Teen SS Sneaking Money from My Purse

Updated on January 17, 2013
M.M. asks from Detroit, MI
24 answers

I've read varied advice on multiple parenting websites and I'd like to know how you would handle this situation:

My 17YO SS has been taking money out of my purse almost daily (or nightly). I have evidence that money is going missing, when it is happening (at home), and who is home/awake during those hours (him). He's made a few comments lately about having cash to buy X or Y, with no source of income. I have been counting my cash at night before I go to bed, writing it down, and then checking again in the morning. However, I have not technically caught him in action. The amount of money is excessive and noticeable -- $20 yesterday and $24 today.

This child has been exceedingly difficult forever. I've known him since he was 8 or 9. He has consistently snuck things (food into his room, items he has been punished from using) and broken the rules. He does not seem to learn from the consequences of his actions. I believe his punishments are normal -- taking his phone, grounding for reasonable amounts of time, etc. -- but they have not inspired him to make any changes in his behavior. He never seems to tire of being in trouble -- although his dad and I are exhausted from it.

As a stepmom I am limited in my actions with him. I am often accused by SS's dad of not being fair to him or accusing him of things he did not do, or being too hard on him, so I have backed off over the past couple years and just lowered my expectations. His dad is a bit delusional as to his child, which makes sense. So I don't expect my husband to believe me unless I have video proof of SS going into my purse.

Obviously now that I've fully confirmed everything, I will no longer keep cash in my wallet or the rest of the house. One website said not to confront the child without hard evidence of them in action taking the money. What would you do if you were in my situation?

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So What Happened?

Kellie - I leave it on a counter in my lower level hallway. In my own house I guess I thought I should feel safe leaving it anywhere I like, although obviously I don't now.

He will be living with us for another 6 months, then he will be in Basic Training. He has already signed with the Army Reserves (his decision). After Basic he will go to specialist school and then to college (living on campus) - the Army will pay for that after the first year. I don't have high hopes for him succeeding in school - he gets C's-E's on his report cards and it's a miracle he was even accepted to a college at all. My hope is that going through Basic Training will give him some self-respect and self-control. We shall see.

My husband's denial is indeed a colossal issue here and I've been "waiting out" my SS all this time. I feel like this is over the line though. I do believe my husband and I need counseling but he is not open to anything that complicates his already impossible schedule.

On the taking food into his room, etc - We would not care about him eating in his room except he was collecting the dirty plates/bowls/soda cans/open-half-eaten-take-out containers under his bed and we were getting ants. So it wasn't the eating, it was the not taking care of the dishes.

I love the note idea and the clanging bells. (I was thinking tampons might do the trick too.) I've learned that unless dad is on board no amount of reasoning/talking/yelling/punishing will work. If he's looking for attention I think the opposite is what will work best. Guilt-inducing note and hiding my purse from then on out.

More Answers



answers from San Francisco on

I would write a quick note to stepson IN THE WALLET and say :

Dear Stepson (name)

I caught you! Stop going into my purse. If you put ALL of the money back that you took, I will not have a big talk with your dad etc. or whatever the consequence is. I won't talk to you about this further. But what you have been doing is STEALING. Please don't steal from me. If you need money, ask! We will work something out.



9 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Curious if the son is in any kind of counseling. As you stated - He doesnt' get tired of being in trouble.
Most kids don't want to be in trouble - really! Sounds like there are issues that are not resolved or something he needs and isn't getting, etc.
Regardless, the typical punshiments aren't working for him - time to get creative. Money missing out of purse - "Gee. I swore I had a $20. Sorry, I can't give you gas money/can't go on the field trip/have to pack your lunch/no new clothes, etc."
I know that my Step sister had this issue (and she still does) because she had a ton of unresolved issues with my dad (her Step parent) and she tried to hurt him and those around him by stealing, drugs, etc. not realizing it was only hurting herself - so my counseling recommendation comes from that experience.

Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I would tell be tempted to my DH that I have been tracking my money and it has gone missing. I would tell him that either HE is stealing from me or his son is, as there is no one else and if he doesn't believe that his son is stealing, he owes me $x and I consider taking money from my purse a huge breach of trust in our relationship. If he doesn't like to take the blame for his son, then he should acknowledge that his son is a thief. Further, if he is taking money from you (in quantity) then who else is he stealing from? Dad, too? Friends? Other people? I'd feel obligated to warn guests not to bring cash into the house and that's a really crappy way to live.

If the site says not to confront them without having hard evidence - what are you supposed to do? Ignore it and bleed money? If you have tracked it and you know that you are losing 20s and it's not you and not your DH then either someone is breaking into your home or the SS did it.

And him moving out will be no benefit if he maintains a key. Do you think DH will make him turn over the key? I wonder what goes missing when you are not home.

ETA: When he goes to Basic, take his key. Basic is just a first step. Many do not make it all the way through. If your DH uses the excuse that he doesn't have the time, then what would he say if you made the time to go on your own? That you felt that things were so broken that YOU needed help to evaluate this marriage. If he won't make the time, then he's saying he won't work on the relationship. Either there is time to fix it (how many of his other time sinks are more important, really?) or there is time to find a lawyer, depending on how badly you feel.

And, speaking as someone who has 2 grown steps, it doesn't end. It changes, but getting him out of the house is a bandaid if DH comes to his defense and aid and if SS never changes.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

He sounds ADHD and if he is you can throw out at least the advice I glanced at. The problem with ADHD is at the time you are making a decision you cannot pull past experiences in the same way a normal person could.

So it is not a function of a punishment not being hard enough but a function of the punishment not being apparent at the time of the decision. It is not a matter of proving he did it, he knows he did. He has just managed to rationalize that it is fair that he have the money at that point in time.

You can't get into well it isn't fair, it is stealing, sure you are right but being right won't stop the behavior.

The thing with people with ADHD is we are people pleasers. Say you stole that and I am angry or hurt, yeah, whatever. Say you stole that and I am disappointed in you, that hurts. Here's the rub, they have to respect you for it to hurt and people with ADHD question authority like most people breathe. So you first have to establish you are fair, then you get respect, then they don't want to disappoint you.

Clear as mud?

Now if your only goal is to prove to your husband he does it then go with a camera. If you want to get in his head and fix this ask him why didn't you just ask me for the money. How about hey, before I go to bed do you need money for something tomorrow? Then listen, then explain yourself and don't go with because I said so or it was mine. Those reasons however valid will be dismissed. I needed the money for this, works. I don't feel like you earned it, works.

The odd thing about people with ADHD is we seem very random but we actually react to the same stimuli in the exact same way every time unless something compels a change in our logic. We are actually more predictable than normal folk.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My inlaws went through this. MIL had to put her purse in her room and lock the door when they were sleeping. You could also put fake money in there, or a note that says something like 'Get a job', or 'If you need it, ask me, I might say yes.', or 'If I steal from you am I getting my own money back?'

See if the phrases come up in conversation. I bet they will. Then you will know for sure.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I would put a note in my wallet where he usually looks for the money directed to him letting him know that you know and telling him he is on a nanny cam right this minute. And then see how he reacts!

After that one night, I would start keeping my purse in my bedroom.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Could it be that your SS doesn't avoid discipline becuase it's one way to get attention? I've found all of us, kids & teens especially, like to be noticed, talked to, spent time with. If that's not happening in a positive way, it's taken any way they can get it.

Is your husband going out of his way to spend time with his son? It's not easy, we are busy, teens are beligerant and say they don't want to spend time with us, etc. But they do. They want to be encouraged when they do a good thing. They want their family to be proud of them. They want to feel a sense of accomplishment. They will respond to positive expectations.

It's very hard for me to get my husbnad to understand this with our teens, particularly our son. It's easy for me to spend time with my daughter and get to talk and share our values in terms of morals, dreams for her future, expectations with boys, school, home - becuase she & I like to do the same things. Its much different with my son. He & I only get to talk when we're in the car going somewhere. So I make a point have him with me on a long drive every so often. And I make sure he knows I am proud of him for certain things (he's taken on chores around the hosue and no longer needs our insruction, he helps with a children's program at church, etc.) I tell him what we expect of him, I tell him I know he can and will fill those expectations and that no matter what I'll always love him. I ask lots of questions about what he hopes for in the future, I ask him about the things he likes to do (video games, playing basketball & baseball), etc.

Sounds like your SS may need some of that. It's said that women want to be loved, men want to be respected. So if he needs money assign him some chores around the house that are at a higher level - and offer to pay him. That will help him gain self-respect. If he doesn't have a job encourage him to get one.

Finally, don't leave your handbag in a place that's so tempting. If you know he's taking money and you keep leaving it there for him it seems that you're trying to catch him instead of trying to help him. The tough thing about step-kids is that you often have no rights in terms of discipline, but you still ahve all the responsibilities. I would have a talk with him though - without outright accusation. I would tell him that money has been missing out of your bag and you're certain it occurs when you go to bed. Tell him that you can't imagine it would be his action, and ask if he had a friend over that might have done it. He probably won't admit it - don't expect that he will. But tell him that you expect he'll make sure that none of his friends go in your bag, tat you're glad you can count on him to do the right thing. If nothing else it will make him feel remorse.

The keep telling yourself it's only 6 more months. I expect you'll see a change in his character once he's in the reserves. And BTW - you never know about college. I was a C- D student in high school (due to a number of different things) and I excelled in college came out with a BS in Economics and Business. I got out of the town I grew up in, I got out from under the shadow of my golden boy brother (one year older than me) and I matured. You never know!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Knowing your husband is in denial regarding his son's behavior, I would not confront either your stepson or your husband. I don't really see what you would hope to accomplish with even a polite nonconfrontational discussion of the thefts. I think they would both get riled up and nothing would change. Perhaps it would get worse. I personally would buy a small safe which my purse could fit in. I would put the safe in or near the same spot I put my purse every night. Passive aggressive but I know me - it is what I would do. If my husband asked me why I had purchased a safe and used it every night, I would reply my money grows legs and walks off. In an effort to keep the walking money in my purse, I am using the safe going forward. To your stepson it would send the message you know what he is doing and you aren't putting up with it any more.

It's an imperfect solution but I am not real sure what else to suggest in such a messy situation. I have also heard of people putting deadbolts on their closet doors. They put any valued and valuable items in the closet. For me that is a bit of a slap in the face. In my own home I shouldn't have to keep grandma's silver next to my tennis shoes to protect it from my loved ones. However, I suppose desperate times do call for drastic measures. It is utterly staggering the lies a parent can sell themselves on regarding their child(ren). Without thought or question we should be safe and comfortable in our own homes. Good luck and I am sorry you are going through this experience.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Put your purse, somewhere else.
You will need to "hide" it.
And only you, should know where it is.

Or, what I would do is to get a small "motion detector" alarm... and put it in my purse. Turn it on, before you go to bed.
Here is an example:

(I have used this type of "door alarm." It is triggered by vibration/movement).

Or just do a search on Amazon.

Because your Husband does not believe you, I would use an "alarm" IN your purse, turning it on before you go to bed.

And, get a little video camera. For the room.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

where do you leave for money/purse at night? i had a problem of someone going in my purse i would hide my purse!! why leave it out in the open.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Well I do not play well with others who steal my stuff. I would be stealing what ever he buys with my money he stole. I would also be taking his things he did not buy with my money and give it away. See how he likes it! He is old enough to be told you touch my money again son....your out!
See letting him get away with this is just setting him up for failure, his dad needs to wake up. You bet I would let it be known he is stealing. Take one of each one of his shoes and make him buy them back!!! He can leave the house with one shoe or two its up to him!

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answers from Norfolk on

I'd lock up my purse and all other money sources in the house.
If I were in your position, I don't think the marriage would last.
I'd be very uncomfortable with a thief living in my home and I'd be beyond upset at my husband for being ok with my being robbed repeatedly.
Enabling/excusing/being blind to his son is not doing the kid any favors.
How much longer will this 17 yr old be living with you?
And even if/when he moves out - his Dad will let him back in when ever he wants.
I couldn't live like that.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

A side note after reading your 'so what happened'. My brother did aweful in high school, D's and E's. Somehow he entered community college and when on to a university. He ended up with a 4.0 at the university. Some kids just take time to mature. Don't give up on him yet.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I think I may have yet another solution for this problem. Ask hubby to store his money in your wallet and leave your purse where you usually leave it. If when it comes time for hubby to retrieve his money and it's gone he will have to deal with his son because now his son has stolen his money.

Before asking you husband for money to set up his son I would have a conversation with him that went something like this-
Do you think I am truly out to get your son or mean him hurt harm or danger after all these years?

Depending on how your husband answers will let you know if you should proceed with using his money in your wallet. If his answers are shakey on how he truly believes your intensions are towards his son then other measures will need to be taken.

Ultimately I would never leave my money where SS could get to it. I have theives in my family and when they come to visit me I just get the tempting things out of their site. It helps us to maintain a much better relationship.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cumberland on

Take a few 20's-and write on them the following: "Stop stealing from me". Take a video of you placing them into your wallet. Then watch what happens. In the meantime-tell your SS to get a part time job-and facilitate his effort-much as you have facilitated his thievery-on a daily basis.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kalamazoo on

Do you know where he keeps "his" money?? Maybe you should take it back! LOL!
Tell your husband your worries and then let him in on a sting operation. Show him the money in your wallet, go to bed, then show him the missing money the next day - how can he deny that!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I agree with you, you SHOULD be able to leave your things anywhere in your own home and expect people to leave it alone

But since that is not working.. I would place my bag in my room and lock the door. Or place a lock on my closet.

Or you could leave your purse as usual, but take your wallet out and leave a note that says, "Quit taking my money."

Of course since my husband is so tech savvy, we would set up a video camera.. and ten show it to the boy..

IF he steals while in the military, he could be court marshaled, and dishonorable discharge and could lose all benefits.

FYI, I would not be surprised if he in the end will not be accepted to college. We had a cousin that was told he would be going to college when he joined the Army, instead he found after he was in training, he did not really qualify after all. So, sad, too bad.. Ended up in combat and had no idea how it all happened. He did make it home and has now gotten a job to support himself. But it was a HUGE wake up call. He needed it. Sounds exactly like your SS.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Do some research and see if you can find a counselor for teens in your area...... for you to go and get some tips.

In the meantime: Put a lock on a cabinet and keep your purse and valuables in it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

You've gotten some good advice.

Honestly, I think the real issue here is your DH, his poor parenting, his denial, and how it all negatively affects your marriage. If I were in your shoes, I would've been DONE years ago. The fact that you 2 aren't a parenting team and that he doesn't back you up speaks volumes. He shows his son more respect than he shows you. I really hope you realize this.

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answers from San Francisco on

If it were me, first of all I would hide my purse. Second, if I were sure he took money, I would calmly tell him, "I know you took money from my purse. Even when it's from family members, that is stealing. Don't do it any more." And then I would keep hiding my purse.

He's almost out of the house, so you probably won't have a lot of time to change him at this point. It's good that you backed off in the past couple of years. I think, in addition to that, you should start praising him for good behavior whenever possible. It's quite possible that you were too hard on him, and that might have contributed to this behavior.

I always wonder about parents when they discipline children for taking food into their room, or make comments about "items they have been punished from using." I can't imagine what the big deal is about taking food into your room, and I can't remember punishing my kids for "using an item." (Matches? Knives? Guns?) In my opinion you have been too much of a disciplinarian and not loving enough, and you are now facing the consequences of your overly stern behavior. Sorry if I'm wrong.

It's still not too late to become more loving...

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Well, you have two options in my opinion: lock things up tight with a lock and key (ie-- put your purse/wallet in a safe in your closet, have a deadbolt on your closet door or bedroom door) OR videotape the kid with a 'spycam' or something like it. (I had a friend whose nephew lived with her, and he and his friends were too often taking her things, so she put a deadbolt on the bedroom door. Drastic, but problem solved.)

My guess is that if your money is out of bounds/access, he may try to steal from dad, and then that's between those two.

Have you two (parents) also considered family counseling? The reason I ask is that this seems like real "cry for help" behavior. Most kids I know don't *like* to get into trouble, but they do get some much-needed attention from it. You and your husband also need to get on the same page, because in a year or two, your stepson will be legally an adult.... if your husband is having a difficult time having his son maintain common respect to people, property and rules, this is only going to get worse. You need to have a plan going forward so you are not living with grown adult child who feels he can just do what he wants and that no one will say otherwise.

Just some things to think about.


answers from Jacksonville on

My first suggestion was going to be just that---don't leave cash anywhere he can gain access to it. However, I am trying to figure out what I would have to do were I to try to follow that advice myself, and I don't know where I would keep my cash, since I would NOT go around without any cash.

I suppose you could put your purse in your nightstand when you go to bed. Or hide it somewhere else, depending upon the layout of your house. Our bathroom is off of our bedroom (you have to go through our bedroom to access it) and our closet is on the far end of our bathroom (you have to walk through both our bedroom and THEN our entire bathroom to get to our bedroom closet). So, in my house, I could put my purse in my closet (hidden somewhere). It wouldn't prevent access completely, but it would make it REALLY obvious if a child were looking for it. My kids don't ever go in my closet. Only rarely do they go to our bathroom door. Not because they aren't allowed, they just don't. It's kind of private space that they recognize. So if my kid were hunting my purse down, it would be plainly evident they were on the prowl...
My problem would be if I needed to access my purse myself, after husband was already gone to bed with the door closed. :/

Good luck.



answers from Boca Raton on

IMHO it's not just the behavior (alleged stealing) that's bothering you - it's your husband's attitude about it all. This sounds like a long-running issue in your marriage.

I'm the bio-mom in my (re)marriage. If my husband felt the way you do I'd rather him leave than harbor resentment, for years, against my son. That's honestly how I feel. Your kid is your kid. That's just the way it is, at least for me. And I'm not justifying bad behavior.

The resentment may be completely justified. But I think at some point you have to either decide to deal with it or leave. Since he's heading off to the military soon the problem may resolve itself.

I also liked Jo's advice. I hope my comments don't sound harsh because I don't mean them that way. It's just that I sometimes think step-parents don't always "get" what it's like to be a bio-parent in some of these situations. It's so incredibly difficult to feel torn between your spouse and your child. If forced to choose I'm choosing my kid - never been a secret for me at least.

Wish you guys could get to some counseling . . .




answers from Austin on

A couple of thoughts: I'm willing to bet he already knows that you know. If he has a history of getting into trouble on purpose, then he is doing this to get a rise out of you. He had to know that you would notice.

Either that, or this has been going on for a very, very long time, and he started small. When that wasn't noticed, he got bolder. If that is the pattern, I would hide your credit cards, too. After all, how often do you have to sign for credit card purchases these days? Also, if this HAS been going on for a long time, then I would expect him to get angry that his accustomed source of income is gone.

Be ready to defend yourself, though. Because just based on all of this, it doesn't seem to be too far-fetched to imagine that if he starts stealing from his dad, and if his dad is as delusional about his behavior as you suspect, the son won't be the first one blamed. I can't imagine he'd really think that you would steal from him, but it is going to be hard for him to admit that his kid would.

I had a girlfriend whose daughter was caught stealing, on multiple occasions (once, by me). It took years for her to admit there really was a problem, and not that "they were all out to get my child."

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