Secret Lives: The Hidden Credit Card Million

Jul 27, 2012   //   by Keith McDonald   //   Credit Cards  //  Comments Off on Secret Lives: The Hidden Credit Card Million

According to new research from Debenhams, over a million Brits hold a secret credit card to indulge in their spending without families and partners finding out.

The poll of 2,000 people revealed that over half of UK adults are dishonest about their shopping habits, either about what they’ve bought, or how much they’ve spent. Men are splashing out on gadgets and alcohol, while women are spending on clothing and shoes.

3% owned up to carrying a secret credit card to hide their spending. This would amount to roughly 1.2 million British adults. And given that 18% of those polled reported feeling “ashamed” of splashing out, we might expect that figure to be higher in reality.

In a way, it is unfortunate that a national governance of ‘austerity’ is dominating the psyche so powerfully. As the economy slumps further into double-dip recession, many have come to feel ashamed of spending at a time when all economic activity is desperately needed.

Reality Bites

While it’s all well and good to see press releases sporting this kind of research, it’s often difficult to envisage the real impact, away from the page.

This is slightly different, however. As a fan of Cherry Healey, it could not go unnoticed how the final episode of the latest series, Cherry Healey: How to Get a Life, revealed very similar concerns.

“I have been known to be a little economical with the truth”, she reveals at the beginning. “I hide my shopping bags sometimes.”

Episode six, Love & Money, investigated attitudes towards money, with a few rather extreme cases of extravagance. There’s sacrifice, entitlement, dependence, selfishness… the gamut of consequences that are almost invariably educed by money.

Three of the top five most popular white lies that women tell their men are about their spending habits, the documentary revealed.

Cherry’s programmes (which, I am aware, list a dozen writers, producers and directors), have an art of casting away our sympathies and gaining them back again. To look at how people behave, we will almost always find examples and scenarios that harden the heart as well as break it.

When I’ve had a bit of a shopping splurge, it does make me feel really guilty and ashamed actually – almost like I’ve cheated… There’s loads of things for the family that we could use that money for. But I just can’t really help it, and it’s kind of easier to hide than to admit it.

It’s Cherry’s truthful, quietly curious, open-minded and sympathetic attitude that holds together the concise investigations of difficult topics.

The final episode was a classic example of how money holds and breaks, and how it garners surreptitious behaviour. And she never lets herself be excluded personally from the issue at hand.

“What I’ve learnt is that nothing has the potential to create resentment in a relationship faster than money”, she concludes, adding that the British reserve makes it difficult to talk openly about it.

Secrecy and Spending…

is hardly a new phenomenon. To glance back four centuries ago, James VI/I was notorious for his secrecy, on the one hand, and his irrepressible extravagance on the other. He reputedly called it ‘the eating canker of want’.

Not only did large swathes of cash go begging that could have been used more suitably, but it also became more difficult for his Parliament to understand the wider financial implications while the king continued to plead poverty.

Perhaps selective aspects of human nature are ingrained, and we’re far more consumerist now, four centuries on.

Response to the recent report stressed that spending need not be laden with shame, as long as it remains responsible.

“As long as you act sensibly, if you are going to treat yourself, a credit card can be a good way to make sure you don’t go past your overdraft limit and incur fees, and it can also help build up your credit rating”, said Debenhams’ Mike Hazell.

“But if you really cannot afford something, you should resist temptation and save up for it instead.”

Find the Right Card

Behaviour doesn’t change overnight. Nor necessarily should it. Money and secrecy are oft determined to coincide.

So if you do carry a secret credit card, make sure it’s the best one for you! Currently, there are deals offering 0% purchases for up to 16 months (Tesco). If you are able to pay off the balance in full each month, could a cashback card suit better?

If you’re not sure, why not check out our Beat My Card calculator and let that offer a helping hand?

This way, at least guilt can be constructive rather than destructive.

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