Tact Vs Transparency When It Comes To Money In Relationships

“$308,” she said, ringing me up.

I blinked at her like a cartoon owl.

“Or,” she said, her voice settling into a lower, more confidential register, “$280, if you have cash …”

“Uh, not on me,” I said. “But I could come back?”

“Sure,” she said, waving me away. “No problem.”

A few days later, I was back, with an envelope of bills stacked thicker than my dining room table. Handing it over to her, I felt furtive and a little excited. We counted out the $20s together on her desk.

“Do people do this often?” I asked.

“Women,” she said, scooping up the total. “They don’t want their husbands to know how much things cost, so they pay in cash. Or they ask me to charge half to their credit cards and then they pay half in cash.”

“Really? This happens regularly?”

“Oh, sure. All the time.”


“Hi Mom. I’ve got a question for you.”

“Sure, honey, of course.”

“I just paid in cash for a thing and the lady told me that women do this all the time — they pay cash, or half in cash, so that their husbands or partners or whatever don’t see the full amount. She said it like it was totally normal but I’ve never heard of it before. Am I naive or … ?”

The sound of my mother’s laughter ricocheted through the phone. “Oh yes,” she said. “All the time. Clothes. Other things too. I remember one time, in the baby house, we had to redo the tile floors of the kitchen, and your father would have been horrified to find out what it cost. I asked the contractor if he could send a bill for half of the total to the house and then a different invoice with the other half to my office. I paid that part in cash.”

“He was okay with this? The contractor?”

“Of course! It’s normal. People do this all the time.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor?”

“Especially,” she said, “in relationships.”

“So isn’t that crazy?”

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Wow.”

“I’m so glad I’ve never had to do that,” I said.

“Me too!” he said. “So how much did this thing cost, ultimately?”

“Um,” I said. “You know. Not too much.”

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