No, of course Sabrina never wanted to lie to her boyfriend. But sometimes you have to enforce equality a bit. So she occasionally withholds a financial windfall. “And then I don’t make a fuss about his exorbitant pinning.”
Sabrina (39): “Honestly, we will share everything. Some things just divide my friend Herald and I a little more fairly than others. It kind of crept in after we had our kids, now six and nine years ago.
When we moved in together and opened a joint account for fixed expenses and groceries, we agreed that we would pay a fixed amount per month pro rata. In practice, that meant that I contributed 400 euros more than he did, because I work full-time and earn more. Herald works 28 hours and has been taking care of the kids more since we became parents – even though his pay was already lower than mine before then.
By joint shopping we understood everything related to children’s expenses, food and household necessities. But soon Herald also debited his packs of cigarettes at about fifty euros a week, hairdresser’s appointments, nights out with his friends, drinks after sports and taxis after those nights out from our joint account. Total amount per month: at least 300 euros.
At first I thought it was still knee-jerk to say something about it. We could miss it, just. But when it became a pattern, I told him that if we wanted to pay for this kind of personal stuff from the joint account, we both had to deposit extra money on top of what we already transferred monthly.
I do our administration, Herald doesn’t care. “I’m especially good at not paying bills,” he chuckled when we first moved in together. ‘You arrange that, Pietje Exactly.’ A sensible construction, because Herald had nothing but debts at the time, all caused by a lax handling of his money and bills. Incidentally, he still paid the redemption himself.
I did keep him informed orally about what was going on in our financial lives. When it would be better for us to switch to another health insurer, for example. That certain premiums increased and what we got back in tax money. “Sure, do it,” he always replied. And so money became a subject we didn’t talk about at all. Until his personal expenses from our joint account ran out of steam.
The point: I never go to the hairdresser, I just cut my long, straight hair myself. I don’t smoke, don’t go to the beautician, I never get my nails done and I rarely go out with friends since I became a mother. Usually I meet at home. That costs me two bottles of wine and some snacks, which I also pay from the joint account, but those costs do not outweigh an evening of Herald in the pub. The only really personal expenses that I pay with our joint card are packs of tampons and sanitary towels.
“I already paid more, and now it became even more so that he could spend extra”
Herald initially agreed to transfer 200 euros more each month, a reluctant compromise on my part. But that amount on my part felt unreasonable. I already paid more, and now it became even more so that he could spend extra. It didn’t sit well with me.
A distant journey
And then suddenly came the letter from the tax authorities, two years ago. Calculated over a number of years, we received a considerable amount back, 5000 euros, which, although it was for us together, would be deposited into my personal account. I wanted to cheer when I opened the letter. After the corona pandemic, which was in full swing at the time, we could take a long trip with the family!
But I thought that same second: I could also put the money separately in my savings account. A nest egg that Herald and the kids would no doubt enjoy in the end, but that was mine for now. A settlement of everything my friend consumed for himself, I decided. If we really need the money as a family, I’ll conjure it up again.
I didn’t feel guilty about it for a second. In fact, I’ve been doing it more often since then. The $200 my parents gave me for Christmas? Charged to my account. And for the two times 190 euros we received from the energy supplier to compensate for the high energy costs, I even temporarily adjusted our account number. After the money was in my account, I changed the number back to the joint pot. Yes, fraudulent. But Herald also doesn’t tell us where all his pinned amounts go from our account. Not to the kids and me anyway.
“If we lie about this at all, we might lie about other things as well”
It is, of course, slippery ice on which we are treading. Because if we lie about this at all, what are the chances that we will lie about other things later? Hiding money matters is just as much infidelity as having sex with another person. And once you start doing that, that’s the recipe for getting away from each other. It’s actually a big middle finger to each other: you don’t do what I say, well, then I secretly arrange it in my favor, don’t I?
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The trick with the energy costs does not sit well with me. Withholding a windfall every now and then is different from willful fraud. At the same time, I will never forget how I caught Herald in turn – the children were still toddlers
on pushing back money that belonged to both of us.
Every other month we buy a lottery ticket. That then hangs on the fridge for weeks and we usually forget about it, until we discover that five euros have fallen on it, or ten, and we exchange it for a new ticket. This time, fate suddenly disappeared one day. ‘Shit, that didn’t end up with the old paper, did it?’ I asked Herald. Had he actually checked to see if any money had fallen on it? I could see from his facial expression that fate was not lost just like that. ‘Yes, 250 euros’, he stammered, ‘I wanted to tell you.’ What a ratty action, I threw it in his face. A fight that lasted a week.
It wasn’t even about the money, it was about withholding. The lie. It felt like he was stealing from the kids and me. And where had the money gone? No idea. Lost in daily shopping, Herald stated. And I just had to deal with that.
Talk about money
In retrospect, I think that’s where the first cracks in our relationship started to appear. The exorbitant pinning of our joint account that followed, the cash withdrawals. The withholding of our tax allowance was a piece of my own medicine that I needed to keep our finances equal, but it symbolizes a completely different problem: Herald and I are not honest with each other and apparently don’t want to share everything.
Talking about money is something neither of us are good at, while a good conversation about it might solve everything. My parents raised me with the mantra: you don’t talk about money and politics. I have no idea what my parents earned, whether I will inherit anything when they die and what the state of their mortgage is. Nor do I know who they vote for.
“I learned from my parents: you don’t talk about money and politics”
When I got my first real job at 22 and excitedly shouted that I was going to earn ‘up to 2200 euros a month’, my mother made a soothing and gesture and said: ‘Well well, it can be done again, of course it won’t work there to.’ No, it didn’t work either, but I was proud that I had achieved it. After that I thought it was a shame, that it wasn’t fair that I was financially healthy.
That’s how my urge to financially support partners started, because Herald wasn’t the first financially unhealthy man I helped. At Herald, money was not an issue in the upbringing either, but more because it was never there. He was not in a sports club, often went to school without breakfast, his father was on unemployment benefits at fifty and couldn’t get out, while his mother worked her ass off in a supermarket. I also understand that he was fine with the fact that he earned more with a part-time job than his parents brought in together in his youth.
Apart from the finances, we are having a great time as a family. Our children don’t get any of our annoyances about money. They have new clothes every season, are on horseback riding and ballet, there is always healthy food in the fridge and the mortgage is paid. Every month we even save an amount on their bills, so that they can study later or spend it on furnishing or purchasing a house.
In the house, Herald and I have divided duties fairly and as a father he is as involved with our children as I am. I leave them with him for days without instructions when I’m on a business trip or a girlfriend’s trip and know I’ll find them radiant when I get home, without the house in ruins.
“If we do not want to lose each other, we must resolve the financial difficulties openly and honestly”
We still find each other attractive, we laugh together and the sex is still good. He gets along with my friends and I with his, life is overall fun together. That makes me realize: if we don’t want to get rid of that, we have to resolve the financial difficulties openly and honestly once and for all.
So I’ve decided we need to see a financial advisor. Then we’ll have our finances fully mapped out and Herald will be as aware of it as I am. Yes, then maybe that 5000 euros in my savings account will also come to the surface. But the fact that I put them away for a while to prevent them from disappearing into Herald’s dark pin practices seems excuse enough to me. And maybe couples therapy afterwards is not unwise. Because apparently neither of us feel safe enough in our relationship to be honest about money.”
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