“I don’t care too much for money, for money can’t buy me love.” (The Beatles)
For many couples, money is a regular source of tension. And, unfortunately, this can have serious consequences.
In a study by researchers from Utah State University and Kansas State University published in 2012, the researchers found that financial arguments in a marriage are stronger predictors of divorce than any other common disagreements. And when you consider how much financial stress many people are under at the moment, this is a significant finding.
But money need not be a risk to your relationship. Couples can develop healthy ways to navigate this minefield. And that starts with having a shared approach to dealing with your finances.
Honest communication is a crucial first step. As soon as partners decide to start living together or begin to share any significant aspect of their lives, they should also start having conversations about their finances.
This might sound crude, but if two people are going to commit to living together, they should know what each of them earns, how much debt they have, and what their wealth goals are.
This is not about judgement or comparison. It is necessary to understand what each one is bringing to the relationship.
Being honest about this from the start means there is less chance of ugly financial surprises later. Having a clear understanding of each other's financial situation is also the first step in building a solid foundation for financial planning.
Couples should also recognise that historical gender roles can be a challenge. Unfortunately, there is still a widespread assumption that men are better at managing money than women.
This can negatively affect male partners who might feel like they have to take on this responsibility even if they don’t have the necessary skills to do so. Female partners might also think that they are being supportive by not questioning anything money related. The result is that neither really has a handle on the couple’s finances and that causes mistrust.
Same sex couples can also encounter problems since a lack of defined roles might result in neither partner taking responsibility, or both wanting to be in control and coming into conflict.
There is, however, no inherent reason why either men or women should be better at managing finances. And it is in any case far better for partners to work together to develop a shared understanding of their financial situation.
At a basic level, couples should budget together. Even in cases where partners keep separate budgets, there should still be agreement on who pays what when it comes to shared expenses like groceries or insurance. There should also be an understanding around how much it is appropriate to spend on non-essentials like streaming services.
Nobody wants to feel like they are paying too much or that their partner is not contributing their fair share. That is a guaranteed source of conflict.
To avoid it, partners could commit to paying a share of expenses in line with their incomes. That way fairness is established, and they both have a similar amount of disposable income each month.
A simple way to manage this practically is to set up a joint bank account into which each partner pays their share at the start of the month. All shared expenses are then paid from there.
Managing your finances should not just be a slog. Couples shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that their money should be an enabler that helps them to live the life they want to live together, rather than a burden.
It is important to have regular check-ins to make sure your financial situation is being managed, but to make this more fun and engaging it could double as a date night. This can also be linked to developing rewards to make financial goals more tangible.
To celebrate reaching a savings goal, or staying within budget, for example, a monthly date night could be upgraded to a weekend away. This creates a more positive atmosphere around financial planning, making it less of a chore and more of a shared goal.
Rewards don’t have to be big things. They could be a nice dinner or a something special for the home. Just the acknowledgement of a real reward can be a positive motivation for partners to stick to a budget and stay on track to reach their goals.
Ultimately, the key to successfully managing finances within a relationship is a willingness to work together. Having a shared understanding and appreciation that both partners have an important role to play, and that goals should be agreed on together will go a long way to reducing the risk of money ruining a relationship.
To discuss putting together a joint financial plan, speak to a professional.
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