Can savers & spenders get married


They say opposites attract, but, when it comes to money matters, should you really marry someone whose beliefs and values about money are totally different from yours?

What if you believe in saving, but the person you are going out with enjoys spending their money rather than keeping it for a rainy day? What if you’ve been happily supporting yourself, but your partner comes with parents who he or she supports financially? Should you marry this person or even consider going out with them if you have such different obligations and perspectives when it comes to money?

If you have doubts about getting serious with someone who’s always in the red, you’d be forgiven for being a bit apprehensive – one of the biggest reasons couples head for the divorce court in South Africa is because they worry terribly about money and end up fighting about it.

According to records produced by Stats SA last year, our divorce rate is at its peak.

Winnie Kunene, a financial psychologist and a trustee on the board of Truth About Money, a 1Life initiative, says: “If you can’t agree on money issues, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get married. But 50% of divorce cases [in South Africa] cite money as the reason for the split. However, this may be because the couple doesn’t take money issues seriously.”

The rest of the world is not doing much better than us.

Sorè Cloete, Old Mutual’s senior legal manager, says: “In an international study [by Ameriprise last year], which looked at more than 1 500 couples who are either married or living together, it was found that one in three couples – including those who said they were happy in their relationships – argue about money at least once a month.”


Talking about money, your ambitions and even your mistakes will most likely kill most romantic intentions. Laying all your financial woes out on the table will be hard, particularly if you have any judgments against you or if you have accumulated thousands of rands in debt, but commentators believe that the earlier you open up about your obligations and financial habits, the better.

Stacey Lewis, a divorce coach, mediator, author and founder of the online community hub The Divorce Source, says: “I knew there was potential for a serious relationship with my current husband when I decided to have a conversation early on about money. I decided that, if he ran away, it wouldn’t work anyway, but he didn’t run away. Although it’s a massive passion killer, conversation around attitudes regarding household expenses is vital.”

As South African couples increasingly find themselves under financial pressure, Cloete says that she understands how issues around finances can cause friction in a relationship. For some couples, it may feel like the best thing to do is avoid the issue of money altogether, but sticking your head in the sand will get you nowhere as the financial situation in the country worsens.

“The recent increase in the petrol price, coupled with rising food prices and crippling taxes, has left the average South African consumer – many of whom are already up to their ears in debt – under extreme pressure. This sort of pressure can play havoc in a relationship, especially when partners don’t see eye to eye on their spending habits,” says Cloete.

Debt, differing levels of income and responsibilities to dependent extended family members lead to added pressure within relationships.

“Debt is often seen as ‘financial baggage’ and, when one partner has more debt than the other, issues around finances can compound quickly.

“Then there is the common issue of one partner earning significantly more than the other, or where only one partner is working. These scenarios often result in an uneven balance of financial power, which prevents a couple from tackling their financial issues as a team.

“Lastly, the issue of having to look after extended family members can be a major source of financial tension in a relationship. According to the Financial Services Board, only 6% of South African retirees are actually financially independent at retirement, while the remaining 94% are dependent on their families, friends or government,” Cloete says.

“This often results in portions of one or both partners’ salaries being diverted to help support extended family members, which can create a feeling of resentment if not properly discussed and agreed upon.”


Getting into a relationship with someone who has money problems sounds like a bad idea at the outset, but some experts believe relationships can be rescued – provided certain measures are put in place and followed by both parties.

“It doesn’t mean things can’t be remedied. But, to make sure you don’t end up getting divorced over money issues, you have to make sure there is honesty, transparency and openness when it comes to finances,” says Lewis.

She advises couples to open a joint account into which each partner deposits a set amount every month. All the main obligatory monthly expenses will be paid out of this account.

“These include pension funds, school fees and home loans. Then, if there is any cash left over, the saver can save how he or she wants to and the spender can spend how he or she wants to. I’ve seen many relationships work if there is a system in place. But if there isn’t a system in place, animosity and resentment are given space to flourish,” says Lewis.

This animosity could lead to perpetual unhappiness and, eventually, divorce.

Lewis cautions those who are in a committed relationship to think carefully before they decide to get divorced due to money problems.

Aside from the expense of the divorce, which can cost R8 000 for an uncontested divorce to R250 000 and upwards for a contested one, there are other costs involved when a couple calls it quits.

“You will be poorer because the divorce itself will cost a fortune and, once single again, you’ll need to pay for and run your own household and get your own medical aid, for example. Unless you are a Hollywood wife, you are not going to benefit from divorce,” says Lewis.

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