Having the money talk with your significant other

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Image: Getty
Image: Getty

While we get that it may not quite make the #1 spot of “romantic things I’d like to enjoy with my partner,” your finances impact on both of you, making it an essential conversation in any serious relationship.  

“Money plays a central role in our relationships,” says Wealth Coach and Financial Advisor, Lianne Lutz of Women’s Wealth.  “Financial decisions impact on ourselves as well as our partners, so having an understanding of each other’s values, goals and financial habits increases the chances of establishing a solid successful relationship.”

We take a look at what needs to be brought to the table in a money conversation with your partner, to create a strategy for handling money that works for both of you.

The first step

Take it slow.  Schedule a time to have the talk.  Agree it may be a little uncomfortable, so start with more neutral subjects such as financial goals before diving into more sensitive topics such as debts, salaries and spending habits.

“Set ground rules from the get-go,” says Lianne.  “In order for the talk and your relationship to work, you need to agree on transparency, honesty and respect in your treatment of the subject and each other.”

Agree on who pays for what

“Get the talk about payment responsibilities right into the open.  While it may be tempting to wait for the ‘perfect moment’, it is best to address it before it becomes a relationship issue that can no longer be ignored,” says Lianne.

As a couple you need to start thinking in terms of “our finances”.  This means learning what each of you earn, so that each person contributes to the home and financial goals according to their earnings.  

Discuss who is going to pay for monthly expenses like the rent, utilities, groceries, entertainment and other expenses.   Create a budget of your monthly expenses to distribute payment fairly and have an overall picture of your costs as individuals and as a couple.

“Factor in an emergency fund for unforeseen expenses,” advises Lianne.  “This can be done with a joint account which can cover the costs of repairs and damages, adding financial security to your relationship and providing a buffer against stress in the event of unexpected expenses.”

Set Common Financial Goals

Use team work to establish goals that excite both of you.  It can be a holiday, saving up for a home, buying new furniture.  Whatever it is leverage the power of team work with both of you supporting each other and working towards the realisation of your goals as a couple.  Commit to setting up a savings account where you both put away an agreed amount on a monthly basis.

This is a good time to discuss debt and ways of crushing it.  Debt is not an easy topic.  It makes us feel vulnerable and, in some cases, can even be a deal breaker. “It’s vital to be honest about your financial situation.  Secrets are dangerous and inevitably catch up with you later.  Create a plan to pay off debt as soon as possible to reduce stress on your finances and relationship,” advises Lianne.

Separate accounts

While this may sound counter intuitive to being a united couple – if you are both working, then having your own account is important. While you may be establishing a future together, there are unfortunately no guarantees in life.  A person can get retrenched, get sick, or you may even get divorced.  Of course, one hopes that this will never be the case, but each person in the relationship needs to be able to support themselves as a form of self-protection so that you can maintain your current lifestyle no matter what happens,” comments Lianne.

In the case of someone in a relationship who isn’t earning money, this partner must have a say in all financial matters impacting on the home, relationship and family.  Often in this case, the partner may not be bringing revenue to the home, but there is contribution in other ways such as maintaining the home or looking after the children. 

“Respect and acknowledgement for each other’s role is vital in this dynamic, establishing a healthy and successful relationship in order to avoid any power play taking place,” states Lianne.

Setting boundaries

Having a discussion about money enables you to explore your financial compatibility as a couple.  Understand each other’s financial values and philosophies, exploring areas such as how you spend or save money, whether or not you want to save up for a long-term goal or splurge on something fun in the moment.

“You need to understand each other’s spending and savings habits,” says Lianne. “Different habits don’t mean the end of your relationship, in fact if one of you tends to save more, while the other is more impulsive with buying it could be a good financial fit, with each of you balancing the other.”

While you both want to have a sense of independence being able to buy items for yourself, you also need to have an upfront agreement regarding which things need to be discussed jointly before purchasing.  Set boundaries for threshold spending.  This can mean that anything over a certain amount for e.g. R2 000 needs to be discussed together as a couple first.

Conclusion

Finding a partner who shares and respects your financial values allows you to build a relationship with a solid foundation, both materially and emotionally. 

“Money is an essential part of a relationship.  Discussing it may not make the top of your list of romantic ideals, but having the conversation rubs your relationship right up against reality, laying the foundation for respect, openness and ultimately strengthening the bond between the two of you,” concludes the Women’ Wealth advisor.

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