Are You Telling Financial Lies?

Today I’d like to welcome our newest regular contributor, Jen! Her blogging home is The Happy Homeowner, but you’ll find her here on Money Life and More on Thursdays. I’m sure you’ll love her insights, so let’s get to her first piece!

When I was 19, my grandmother secured me my first professional internship at her office. It wasn’t glamorous by any means (I spent more time filing and delivering mail than anything else), but it single-handedly opened many doors in the subsequent years.

While I was working there for the summer, I met another intern who worked in the copy department. Immediately, I was struck by how stylish and put together she was.

Gorgeous on the Outside, a Hot Mess on the Inside

On the surface, she seemed to have it all—nice clothes/accessories, gorgeous features, intelligence, and she was pursuing a dual degree.  She talked about the vacations she took, the shopping she did, and the meals out that she enjoyed with her friends and boyfriend. If she was a Jones, my naïve college self wanted to keep up with her!

Little did I know that a mere year later, she’d be forced to drop out of school and work in that very same copy department full-time because she was overburdened with credit card debt. The news broke through the office like wildfire—she had over $40,000 in credit card debt!! When my grandmother shared this with me (I suspect as a bit of a “what not to do” teaching moment), I was utterly shocked.

As I mull over this story now well over a decade later, I realize that the young woman I’d worked with was living a lie—one big, ugly financial lie. While she might have looked like a million bucks on the outside, she was a penniless slave to debt on the inside. And she’s not the only one I’ve met in this situation over the years.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Consider the family who drives the latest and greatest cars, takes the fanciest vacations and dresses themselves in only the best labels. I went to high school with a family like this—and they lived next door to my aunt and uncle.

I distinctly remember a hot summer day when we’d gone over to my aunt’s to swim in her pool and the lady next door came running over with tears in her eyes. While I couldn’t hear the majority of the conversation, it was something along the lines of her family was going to lose their house because they couldn’t afford to pay for it.

Say WHAT?!

Time and time again, we see and hear stories of people who can’t manage their finances, live beyond their means, and continue to spend themselves into oblivion because they’re living a lie. If the examples above don’t paint the picture for you, here are some of the ramifications of telling financial lies. You can be the judge of whether or not having it all on the outside while struggling on the inside is truly worth the price you’ll eventually pay.

Financial Lies Destroy Relationships

At the root of it, a lie is a lie, and lies break trust. Once the trust has been broken in any relationship (whether marriage, friendship, or family), it may never be restored. Imagine waking up one day to your spouse telling you there’s not a dime left. What if they told you that they’ve been hiding tens of thousands of dollars of debt? A lie by omission is still a lie.

Financial Lies Breed Bad Habits

If you’re constantly telling yourself or others that you’ll ‘pay it off next month when the bill comes,’ that you ‘just need a raise and you’ll be fine,’ or that ‘you work hard, so you deserve it,’ you’re telling the very lies that will destroy a sound financial foundation.

Justifying impulse purchases, rationalizing how you’re spending your money, hiding purchases from others, or flaunting wealth that you don’t really have; no matter how you slice it, these are lies that will catch up with you.

The next time you see that gorgeous person walking down the street in their designer ensemble, don’t be so quick to assume that they have it all. There’s a good chance that they might be living a lie. And when it comes to responsible fiscal management, there’s no room in the budget for lies.

Have you ever told a financial lie? Do you know others who do or who have?

Like What You See?

Join the other readers who have signed up for our email newsletter! No spam, just periodic updates to help improve your finances!


  1. Great post! I know far too many people who do this. They go out all the time, are always buying new clothes, but also carrying thousands in credit card debt.

    • Thanks, Christine! I think it’s really sad when people fall into this trap but as you’ve said, there are far too many in it. I can’t imagine still being saddled with credit card debt, especially after what I’ve learned about finances/money over the past few years!

  2. Good post Jen! I told my fair share of financial lies when I was up to my eyeballs in credit card debt and thankfully someone shook me out of it. Life is just so much easier in being transparent about finances as I find it just creates much less stress that way.

    • Thanks, John! It’s an exciting day for me to have my first staff posts going live here and on your blog on the same day 🙂

      It’s great that you had your own wake-up call–I know how valuable that is! Being transparent is truly the easiest option. Lies just muddy the water.

  3. Wow Jen! You are really getting around on Thursdays 😀

    Great post. I think this topic is super important. We’ve all done it. We’ve all fallen for it. When you look behind the curtain of those fancy clothes, cars, and electronics, what you often see is a mountain of debt. With easy access to credit, anybody can make themselves look like they have money. However, I’d rather have money than look like I do!

    • Hahahaha…when I realized they were going live for the first time on the same day, I laughed so hard! Yeah, baby!! 🙂

      It’s so sad to know people who live with this kind of reality. And used to be one of them! Easy access to credit can be a one-way ticket to disaster if you don’t know how to use it properly.

  4. Good post! Wes is guilty of telling financial lies. However, his lies are the opposite. He will say that things were given to him for free or that he bought it really cheaply so that others won’t think we are bragging. I think it just makes us look like we’re doing illegal things since he lies about the price of everything!

    • Haha…the doing illegal things bit made me laugh! You guys are too funny. It’s great that he’s modest (you are, too) about the success you two share.

  5. It’s funny. I think that no matter how good you are with money, we all still do a bit of rationalizing. From my point-of-view, it’s fine to buy things or enjoy experiences that have a price tag as long as it doesn’t create debt or knock you off your savings goals.

    • I’m with you on the experiences piece–I definitely work my tail off to fit in as many vacations/memories as possible. It could seem irresponsible on the outside, but I always make sure everything else is in check/taken care of before I spend money on travel.

  6. I always have to keep this in mind when I assume everyone on FB when i see their status updates about their travels is doing much better than me. I did my own lying when I first started freelancing and just spent as if income was endless. It’s easy to fall down that rabbit hole.

    • Oh man…FB is the WORST!!! Someone should do a study about how much people misrepresent themselves, their finances, and their lives. I bet it would be hugely eye-opening.

  7. Normally, I would think this happens somewhere else, but it came to roost with a friend. Her husband died soon after he retired. From the outside, they looked perfect. They were conservative and lived reasonably. They owned their home outright and a rental too. No debt of any kind! He earned a 6 figure income and had a good retirement. Unbeknownst to anybody, he had a gambling problem. Within a year, he died of brain cancer and left his wife with lots of hidden debt. It took her years to pay it off. It will affect her for the rest of her life. There are all sorts of financial lies!

    • Oh my, that is such a sad story!!! I’m so sorry for your friend–I can’t imagine the magnitude of that realization 🙁

  8. Some of us have been through that so we know how it feels. These are the kind of people that need our help, those that have lost their way. And we can only help so much by means that we know, blogging and spreading the word. Hopefully, they’ll find their way back.

    • Amen!!! I love this–thanks for commenting. You’re so right–I was there myself, and I know that discovering blogs is a huge part of why I’m financially fit right now. Thanks, KC!

  9. Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries says:

    Great post! From a very young age we are taught to keep up with the Jones’, it makes sense that eventually it would become more of a presentation game rather than what one can truly afford.

    • Thanks, Kyle! It’s sad but true what you said about being groomed to keep up/compete with each other…blech 🙂

  10. I have’t – you know how the say that the clothes make the man? Well my parents raised me up with the ideology “the man makes the clothes”. Work out, have a great body shape, be clean and polite, and you won’t need to appeal rich just to attract others.

  11. I lived this at home growing up for years until we lost everything. Not sure what was gained during those years, but I DEFINITELY know what was lost. I have learned from that experience, and hope to NEVER replicate what happened to my family. I’ve kinda swung the pendulum the other way, and drive a crappy, beat up car and feel pretty awesome about it. Frugality is cool. Why not flaunt it?! And like you said, a lie is a lie, so stop pretending to be rich and be who you are. If that’s broke, then so be it, but you’ll sooner be rich than the person who is pretending to be.

    • It’s so true that the person who is honest with their situation is so much richer (despite any money) than the person who’s constantly trying to be something/someone their not. Thanks for sharing, Jacob! I agree that frugality is cool. 🙂

  12. Congrats on the staff gigs, Jen!

    Makes me wonder what the kids knew when everything was falling apart for that family – they absorb so much more than adults tend to realize!

    • Thank you! It’s been a heck of a good week 🙂

      And yes–it was quite interesting to see the responses of the two daughters–the younger one seemed to get it right away why sadly the older one was in as much denial as her parents were. Luckily, they’ve all moved on to much more modest lifestyles now.

  13. This is so true, probably for a lot more people than we realize. This just reminds me of school, and how much pressure is also on kids/teens, sadly. The “popular” kids always wore nicer, name-brand clothes, had nice houses, etc. In college, so many people bought Starbucks with them to class on a daily basis, everyone walked around with a Mac, and the girls wore designer purses. The parking lot was filled with new cars. I wondered how they were affording it, or how their parents were affording it. I have the oldest car at my job and I couldn’t care less; I wouldn’t want to be leasing like my coworkers! I really wish less emphasis was placed on what’s “cool” or “new” and more on what’s functional.

    • I couldn’t agree more!! Thanks for mentioning the bit about the college students—I was astounded when I went back to grad school for the second time. It was as if the entire place was one giant fashion show/who is better extravaganza for the undergrads skipping around campus! It’s so sad–I’m happy that when I was in college, I managed to be in a bubble where kids cared about grades, sports and yes, sometimes a party or two…haha!

  14. Welcome and fantastic post!! I’ve come across many people like this. It’s really hard to remember that they might not be able to afford what they are wearing!

    • Thanks, Cat! Happy to be in such great company here 🙂

      I still have to stop myself sometimes when I see a really put-together person. You never truly know what’s lurking behind that gorgeous exterior! To me, no amount of debt, beauty or influence is worth the stress of carrying debt to be that way

  15. There is definitely a “keeping up with the jones” air that goes around especially with the perceived transparency that social sites give us. The biggest sin though is when we actually start believing our own lies… ouch!

  16. Stephen says:

    “[…]because they’re living a lie.”

    When isn’t it a lie? When is it ok to splurge on what we want? We might fault a person making $15K a year for having a $100 cell phone plan and $150 cable package. Likewise, we probably wouldn’t be so quick to fault the likes of Bill Gates owning a $10M yacht. “The man has billions,” we might say. Where is the cut off? How much do we have to have in place before we can say to ourselves, “With this I can enjoy that fishing boat I’ve always wanted.” Is there even such a point?

    I’m thinking there isn’t. I think it’s always a risk you take, no matter how much you have. The more you spend, the less you have; the more risk you take. The more you save, the more you have, the less risk you take. Your livelihood at stake. Maybe I’m wrong?

    • I think it really depends on the specific situation. If they’re doing awesome with everything else at 15k a year, splurging for a cell phone that is $100 a month might be OK, but if they also have a Cadillac Escalade on payments, not so much.

Share Your Thoughts