Savings, Secrets and the Psyche

Sep 4, 2012   //   by Keith McDonald   //   Credit Cards, Personal Debt  //  2 Comments

Flashing the CashLast year, we sparked a little bit of interest through a story about people hiding their savings from partners and spouses.

More than one in ten, it was revealed, kept a secret stash of over £1,000 in secret savings accounts, either because they were unsure about their marriage or because they didn’t trust their partner’s financial decision making.

One of the deeper issues at stake was that, to a certain degree, finance remains a taboo subject. One in five of those polled (aged 40+) said that they had never discussed retirement finance with their partner, with most admitting that they were uncomfortable with the idea.

And the culture of secrecy is one that spreads far beyond this localised scenario. Not long ago, I wrote that secrecy and spending was hardly a new phenomenon; rather, it’s the hallmark of some of the most fascinating periods of monarchical history. [Read more.]

It’s turning into quite a fashionable subject. We cannot quite help ourselves but want to know what others are getting up to behind closed doors, not least during a recession when behaviour can change so radically and self-preservation comes to the fore.


It’s when secrecy merges with dissimulation that the greatest problems arise. People can suddenly find themselves lying effortlessly about their financial situation.

Over half of UK adults are dishonest about their shopping habits, it was revealed not long ago, while over a million Brits hold a secret credit card that allows them to spend without others finding out.

That, in itself, only reflects the same impulse of liberation that secret saving does. Self-sovereignty and governing one’s own decision-making is what propels the growing trend in secrecy.

But the younger generation are taking less to secrecy than to outright lying. A new poll from says that almost a third of workers (31%) have lied to friends and relatives about their salaries in the effort to appear more successful.

12% said they had “significantly” exaggerated their earnings, while some confessed to doubling their salary to impress. It is men aged between 18 and 25 that are much more likely to be culpable of this kind of braggadocio.

A bit of bravado over status symbols is nothing new, and nothing overtly dangerous. The real risk comes when someone who has lied to make an impression finds that the lie needs to be sustained. As it is, younger folk may be putting their future at risk by creating a trail of expensive lies to preserve their image.

If you say you’re earning twice as much as you really are, the pressure hikes up to replace the rust bucket with a Lotus, replace the Mediterranean rip-offs with real Ray Ban’s, and cut your cloth at Gieves & Hawkes rather than at George at Asda.

Unsurprisingly, it’s not easy to keep up an extended fib of expensiveness without expense. To manipulate a concept voiced in the 1510s by Machiavelli and then Erasmus :

Lies breed lies; from a small lie a greater is born, from one, two; a lie that begins a game becomes bloody and serious.

But truth will out, as the expression goes. Huge debts amassed purely to sustain a lie will prove an awful lot worse for the image, in the present and the future.

So, the older generation are saving more in secret, the middle generation are spending more in secret, and the younger generation are keeping their reality a secret while donning the illusion of being worth far more than they are.

We’re all susceptible to secretive activity, and particularly that of spending beyond our means. The real strength, sometimes, is backing out before the consequences become too much to bear.

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  • Ethan’s Money

    Hey, it’s human nature not to be entirely honest with other people about your true financial situation.

    That said, I wouldn’t be comfortable lying about not having an additional credit card. It’s amazing that so many other people feel willing to do this,

  • Keith McDonald

    True enough! That’s what I love about the Renaissance example I was touting. If your monarch leads the way in secretly bankrupting the public purse, why shouldn’t everyone join in?

    It’s interesting, isn’t it? Store cards, you would imagine, would be much easier to hide. Letters branded with M&S or Dorothy Perkins landing on the mat will tend to look rather innocuous. Plus, these have often been opened because of the hefty discounts available at the point of purchase. But I agree: quite a secret, as secrets go!