Oh no, my wife’s sister saw our bank balance

It’s Christmas holiday time, and in Australia that typically means that your immediate family travels back home to spend time with everyone. Our family is no different, and this has meant that my wife’s siblings have returned to our fair city with their families to enjoy the festivities.

All of this was going swimmingly (and it still is really), but yesterday my wife said that she was looking up something on her internet banking app when her sister crept up behind her, looked over her shoulder and said with some shock “How did you get that much money in your bank account?!”.

Spying over someone's shoulder at their bank balance on their phone is pretty poor form.

Spying over someone’s shoulder at their bank balance on their phone is pretty poor form.

My wife was quick to calm things down a bit, as this sister, while being no FTW, isn’t exactly swimming in cash, so seeing a bank account with $155k in it would understandably look like we’d won the jackpot. We aren’t in the habit of keeping cash sitting around earning 0.5% interest, but this account was actually our offset account that then counters off our home loan. It therefore saves interest at the effective home loan interest rate, which is somewhere around 5%. My wife was quick to explain this, which made things slightly better, but the logical inference is therefore that we have paid off our home loan (which we essentially have).

After this brief exchange my wife was quick to change the subject, but that wasn’t the end of it…

Your secret is not safe with me

Another sister (my wife is one of four) caught her later on and said that she had heard about this exchange, which isn’t surprising since they obviously all talk and couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended on it. This particular sister just had to ask how we got so much money in the bank, but I’m not sure that my wife’s answer was really what she was expecting.

My wife thought about it and gave what was probably about the best answer that you could give, which was to explain that as I have earned more we have kept our spending the same, and therefore saved the difference. This is essentially the truth, but it probably didn’t make a lot of sense to that sister since most people typically just spend more when they earn more. Saving the additional earnings must be a very foreign concept for many people out there.

While I was quite happy with how my wife handled this series of exchanges, I must admit that I was initially dismayed at people finding out even some minor details about our situation, and even more dismayed when I heard that one sister had talked to another. It’s therefore fair to assume that they have spoken to the third sister (FTW) as well as their parents, and all of their spouses will also be aware.

Now I’m left being a bit self-conscious about what my wife’s family thinks about us. Previously they just assumed that I had a high income and we must therefore be “rich”, but for them to see a heap of cash in the bank probably makes them think we are even more “rich”. Thankfully they couldn’t see the value of our investments that aren’t visible on an internet banking app, otherwise they would well and truly freak out!

Where to from here?

This whole series of events has made me wonder what will happen next now that someone has some concrete “evidence” of our wealth (evidence that is in actual fact very understated). Some of the questions buzzing through my head include:

  • Will they start judging us for being cheap? (e.g. “How can someone with that much money drive a $5,000 car?”)
  • Will they ask us for a loan? (Someone asked my brother for a loan recently, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people thought that we had a fair bit more money than him, especially now)
  • Will they tell other people outside of my wife’s immediate family?
  • Will they try to talk to us about it again?
  • Will they try to get some financial advice from us since we are “rich”?

None of these things will really be the end of the world if they happen, but it does make things a bit awkward. I certainly don’t want to get asked for a loan from family as I’m not a fan of that concept at all (but that’s a whole other issue for an entirely different post).

I’m interested to hear whether others have had a similar issue and what (if anything) it has changed about their interactions with these people. If you have any experience in this area then I’d love to hear about it.


11 thoughts on “Oh no, my wife’s sister saw our bank balance

  1. Ahh, family. We’re in the process of considering exactly how much depth we should go into on our blog in terms of our net worth (which isn’t much at the moment), targets along the way and the like. A few of our family members already know our plans but they seem fine with it. But I figure the others will find out at some point along the way in any case, especially as we tend to talk quite openly about finances.

    • Yep, it’s a tricky one. Fortunately none of my family members (or anyone I know for that matter) knows about my blog, so I don’t have too much to worry about, but I’m still reluctant to go into specifics on net worth. People use their imaginations though (why let the truth get in the way of a good story?!) so it probably wouldn’t even make a difference if I used specific numbers anyway!

  2. I have some over-achieving cousins, so I don’t think people would be too impressed by what I’ve accomplished which is a good thing for me 🙂 One is in her 40s and already paid off her mortgage which most of the family knows about. Therefore I’m able to sit quiet in the background on my path to FI. I’d definitely offer advice to family, but try to stay away from loans and just give money if you feel inclined to do so. Let us know what happens next.

    • Well my wife said that she was bailed up by all three of her sisters (including FTW) for more details after I published this post, but she again deflected the quests for detail quite well. One of the sisters pointed out that we haven’t updated her car (it’s the same car that she’s had for the last six years), so that’s just one way that we have managed to save more money. At least there was identification of that as a way of saving money, but I’m not sure that that sister would be prepared to give up her brand new car to gain a slice of financial freedom!

      You’re probably quite lucky to have the over-achieving cousin. I have a number of cousins that make decent incomes, but I’m not sure how they’ve done in terms of wealth accumulation. My brother tends towards more conspicuous consumption (swimming pool, new house, expensive cars), so he deflects some of the attention from us that’s for sure. None of what we do gives an indication of wealth so that’s probably why the sisters have been a bit more surprised I’d say!

  3. My husband and I reached…correction…finally realized we were FI early last year, quit our jobs, sold the house and commenced full-time travel. Like you, we had kept our 80% savings rate for the last decade a secret. When we made such a drastic change to our lifestyle, everyone was in shock. What I am trying to say, is at some point it becomes IMPOSSIBLE to hide. Maybe while you are in the accumulation phase you can hide, but once you hit FI and make any changes to your life, the questions start. While we have not given a specific dollar amount to our net worth, we have told family and close friends that, yes, we can pay our bills from investment income and most likely will never HAVE to work again. We are mid-forties and this did not sit well with everyone. Some were sincerely happy. Some were jealous and negative. Some felt betrayed. Some (my stepfather) called us “cheap” and refused to quit, even though I told him we prefer “frugal.” Some friends have suddenly started asking for loans. In hindsight, I wish I had been more vocal about my values and plans over the years. One piece of advice, you must have strong boundaries before you come out as FI. Just my experience, for what it’s worth…

    • Wow, that’s really sad actually, especially your stepfather and the ones asking for loans.

      While no one that I know is aware of my blog, close friends and family know that we’re not planning to work forever and want to retire early, they just don’t know how early or what it would take financially.

      We haven’t specifically tried to “set” strong boundaries, but I think that over time as discussions progress our friends and family will have greater awareness and acceptance of our goals and our situation. My siblings know of my goal, and my wife’s siblings now have some awareness. Some of our friends know of our goal as well, so that really covers most of the people that we care about. I guess we need to ensure that we continue to discuss it at some level over time.

      Well done on reaching FI in your mid-40s by the way – it’s a great achievement, especially since you appear to have done it without the FI/RE blogging community to spur you on!

  4. If they ask to borrow, just tell them that everything is tied up in a mortgage/your reno, and don’t worry what they think. If they are jealous, they were already jealous before this. That isn’t something you can control.

    Luckily my family and friends aren’t jealous of me. And if they are, it’s not about money. If I sense that anyone is jealous or competitive with me in a non-constructive way, I put some distance there. I have enough of my own shortcomings to have to manage someone else’s!

    However, people don’t tend to be financially jealous of two 30-somethings living in a small rental apartment in a no-name German city. In fact, people wonder WTF we’re doing, and have even offered to lend us money! (we declined).

    When we FIRE though, I would have no problems LYING about how we’re supporting ourselves. Not because I like lying, but I feel like it relaxes people more – so I do it for their benefit and not mine. Maybe not full-out lies, but semi-truths. I don’t feel obligated to disclose all financial details to people, so if they are interested enough in how we support ourselves, I don’t find it wrong to leave out the investment income part and just focus on some side business or small job *in addition to* living simply and winding down expenses.

    • Yeah, my wife did say that our cash was tied up in our mortgage so that’s what we would say if someone asked for a loan. It’s funny though because financially irresponsible people would see available cash (even if you have debt) as money that’s available to throw away, so they may be unhappy with this answer but I don’t really care.

      I’m not sure that people are jealous of us, but if they are it isn’t in a nasty way. I am genuinely happy for friends and family that get ahead financially, and always provide encouragement when they share a financial achievement with me. And while you might think that your life is nothing to be jealous of, I wouldn’t mind living in a no name German city!

      I’m not sure whether I would be able to lie once we FIRE, but I will probably tell a very abbreviated version of a portion of the truth (e.g. “I’m a stay at home Dad” or “I’m an accountant but I’m not currently working), but I an see how it, would simply be easier, especially for people that you don’t really know anyway. People at work tend to have a negative view of people that live simply and don’t drive a newer car or have a really expensive house, so it makes it hard to talk about a simple lifestyle with some of them.

      My wife will most likely own her business when I finish up work, so I will probably say that I am helping her out there to make things simpler for people to accept. It really does seem as if people need something to pigeon hole you or they will just get stuck on the topic and won’t be able to move on.

    • I haven’t really been keeping up with FTW of late since she has been living a few hours away with the boyfriend. She has a job (not a great job, but it’s better than nothing), but they’re now concerned that her boyfriend might get laid off because his industry is going through a tough time at the moment. That will probably just mean more financial disaster for her – it’s sad but I doubt that she’ll ever break the cycle.

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