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Financial Abuse — Signs and Examples

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7 min

Financial Abuse — Signs and Examples

They can hurt us, make us feel bad, watch over our every move, or even make us do things against our will. Their actions are abusive.

However, besides the cases described above, we need to stay aware of one more form of such behavior. Financial abuse can often be less noticeable at first sight. The family may seem pretty happy, and even the victim of the abuser can think that everything is OK. But then, painful reality comes to the stage.

Read further to answer the question, “What is the definition of financial abuse?” discover how to notice the first warning signs on time and how to recover if you’ve already experienced it.

What is financial abuse?

According to the definition of financial abuse in the Cambridge Dictionary, it’s a situation in which someone harms another person in a close relationship in ways that relate to money. This usually happens because of a desire to control a partner or a parent, this way getting more power.

Financial abuse can happen in the marriage, in parent-child relations, or between the closest relatives. In fact, 1 in 6 women has experienced it! The saddest part is that the victims often can’t leave the abusers because they have no money to do this. So, it’s better to stay aware. 

Is your relationship toxic?” you may also ask. I recommend checking it from the spot. Attempts to gain control over your finances and gaslighting can appear later, but the first red flags you can notice quite quickly.

5 Signs of Financial Abuse

Have you seen the Maid mini-series on Netflix? If yes, you can definitely say what financial manipulation in relationships looks like. But it’s not that simple. Everything can feel like a care until one day, people realize that they are isolated and totally dependent.

Save these signs to notice economic abuse and avoid the trap of financial manipulation.

1. “Taking care” of your budget

It all starts with small steps. “You’re too busy to manage your finances,” “Let me help you to save your income,” “I will deal with everything, just chill” (spoiler — it won’t be so peaceful).

I must note that it’s OK when partners decide that budgeting is someone’s responsibility and build their financial relationship together. However, it’s totally NOT OK if you lose complete control over your finances. 

Later, it can finish with financial control and abuse, as well as the inability to regain control over your money. The partner may demand you provide passwords to your bank accounts and credit cards and even confiscate your paycheck. 

In many cases, the victim of abuse cannot meet even the basic needs. At the same time, the amount of “support” that an abuser provides gets smaller and smaller.

2. Control over money spending

Can you imagine? Financial abuse statistics state that it occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases!

Abusers forbid you to buy the stuff you want, demand you bring checks after every purchase, and calculate how much of your money you’ve spent over a month. They often say things like, “We just really need to be more careful of our spending.”

Another aspect of such a financial relationship is that your partner may use your assets without your agreement. Your money is their money, but not vice versa. These people may also expect you to pay their bills, credits, and other commitments while doing nothing instead.

3. Destroying career

A financially abusive partner usually doesn’t want a victim to have their own money. These people may criticize your job choices, pressure you to quit the job, or even sabotage your responsibilities. They are ready to do everything to negatively impact your mental health and make you get fired.

In this situation, partners on maternity leave are the most endangered. First, they harm their career by staying with a child instead of working. Second, it becomes more difficult for them to return to their professional lives. In some cases, a money-controlling partner may even make another partner pregnant again to keep her dependent and vulnerable. 

Fast fact. In 2003, US women lost nearly 8.0 million days of paid work because of violence perpetrated against them by current or former partners. As you see, money abuse isn’t something new; it lasts for decades and centuries.

4. Ruining credit history

Adding salt to the wound, abusers often harm your credit score and ability to obtain loans. They can use your credit card without noticing, run up your limits, and leave unpaid bills. Also, these people may open your bank statements, lie to officials about your current financial state, or conduct another financial manipulation.

In a nutshell, abusers leave a person in the dark, and often, everything comes to light only when it’s too late to solve the problem. As a result, victims have huge issues with covering interest on loans and getting credit or a mortgage in the future.

5. Double standards

Last but not least. In your financial relationship, the partner is allowed to do some things, but you aren’t. This can involve everything connected with money, from entertainment and travel to buying clothes and getting somewhere by taxi.

And, most importantly, you haven’t agreed to this before. Your partner thinks it’s normal to make budgeting decisions alone while you can feel financially dependent and limited.

Examples of Financial Abuse

Disclaimer. All the names and situations are fictitious and have no connection with real people.

  1. Joey and Clare have been married for 10 years. After their engagement, Joey started to manage the common budget. Now, Clare needs to ask her husband to provide her with the money for her needs. Sometimes, she begs him to give her some finances for new clothes or a trip to her parents, who live in the neighboring state. 

The situation got worse when she gave birth to their son, Mike. As a result of financial abuse in marriage, she can’t even buy diapers or toys for Mike, as Joey doesn’t provide her with enough money while she’s on maternity leave.

  1. William and Ben are a gay couple dating for 4 months. William tried to persuade Ben to leave his job, but when he refused, the partner started to sabotage his working responsibilities. He hides his car keys, causes Ben to be constantly late at work, and harasses his partner when he’s in the office.

As a result, Ben can lose his job anytime. He understands the financial abuse in their relationship and tried to talk with William several times, but it didn’t work. Nevertheless, Ben can’t break up with a partner, as he has a childhood trauma and is afraid that no one will love him anymore.

  1. Emma and Julia are 18-year-old twins. They lost their parents in a car crash and now need to manage all the expenses on their own. However, Julia experiences the effects of financial abuse from her sister.

Emma can take a sister’s credit card, monitor her spending, and even yell at Julia when she buys something “unnecessary.” Still, Julia can’t leave her sister as she doesn’t have enough money to rent a flat and move out. She feels guilty every time thinking about it, as she believes that Emma behaves in such a way for their good.

A notebook where a partner notes all expenses as a sign of economic abuse

4 Steps to Overcome Economic Abuse

The situations may differ, but the essence is clear — the faster the victim realizes the problem, the easier it is to solve. Now you have a simple answer to the question, “What is financial abuse in a relationship?” So, let’s create an escape plan to regain freedom and independence. 

1. Plan ahead

You have collected lots of examples of financial bullying in your relationships. You understand that it can’t happen anymore.

Now, analyze what you can do. Abusers don’t let their victims go easily. So, consider where you can take money, learn different career opportunities, and find people to support you. It’s vital not to stay alone with the problem. Even if your financial relationship seemed “ideal” before, it’s essential to ruin this picture.

Explain to your closest ones what happened and what you’re gonna do to get support.

2. Gather the essentials

Collect all your documents, passwords, and evidence. Think about how to prove financial abuse in case you’ll need to do it in court. Also, I recommend finding out what has happened with your credit cards during the relationship.

You may discover some debts the partner has taken on you much later. So, it’s better to get ready to defend yourself. If you have children, collect their documents as well. 

3. Find a safe place and ask for help

Be ready that you will need somewhere to live, particularly over the first few months. It’s better to move to another city or find an apartment far away from an abuser. No one knows what threats you may face further, as such people often want to get their victims back. 

There are also local domestic violence shelters you can contact to get support and necessary services. They will help you solve the problem if you have no money at all.

If you can, explain to loved ones what financial bullying you’ve experienced. And you’d better contact a professional to learn how to stop worrying about everything and start a new page in your life. 

Key Takeaways

Great! Now, you know more about spousal financial abuse and are aware enough to deal with it. Thus, it’s high time you changed your life and left the relationships that destroyed you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with a psychologist or ask your closest people to protect you in a difficult situation.

Remember, economic abuse examples are different, but their result is the same. So, if you don’t want to stay in a happy relationship, take care of your safety and mental health instantly.

Jayme Sampler, LCMHC-A, comments, “Financial abuse is a significantly underrecognized issue, especially in our currently challenging economic times. Recognizing the warning signs is crucial, as financial abuse can affect anyone, regardless of gender, social standing, or socioeconomic status. But tread carefully! It’s important to exercise caution when discussing friends’ relationships. Understanding the impact of cultural norms and being culturally sensitive before accusing others of financial abuse is essential. If you or someone you know is experiencing financial abuse, consider reaching out to your local domestic violence shelter for support and access to local resources.”

Jayme Sampler, LCMHC-A photo

Reviewed by Jayme Sampler, LCMHC-A

Jayme obtained my Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree from Appalachian State University and is a proud Mountaineer. She loves wo...