Shh… your secret is out. Let’s talk about secret savings

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It’s rarely discussed for obvious reasons, but having a secret stash of emergency funds is more common than you’d think.

By Shilpa Ganatra

British sensibilities mean even at the best of times, we’re less than forthcoming about our finances. We might talk in vague terms but discuss numbers? It’s a polite no to that.

That begins to explain why Aviva’s recent survey found 1 that one in 20 of us have a secret savings account that our partners know nothing about – but it’s certainly not the only cause. Anecdotal evidence suggests many of these hush-hush savings are a way to maintain financial independence or as an emergency fund just in case things go wrong in a relationship.

Of course, any savings approach is better than not saving at all, but is having a secret stash wise? Because savers keep it on the down-low, this tricky topic is not often explored. But lifting the lid, we’ve dug into the perspective of a secret saver, a personal finance expert and a psychologist.

Anonymous secret saver, 39

“I live with my boyfriend of three years, we’re very much in love and we’re in the process of buying a house together, but I’ve always felt that it’s important that I keep my finances separate from him. I know my friends think that with their partners too. I guess in previous generations, the labour was divided and there was just one pool of money that both parties dipped into. But now I feel like I earn my money and he earns is.

I’ll stop when I get to £10,000.

“Nowadays, you hear about couples who split the bill in restaurants years into the relationship, and others where the highest earner takes care of everything, and others where they just throw their money into one account. We have a balance. We have joint accounts and individual accounts, but I also have an extra savings account that gives me an added layer of security. I wouldn’t say it’s a proper secret, but I just don’t declare it because it’s none of his business. I don’t expect to ever need it, but I like knowing it’s there just in case.

“I’ve had the account open for about four years and it has £3,500 in it. I don’t put money in it regularly. If I’ve had a month in which I haven’t been spending that much, I put a bit in. I’ll stop when I get to £10,000. After that, the money will be better spent on actual things or investments.

“I think I’d be doing the same thing if I was a guy. I really don’t care what my partner saves, as long as they’re paying an equal share of the living costs and we’re both putting away savings for our joint future. But perhaps I only think that because we earn roughly the same. I think everyone has to do what’s right for them, but I’m happy that I can afford to put away a bit extra for my own peace of mind.”

Portrait of Nikki Carr
Nikki Carr

Nikki Carr, financial adviser at Aviva

“We can all agree that secrets aren’t particularly good in a relationship. It brings up the question of whether you’re really working as a team, and it can impact other aspects of the relationship. But from my experience advising on investments, one in 20 secret savers sounds about right. I often had customers contact me before meeting to tell me they have £20,000 in another account, but don't mention it because their partner doesn't know about it.

...everybody needs contingency funds in case you fall ill, you lose your job or have unexpected expenses.

“I do think we need to have that little bit of independence, just in case. My husband and I split, and when he left, he just stopped paying the bills, just like that. Luckily, I could afford it, but it would have been a much more difficult situation if I didn’t have the cash ready.

“I’d stress that everybody needs contingency funds in case you fall ill, you lose your job or have unexpected expenses. I’d recommend six times your monthly outgoings as an emergency fund in cash. For most people, a secret fund is created in case things go wrong in a relationship. I guess it’s kept secret because no one wants to even suggest that things might go wrong, but it happens. We don’t want to fall ill or become unemployed either, but we still have to prepare for that.

“Money is known for causing arguments. Everybody's got different attachments to it based on your experiences growing up, your income, what you've got left and how you like to spend it. Some people live for today, some people don't. Secret savings can help to secretly rebalance a relationship, but also, imagine if someone was paying for more dinners and groceries because they think their partner didn’t have much in savings, only to find out they’ve got a secret stash of £20,000. It’s definitely one to think about carefully.”

Portrait of kate phillips
Kate Phillips, Therapist registered with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Kate Phillips, therapist

"It’s difficult to say whether someone should have a secret savings account or not, because there are as many reasons behind it as there are people who have one. But different views on finances are a very common issue of why couples drift apart.

"A lot of people might have a secret savings account and their partner may be fine with it when they find out or they may not feel guilty at all. By the time people come to me about it, however, it’s because they have uneasy feelings – they’re feeling guilty, or scared of being found out, or it may be the partner who has found out and feels betrayed.

"There are two ways to look at it. The first is that the need for the account stems from the saver. There might be issues of trust with a partner, and the feeling of needing something separate. So if someone came to me about it, we'd look into where that need might have come from. It could have been modelled by parents, for example when the mother squirrels money away, or if a parent left, leaving the rest of the family penniless.

"It might be that someone in a relationship feels like they’ve lost their identity, and the savings account is a symbol of having something that’s just theirs because everything else is shared. It’s often possible to work through this and leave those feelings in the past, where they belong.

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"The other way of looking at it is that it’s specific to the relationship, and a response to their partner. I’d explore if the secret account is to give them a sense of control, or if there are issues around trust. The problem with trust is that trust is binary – you can’t half-trust people. So there’s the question of whether any trust issues are proportionate and relevant, because it's not just going to be about the money.

"Ultimately, a secret savings account might not be the threat to the relationship it might appear to be at first, or maybe it is. This should be explored, together, with an open mind because the more self-aware we become and the more empathic we can be to our partner, the more it becomes clear how we can and want to grow from that."

Got a secret stash? Then tend to it well

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