Financial abuse: cruel controller or selfish spendthrift?

Does your partner micro-manage your spending, and exclude you from financial decision-making? Or, does he max out your credit cards and force you to shoulder the financial burden alone? Then you could be experiencing financial abuse – and that hurts more than your bank balance. Find out if you’re living with a cruel controller or a self-centred spendthrift, and what that means for you.

What do financial abusers do?

Like any other form of soul-shattering domestic abuse, financial abuse is driven by one person’s need to establish and maintain power over their partner. Generally, this manifests in one of two personality types – or even a combination of both, depending on which tactics the manipulative abuser finds most effective (and personally satisfying).

Wall Street bull

Copyright wallyg

The cruel controller:

  • Persuades you to give up your job, or makes it impossible for you to work
  • Gives you an allowance, which he withholds when ‘punishing’ you for not complying with his ever-changing rules
  • Monitors every penny you spend, and goes through your bank statements and receipts
  • Checks the mileage on your vehicle against where you say you’ve been
  • Excludes you from financial decision-making, and prevents you from seeing bank statements
  • Refuses to give you money for essential bills
  • Does not allow you to share in any mutual assets – for example, you may contribute to paying for a joint home, but he will not allow your name on the mortgage
  • Reminds you regularly that he’s the breadwinner. You are expected to be grateful.

The self-centred spendthrift:

  • Doesn’t contribute to household bills, leaving you to shoulder the burden
  • Splurges on selfish whims without consulting you
  • Cannot hold-down a job
  • Runs up debts or hits your credit cards without telling you
  • Borrows money from you without ever paying it back
  • Seems to be constantly short of money or in a crisis – and only you can bail him out
  • Buys you expensive gifts – and expects you to respond in kind
  • Steals from you or sells your stuff without your permission
  • Expects you to pay for his risk-taking lifestyle, which can include drug-taking or excessive drinking
  • Puts your job at risk with his extreme jealousy and expectation that he is your only priority.

The cost of financial abuse

Dollar origami

Photo by bizior

Financial abuse is devastating. It takes away our self-reliance, and leaves us more dependent upon our abuser than ever. Without financial resources, we feel less able to escape a toxic relationship.

My ex abuser was mostly the spendthrift type. He skipped merrily through our latter years, blowing any money he did earn on drugs, gambling, and extravagant spending. I was left to tote the weight of keeping us afloat, bailing him out like he was an irresponsible teenager and worrying about how long my savings would last.

I fought hard to resist his pressure for me to stop working – a piece of spectacular cognitive dissonance on his part, as he claimed he would provide for our family whilst doing less than nothing to actually do so. Then, he cost me my job by insisting we relocate hundreds of miles away. By the time I finally escaped, he’d cost me thousands – though I now figure it was a small price to pay for my freedom.

Preventing and coping with financial abuse

The only way to prevent financial abuse is to leave your abuser. Contact your local domestic violence service for support in dealing with the aftermath of financial abuse, and to find out about any government support or hardship grants you may be entitled to as a result (for women in the UK, Women’s Aid provide a useful guide to money issues).

If you’re not ready to take that step, there are ways to reduce the impact of financial abuse. Think about:

  • Opening a secret bank or checking account, in just your name. You can use this to stash money away – cash that you’ll need to gain more financial independence, or to use as an escape fund. If you have a trusted family member, perhaps you could give their address so financial correspondence never comes to the home you share with your abuser. Or, consider an online account, which you can access wherever you are and don’t come with the worry of him finding your paper bank statement.
  • If you already have your own bank account, change your PIN and consider opening a new one instead. This will protect you if he tries to empty your account or siphon off cash to pay for whatever illicit habit is currently flavour of the month.
  • Think about whether you can get your name taken off any joint credit cards. If there are any deals on credit cards, perhaps you can suggest that he does a balance transfer (preferably solely in his name) to get that good interest rate!
  • If you have your own credit card, go ahead and get that PIN changed so he can’t use and abuse it.
  • If you’re currently out of work, start looking at employment or training opportunities. You may need this if you choose to leave.

*** Although these actions will improve your ability to achieve freedom, they may also increase your risk. For this reason, only take these steps if you can do so in secrecy or with confidence in your safety ***


A healthy relationship does not include financial abuse. Even if you are a homemaker and your partner earns mega-bucks, a relationship is a partnership where both parties have an equal say – and an equal stake. The only way to effectively escape financial abuse is to consign your abusive partner to the Old Accounts file. But, if you’re not ready for that step there is still proactive action that you can take to reduce the damage and open up an escape route.

Have you had a partner who used the purse strings to keep you tied to him? How did you get out of the red?

ALSO SEE: Dangerous myths that fuel stigma and silence in 5 Things everyone should know about domestic abuse.

© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14

10 responses to “Financial abuse: cruel controller or selfish spendthrift?

  1. I am so encouraged by your posts. The information is ABSOLUTELY necessary to maintain/achieve freedom. I live in your blog, I just can’t like it twice. 😉
    I am so afraid I’m gonna fall back into that same cycle with someone else you and a few others are in my bookmarks menu. I have to be able to put terms to the treatment I received and without your posts, I can’t grasp the whole concept. I don’t know why.
    Anyway, I just wanted you to know
    Thank you Triple S ! ❤


    • Hi Tee

      It’s so good to know that you think my posts are helping, even in a small way. I’m like that too – seeing things written down in black and white can help us unpick what happened to us.

      I don’t think you need worry about not ‘grasping the whole concept’ – domestic abuse is so complex we all work hard to get a handle on all the different facets and layers.

      Tee, I highly doubt you’ll end up in a relationship with another abusive man. Abusers generally target vulnerable women but you’ve a spine of steel and you know too much to ever see it happen again. I almost (not quite) feel sorry for any man that tries it lol! x


      • Triple S,

        Seeing terms, for the things I’ve experienced felt like a spiritual awakening. That seems to set it in stone for me.

        Yours is one of the first blogs I found when I arrived almost dead on arrival…

        It’s gotten me through some heavy stuff. Not sure I would have gotten this far without it.

        The things written here are the very the bricks in my foundation.



      • So glad Tee that I can help even a little. It makes the blood, sweat and tears that I (like every other domestic abuse blogger) pour into our work worth it.

        You’ve already travelled an amazing distance in your recovery journey, and I’m glad we’re all in this together x


  2. I’m currently in a relationship with a spendthrift woman, I added her to my bank account a year into our relationship. Three years later my savings is depleted and she has charged up quite a bit of credit card debt. Thank God the credit cards are in her name alone, unfortunately I’ve been the one paying those bills.
    I currently have my own escape plan, burnt out on her manipulative, controlling, free spending nature. Just trying to work up the courage to leave.


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