First, let me say that stealing is such an ugly word. I prefer to call what I do creative accounting. My financial education began with the game of Monopoly, which I was taught to play by the matriarchs of my family, including my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother. We selected playing pieces (my mom was always the top hat) while the designated banker passed us our funny money. "To begin, you take one of the $500 bills and sit on it," my aunt instructed. "That way, you won't spend it until you need it." Under her butt it went.
"It will be like extra money, because you'll forget that you had it!" My mom added, tucking hers expertly beneath her bottom.
"It's money for a rainy day," my grandmother concluded, following suit. "All women need that." She then explained that she had actual hundred dollar bills stashed in between her mattress and box spring at home. It was her real-life version of Monopoly.
And so, I began to learn the subtle art of financial obfuscation. Sometimes, after a particularly satisfying shopping spree, my mother and I would "hide the packages" from my father so as not to upset him and, thereby, not ruin our lovely day. And, when I got my first job, I began to put away a bit of cash from myself to keep for special purchases or splurge items, like Park Place or a monopoly on utilities. After I got married, I figured out other, more advanced ways to keep some cash for myself. (Why does everything have to go into the collective pot? Isn't it nice to be able to buy yourself a little something every once in a while without having to rationalize it to a fiscally conservative spouse?)
I know it's juvenile. My former therapist told me so on a number of occasions, until I realized that I'd rather spend my money on shoes than on her services. My husband, Brett, knows I do this and tells me that I don't need to hide what I buy. He laughs when the bills come in. "I can put the American Express bill next to the MasterCard bill and piece together the puzzle you've created," he'll say, baffled by my continuing need to leave a complicated paper trail. "I know, I know," I say. But then I do it again anyway, because once you've grown up on creative accounting, it's a hard habit to break.
Want to know if you are a creative accountant, or if you currently live with one? Here are signs to look for:
1. Like my above example, you may split the total cost of a purchase between several methods of payment so that the damages don't show up all in one place. This is mentally less overwhelming than seeing one big bill, both for you and your spouse. (You may then show only one part of this purchase to your spouse and say, "See, this didn't cost so much!" Liar.)
2. You actually embezzle from your husband or wife. In my new novel, Lauren Takes Leave, one of the main characters, Jodi Moncrieff, does this very thing to comic effect. Without giving away too much of the fun, I will say that Jodi has her very own "cash back" program with stores like Target. She skims money off the top of her family's finances and keeps some for her own personal, discretionary income. (By the way, this is NOT meant to be a "How-To" guide. Don't get any crazy ideas, reader.) Jodi is filled with good (bad?) ideas, including her "I will collect money for the party" scheme. Read the novel to find out more, thereby becoming a participant in my own creative accounting program. I thank you very much in advance for your patronage.
3. Perhaps you participate in what I like to call a "pocketbook exchange program," or the like. Through this method, you exchange unopened gifts (or other purchases you've tired of but can still return to the store) for things you really want, using items as currency. Return x for $40, and suddenly, the new $80 item you lust after is half-price! What a bargain! A twist on this is to put credits that you have towards the purchase of a big item you have been waiting to buy, thus softening the blow. I may have done this once with an expensive baby gift, which, upon returned provided me with a substantial credit. (What? My 3-month-old daughter did not need a Burberry bib. And I wear my scarf all the time.)
4. CVS sells gift cards. Pick up a Visa gift card for yourself along with the toilet paper, suntan lotion, allergy medicine, and shampoo, and no one is the wiser. The credit card statement merely shows that you've shopped at CVS, which is a legit place to spend some of your family's hard-earned money, as opposed to, say, Bergdorf Goodman. A bill from CVS will fly under the suspicious radar of any fiscally faithful spouse. Then take that Visa card to Bergdorf's.
Look, nobody's perfect. And I really only do two out of the four of these habits listed. I am lucky to have a husband who is aware of my warped financial psyche and who loves me in spite of it. I try to keep the credit card bills under control, and I always (almost always?) stay within our agreed upon budget. The last thing I would want to do is put my family in jeopardy.
As far as games go, I much prefer Monopoly.