Right from the very first date, money has a way of putting pressure on relationships. A man may be more than happy to open the woman’s door, take her coat and pull back her chair, but when it comes to picking up the bill, good-old-fashioned practices suddenly become a little controversial. Even if he does pick up the bill, there are other little hurdles to navigate: did he do it graciously? Should the woman have offered to go halves – or pay the whole thing? Should an awkward moment have been avoided at all costs? Over time there’s a lot more at stake than the cost of a meal; young couples reach for a rung on the property ladder, parents face a list of out-goings that grow at a more alarming rate than their children, and baby boomers grapple with the realities of retirement. As pressures mount couples many couples find themselves not only sweating the small stuff and questioning each other’s spending habits, but dealing with some pretty big controversial questions as well: are our financial habits and outlooks compatible? Could we, or should we, share a bank account?
No matter what stage you’re at and what your financial pressures are, there’s help available. Here are a few pointers to ensure financial frictions don’t get out of hand and put your relationship at risk.
Lay your cards on the table Unless you’re unsure if you can trust your partner, there’s little to be gained by keeping them close to your chest. Be open and honest about where your finances are at, both personally and as a couple. Air any concerns you have about how you’re currently operating. Let your partner know of any debts you’re struggling with, and any expenses you foresee. Which debt do you see as a priority? Do you prioritise clearing debt over saving? Many couples struggle with the guilt and/or burden that can result with having one stay-at-home parent and one main income earner. These kinds of issues are so much easier to deal with when there has been honesty from the start. Don’t give them the opportunity to flare up into bigger issues.
One way to ensure transparency is to write a household budget together. Once you’ve worked out your surplus you’ll know how much you have left over for discretionary spending such as movies, new shoes, etc. This may be per week or per month, it doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you’re both clear that once you’ve spent that amount, that’s all there is until the next month rolls over.
Try to see things from your partner’s point of view An important part of this is to understand the way your partner is wired. Are they naturally a risk taker when it comes to finances, or are they naturally risk adverse? Both types have their benefits, so appreciate the positive aspects of how your partner thinks. Be aware of your leanings as well, so you can foresee the potential frictions and dangers of putting your financial types together. A risk taker, for example, may feel completely at ease about getting a loan for a car, but the same loan may push their risk-adverse partner out of their comfort zone. In this scenario the risk taker needs to acknowledge the concerns of the risk adverse, and (assuming it’s a necessary loan) the risk adverse needs to make their peace that the risk is there, and the focus now needs to be on ways to mitigate it. One way to do this would be to set up a separate bank account for the repayments – obviously with regular payments going in.
It’s also to make sure you’re on the same page with basic financial principals. Do you agree on fundamentals such as what is an asset and what’s a liability? Aside from the basic living costs – food, shelter, clothing and transport – do you understand what your partner sees as priorities?
Know who wears the financial pants Not all couples are created financially equal. If one of you are naturally more financially savvy, it’s okay to let them take the lead on responsibilities like paying the bills, tracking spending, or driving the research behind financial decisions. Communication is the key here. For example one partner might write the budget, but he/she must then explain it, and get buy in on it, before the couple start acting on it. And make sure you fully understand and agree before you sign on any dotted lines.
Consider seeking financial advice if there is a big discrepancy between your points of view. An expert can take the pressure off by providing an objective professional opinion, and will help you identify the next step in meeting your financial goals.
Keep your eyes on the prize If you find yourselves fault-finding and splitting hairs, go back to the financial goals you’ve agreed on together and stay focussed on them. If these aren’t written down yet, get them on paper. It’s a lot easier to remained disciplined in your spending when you remember the purpose or cause – just as it’s easier to remain balanced on a beam when you’re looking at the end of it instead of your feet. With a bit of teamwork you can get there.
One last word – remember what you value. Take a step back and check yourself. Are you applying the same principles to your finances as you do in other aspects of your relationship? Honesty, patience, trust, generosity and perseverance are priceless, and go a long way in terms of keeping the peace!