is sitting in my drawer and I guarantee I never open it. So I would say to you that some people feel triggered on a regular, consistent basis.


[28:04] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Other people are only triggered when massive life catastrophes strike. It sounds to me from your voicemail like you are more easily triggered. And it’s not so much that you are triggered, it’s your ability to control those triggers that you are struggling with. So the first thing I would tell you is can you identify the things that trigger you? If you can identify the things that trigger you, write them down. Because then when you are triggered, you can look at that little notes app on your phone and go, right, OK, when I text a friend and ask her to hang out and she blows me off, it makes me feel like the loser of the group. I hate that feeling. So what do I do? I order something new online and then it gives me something to post about, gets people, you know, engaged on my Facebook page. Now I feel seen. Now I feel validated and I have to spend money to get those feelings. We want to try to avoid that. So if you can identify your triggers and write them down, it will help you avoid pitfalls. 


[29:16] Jaime Primak Sullivan: The other thing is a lot of us spend when we are just bored. Boredom is a big one. People eat, they spend, they drink. Oh, there’s nothing really to do, let me go to Amazon. Oh, by the way, it’s not just online. I mean, how many of us, when the pandemic wasn’t here, used to just say, I’m gonna run to Target and walk the aisles of Target so long we look like Moses in the desert, literally waiting for our people to be set free in the candle aisle at Target. Because we were bored. And you go to Target for one thing, and you spend $900 quadrillion dollars because you’re bored. All spending triggers, right? I would say — you’re not going to like this, but spending triggers are bad no matter what, no matter what the amount is. I don’t care if you buy an $8 candle or a $3 shoelace. I don’t care if you buy something because it’s on sale. Guess what? If you don’t need it, it’s not on sale to you. And it adds up. You’re telling me that you save money and you do really well and you invest in healthy spending habits. And the second you get triggered, you backslide and spend all that money. That is not good. We’ve got to break that for you. So the first thing, like I said, is going to be to make a list of what your spending triggers are. And let me give you a tip that has helped me. You don’t just want to identify your trigger, you want to come up with a way to make those types of purchases few and far between. How can you do that? I’m so glad you asked. 


[31:09] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Take out the automated population of your credit card in every single place you shop. So you know how when you go to Amazon or you go to some website and it gets to credit card and you push the little thing and it automatically populates all your information? Take that out. Take it out. This way you have to get up off your ass, go look for your credit cards. Which is such a pain in the ass. How bad do I really want this electromagnetic underarm shaver? Do I want it bad enough to go find my credit cards? Also, take them out of your wallet. Take them out of your wallet. Make yourself have to go on a Goonies goose chase to find your credit cards. I guarantee you will not spend. You just will not want to do it. It’ll be too much work. OK, so do that. Take out the auto population. And if you memorize your credit cards. un-memorize them. I don’t know. Put a limit. That’s the other thing. If you don’t trust yourself, call your bank and put a daily spending limit. You can’t spend more than $50 a day. It’ll help you from overspending at stores like Target. It will help you from overspending online. Spending habits are habits, it’s just that. You’ve got to get out of the habit for a few weeks and then you’ll see. When you feel triggered and you go to Amazon, say it out loud. That’s another thing I do. I probably sound crazy, but I do that. I’m like, “I’m on Amazon and I’m spending recklessly! I’m shopping because I’m triggered. I’m bored and I’m shopping.” It sounds preposterous. I sound like Kevin from Home Alone when I’m like, “I’m just here, guys. I’m eating all the ice cream!” That’s me. That’s what I do. And then I realized I sound ridiculous, and I log out. I want to leave you with a few things. Number one: please start the financial conversation early. Start slow. 


[33:22] Jaime Primak Sullivan: I’m OK with baby steps, but do not ignore the uncomfortable questions. Push them on things like credit and bankruptcy. Find out how they were raised. How did their parents split money? What is the expectation? The second thing is sit down and insist on complete financial transparency. How are we doing? How are our investments doing? The stock market in this country changes like the wind. Are we losing? Are we gaining? Are we OK? What are the expectations we have for our children? What are our credit scores? Are all of our bills being paid on time? And then what is your expectation for retirement? How are you guys going to live when you can’t work anymore? Have these conversations and have a plan. And don’t wait until you’re 65 for that plan. Don’t make your husband’s business, or your spouse’s or your partner’s business, their business. 


[34:29] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Their business affects you. Their debt is your debt. Their financial footprint is your financial footprint. You deserve to have all the information. And if they won’t give it to you, that is a red flag. Don’t ever take for granted when someone says all the bills are paid, that all the bills are paid. And I think most spouses don’t think for a second that their significant other would ever do that to them, yet 41 percent of married Americans are keeping a financial secret from the person they are married to right now. Ask the questions, guys. 


[35:20] Jaime Primak Sullivan: That’s it for this episode of Tell Me What To Do. Thank you guys so much, as always, for listening, for sharing, for spreading the word and for calling. If you have a question or comment for me, you can always reach me at 1-833-4Lemonada. Or you can email me at


[35:45] Jaime Primak Sullivan: Tell Me What To Do is a production of Lemonada Media. The show is produced by Kryssy Pease, and associate produced by Claire Jones. It’s edited by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Dan Molad. Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jaime Primak Sullivan are executive producers. Rate and review us, and follow us @LemonadaMedia on all your favorite social platforms. Of course, you can follow me at Jaime Primak Sullivan on Facebook or at Jaime P. Sullivan on Instagram


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