What is Financial Abuse?

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The month of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To highlight the issues that victims face physically, emotionally and economically, Femme Frugality will be discussing the issue every Friday. We will do this through a mix of stories, conversations and factual articles. To help raise awareness, please use the hashtag #DVAM when sharing these articles.

What is financial abuse?

When we think of domestic violence, we typically think of the last part of the word: violence. We think of it practiced physically and sexually. While this is a very real part of the issue, there are several ways that abusers exert control.

One of these types of abuse is financial abuse, also commonly referred to as economic abuse. This is one of the most common ways abuse is perpetrated, but it is so seldom talked about that the term isn’t even found in many of our most-used dictionaries.

Here’s a definition for you:

Do you know someone going through financial abuse?

There are so many ways that someone can try to control you through money. Here are a few:

  • Disallowing you to work.
  • Disallowing you to seek further education or job training.
  • Disallowing you access to the family finances.
  • Denying you financial education, often by maintaining exclusive control of the family finances.
  • Giving you an “allowance,” or making you ask for money.
  • Forcing you to work for them or their business without compensation.
  • Stealing your identity.
  • Threatening to ruin your credit history by withholding the money you need to pay the bills that are in your name.
  • Racking up debt on joint accounts or draining joint bank accounts without discussing the purchases with you.

All of these things make it extremely difficult to leave the relationship, even if you want to. It’s emotional, but it’s also incredibly practical. How are you going to get a job with no job history? How are you going to manage finances if you’ve never done it before? How are you supposed to get back on your feet when they literally control all of your assets, both long-term and liquid?

Financial abuse contributes to the homelessness of many survivors, and can make it difficult to establish financial security even years after leaving.

Why does abuse happen?

If you are in an abusive relationship, know that it is not your fault. As much as the offender may tell you that you’re to blame, there is no deficiency inherent in you that’s causing this.

Abuse happens because the offender is seeking control. Many times, they feel out of control in their own lives, so it makes them feel better to try to control you.

You cannot fix their behavior. They may be able to change, but it’s not very likely to happen. The want for change has to come from within themselves. Then, they must actually work at it.

You may be madly and deeply in love with the person who is doing this to you.  That doesn’t mean that what’s happening is okay. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t seek help.

Who does domestic violence affect?

Ninety-four to ninety-nine percent of domestic violence survivors have also experienced financial abuse. The reach of domestic violence is massive and overwhelming. When we think of domestic violence, we typically think of heterosexual women as the victims. There’s good cause for this. Nearly twenty-two percent of women who live with a male partner have experienced Intimate Partner Violence (IPV,) which includes rape, stalking and/or psychical assault.

But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. In that same study, twenty-three percent of men living with a male partner reported experiencing IPV.

According to the CDC, one in every two bisexual women has been raped in their lifetime. That compares with one in every six heterosexual women and one in every eight lesbian women. One in every two transgender individuals has been raped or assaulted within their romantic relationships. Fifty percent of all LGBTQ women experience some type of abuse within their relationships.

What are the effects of abuse?

Obviously, none of the effects of abuse are good. Unfortunately, there are many of them.




We’ve already talked about how this can affect survivors on a personal level, but some of the national statistics are shocking.

  • Victims miss out on a collective 8 million days of paid work each year.
  • Even if your partner allows you to work, twenty-one to sixty percent of victims lose their jobs because of a circumstance related to abuse.
  • In a single year, 130,000 stalking victims were essentially asked to resign because the employer didn’t want to deal with the complications of having a stalker around.

How can I get help?

If you find yourself experiencing any type of abuse, check out these resources. Be very careful not to make any big decisions about your relationship until after talking to a trained professional as these situations can turn dangerous very quickly. But do know that there is help available. People do care, and there is hope.



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28 thoughts on “What is Financial Abuse?

  1. Ms. Montana

    I have seen these things play out so many times in the lives of people I care about. It’s really heartbreaking. It can make it even more difficult to leave a dangerous relationship. Thanks for spreading the word!

  2. giulia

    Financial abuse is bad, but with crisis most employes use it as excuse and depression is a consequence, I hope this will be a thing that will disappear soon from this world…

  3. Savvy

    Such an important article. My mom suffered financial abuse in her marriage. Now that she is divorced and not very good at money she refuses help from her children for fear of losing control. Hard to watch her make mistakes then use her credit cards to bale herself out of a short-fall.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I knew someone who went through this in the late 50’s—her husband made her give her all the money she earned and then he would manage it. Luckily that marriage didn’t last. Her father was pretty progressive for the day, asking her why on earth she would ever let him manage HER money?
      It must be so hard to watch that, but I understand her reluctance to rely on her children. Independence is a big thing, but also who wants to inconvenience those they love the most?
      Hopefully as women have more of a voice and marginalized populations gain more allies, this situation will slow down. In an ideal world, it would end completely. But until that day let’s keep talking about it.

  4. NZ Muse

    Typically abuse is often depicted in the form of having a controlling partner in the ways described above – but recently I came across a piece that listed signs of financial abuse that also included things like “refusing to contribute enough to cover their share of the household expenses”. And that really hit home for me. Being taken advantage of financially when you are the main or sole earner is a real issue too.

  5. Gary @ Super Saving Tips

    Thank you so much for highlighting this important issue and providing resources for help. Abuse of any kind is terrible, but when emotional and physical abuse are combined with financial abuse, it can leave the victims little hope of escape. But help is out there.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      It certainly threatens to diminish hope. Escaping is hard, and money is a huge part of that. You’re right, though—there are resources! Thank you for joining the conversation, Gary. Your insights always add so much.

  6. Done by Forty

    There’s a dark side to financial matters too, isn’t there? I luckily haven’t had to experience this (and at least I don’t think I’ve perpetrated it on anyone) but I suspect it was pretty darn common just a generation ago. Yet another reason we need to fight for equal pay for everyone: to help give people the income they need to break out from an abusive situation.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      THIS. 100% agreed. Also, I think it’s important that having at least one separate account start being a standard recommendation (or at least not demonized.) It’s not about not trusting your partner—-it’s about insuring yourself against the statistics.

  7. Jana @ Jana Says

    This is such an important post and I’m glad you wrote it.

    I think the most difficult piece to financial abuse is that it’s way more subtle than other types of abuse. It’s just as devastating but way more subtle in its signs. So much so that when you’re in it, it’s hard to notice until it’s almost too late.

    1. Femme Frugality

      Truth. There’s a major difference between a healthy consent to who will be earning and managing what and an exertion of power. But if you’re being manipulated, it can be hard to see that difference in the moment.

  8. Fruclassity (Ruth)

    Thank you for bringing the tough topics to light. Some of those stats shocked me. “Nearly twenty-two percent of women who live with a male partner have experienced Intimate Partner Violence…” 1 in 5 women. I would not have guessed it. I have come into contact with 3 people who have economic elder abuse in their families. The entitled teen grew up to become abusive in middle age. I think this is something that is more common than we realize. It’s a matter of shame that people don’t talk about

    1. Femme Frugality

      Elder abuse is a big problem. Both physically and financially. Physically I’ve heard of it happening more by nursing home providers than family, but that’s probably because I come from a line of nurses. I’m so sorry that you have known so many people to go through the financial side. What a doozy. How do you get an advocate when it’s your own child?

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