You can tell something about a woman's marriage by the way she pays for her facial or perm, says Angela Allen.
Allen owns From Head to Toe salon and spa in Greensburg, which provides hair treatments, facials and other services to a mostly female clientele.
"They'll say, 'Can I pay you part with check, part with cash?'" says Allen, who owns the business with her husband. "They always pull out money from deep underneath the wallet."
That tells her they could be concealing the real cost of the salon visit from their husband. The partial-cash payment can mean that a $50 bill for hair coloring will appear on a credit card statement as costing only $25.
It might sound like the kind of quaint peccadillo that formed the plot of an "I Love Lucy" episode. But financial infidelity, as some call it, can assume more extreme forms, such as maintaining a secret bank account or running up credit card bills or gambling debts without the other spouse's knowledge.
A new golf club hidden by a husband or a new pair of shoes tucked in the back of a closet by a wife can signal problems beyond their monetary value, says Lois Greenberg, a licensed clinical social worker whose Castle Shannon practice includes couples counseling and individual psychotherapy.
"It's not what are you hiding," she says. "It's why are you hiding it and what is this peril and what is the danger of revelation? What will happen if he or she knows that I've got this, and what is this really about in terms of one's feelings of guilt and shame?"
Each partner brings his or her own value systems to a marriage, Greenberg says. A purchase that is a necessity for one spouse might be frivolous to the other. Couples should negotiate such concerns, she says.
"This is the major issue in relationships," she says. "We don't know how to fight about things. We can't tolerate the tension of dissonance. People have difficulty confronting each other."
Susan Dunhoff, owner of The Modern Matchmaker in Squirrel Hill, says, "Finances are a very intimate part of a relationship.
"Financial fidelity is as important as sexual fidelity," she says. "Because once the element of trust is shattered, it's very hard to repair that."
A spouse who decides to leave the marriage might hide assets, such as stock or company profits, to avoid dividing them in the property settlement. Lawyers for the other side might hire forensic accountants or private investigators to find them.
Susan Williams, a former divorce attorney who now practices civil law in Greensburg, says husbands often are the ones hiding the assets because they're the breadwinners.
"I don't want to say the blame is on the wife, but even in today's society, women are still very trusting of their husbands," Williams says. "I recall situations where a woman would come to me for a divorce and I would say, 'What are the marital assets? What do they consist of?' And she would say, 'I don't know.' And I would say, 'Did you sign the income tax return?' She'd say, 'Yes, but I didn't read it.'
"To some degree, women need to be proactive and educate themselves."
Williams doesn't think full disclosure of purchases is an absolute necessity in a marriage, however.
"I think it depends on what agreement the spouses have on finance," she says. "In our marriage, because we both work, there's not a lot of accounting from one to the other. ... He just bought himself a motorcycle and he didn't have to ask my permission."
In its 2005 Women & Investing Survey, the New York City investment firm OppenheimerFunds found that both women and men hide money from each other. Of the 1,000 female and male investors surveyed, 40 percent of women and 36.8 percent of men said they maintained a checking, savings or brokerage account to which their spouse does not have access.
Both genders -- 24 percent of males and 26 percent of females -- named cash as the No. 1 item they were most likely to hide from their spouse.
As far as what purchases they are most likely to hide, entertainment (20 percent) and electronics (16 percent) topped the list for men, while women named clothing (23 percent) and food (19 percent) as their secret vices.
The survey was conducted by Insight Express.
Candice Komar is a founding member of Pollock, Begg, Komar, Glasser, a Downtown law firm that specializes in divorce, custody support and the division of property. Infidelity and money are the primary causes of divorce, says Komar, who has been practicing law for 20 years.
"I have a case that I recently tried where we have not been able to find a pot of money somewhere, although the husband is allegedly living with a girlfriend in a house twice the value of the marital residence," she says. "He was the kind of person who always had money, was always wheeling and dealing."
When a couple decides to divorce, unpleasant surprises may be in store when concealed credit-card or business debts come to light, she says. One of her cases involved a husband whose business failed. He finally had to tell his wife when they separated.
"The wife would blurt it out in a hearing: 'He ran our bills up and didn't tell me!'" Komar says.
Has uncovering financial infidelity made her cynical?
"No," she says. "I still believe in love. Everybody that came through my office got married for the right reasons and thought it was going to last."
Minimizing the damage
Cheating can wreak emotional devastation, but financial infidelity can leave lasting scars as well. Just ask someone whose credit was ruined by their ex's overspending.
"When you're going through a divorce, your credit can be the last thing on your mind," says Lucy Duni, director of consumer education for TrueCredit.com, a Web site run by credit-reporting firm TransUnion. "After the divorce is finalized, you've got to open new accounts in your own name."
Tips from TransUnion credit reporting company:
Talk about it: Openly discussing your finances with your fiance is the best way to prevent disagreements. Talk about your spending habits, your savings and your financial goals so that you will both be on the same page. Develop a plan for managing your money after the wedding. Will you open joint accounts? How much do you want to save each month? Work together to create a money-management strategy that fits your needs.
Wedding expenses: Planning the wedding of your dreams can sometimes lead to a nightmare of debt. The average wedding now costs $22,000, according to the Conde Nast Bridal Infobank, a hefty sum that can lead to big credit card bills after the honeymoon ends. Talk with your fiance about how much you can afford to spend without breaking the bank. Be creative about cutting back your budget: using potted flowers and making the invitations yourself can help you shrink your costs without reducing your style.
Credit: Understanding your sweetheart's credit history can help you avoid surprises. Your fiance's credit could have a dramatic impact on your rates for co-signed loans and joint accounts in the future. If there are past credit problems, work together to clean things up and reduce debts. Starting your new life together could be a lot smoother with good credit.
Joint accounts: Your credit profiles won't automatically merge when you get married. Only when you open a joint account, become an authorized user or co-sign on a loan will a record appear on both your credit profiles. Combining your finances this way can be a great way to get the best deal on a major purchase. Be careful though: Any negative reporting associated with the account could mean double damage.
Love nest: If you are planning on buying a home together, give yourselves at least six months to save up a down payment, reduce your debt-to-income ratio and boost your credit score. A few months of financial improvement can help you save you thousands on your mortgage.
Stay focused: Don't let money problems get in the way of your love for each other. Talk honestly about your financial concerns, and work together to get through the hard times. Your relationship is far more valuable than anything money can buy.…