10 ways to make your relationship ‘financially intelligent’
Money and discussions about money can be some of the biggest stresses that couples experience. With the extra uncertainty of the pandemic, people across all income brackets are struggling to make ends meet. Relationships Australia NSW CEO Elisabeth Shaw explains how to finance-proof your relationship.
Pandemic or no pandemic, financial stress, and disagreements about money are one of the most difficult issues for couples to resolve and a significant factor in many divorces. With the advent of COVID-19, financial strain for many couples has increased in a way they never could have imagined. People across all income brackets have experienced job loss, reduced hours, major loss of income, and are struggling to make ends meet.
Feeling in control of our finances provides a solid foundation for general wellbeing, so what makes it so difficult for couples to get themselves onto the same page when it comes to money management? If only it was as easy as adding up income and expenses and not spending more than we earn, but the process instead becomes complex and emotional through the different and unique meanings we attach to money.
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10 ways to help you navigate the financial minefield
1. The taboo on talking about money
We discuss many intimate details of our lives with friends and family, but discussing finances is somehow taboo. We can feel left in the dark when it comes to knowing how to manage money—as if we haven’t been let in on some special secret. Feelings of shame and low self-worth can arise. Learning how to talk with each other about money is the first step and takes time, focus, and effort.
2. Regular money dates and ground rules for talking about money
Many experts suggest that couples should schedule regular money dates to discuss and review their finances. A private place is needed with no distractions including mobile phones.
This process might be challenging and will take patience. Approach what your partner has to say with respect and an open mind. Keep calm, listen, and try not to be judgemental.
Avoid labels like “irresponsible” or “selfish”. Watch how you treat each other’s concerns. Do you dismiss them or do you take them seriously? This is not about one partner being right and the other wrong, but about finding a shared pathway of compromise that will lead to a positive outcome for you both.
3. Understand how you both view money
Reflect on how you were raised around money. How did your parents manage money? Were they frugal or did money burn a hole in their pocket? How did they talk about money?
Did they work together or did one control the finances? What worked and didn’t work for them? How do your beliefs about money lead to emotional patterns in relation to spending and saving? How do these beliefs contribute to conflict in your relationship? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask.
4. Overcome aversions to budgets
There is no avoiding it—a comprehensive budget provides a realistic, often confronting, picture of where your money is going. Many online resources guide us in creating a budget, whether it be downloading banking records into a spreadsheet or using a budgeting app.
Once you have the full picture, priorities, and goals can be agreed upon.
5. Discretionary spending or “fun money”
Many experts recommend each partner has some money they don’t have to account for and can spend as they want—as long as they stay within the budget.
6. Turn a crisis into an opportunity
It can take a crisis for us to make changes that have been a long time coming, such as finally dealing with finances in a proactive way. It also can be an opportunity to review some life goal priorities e.g. we have seen how some couples have used the pandemic as an opportunity to move to regional areas.
7. Beware of easy money
The easy money of credit cards and “buy now pay later” schemes lull us into viewing debt as normal. These schemes work for “transactors” who make payments before interest applies. “Revolvers” carry a credit card balance from one month to the next and are the major source of revenue for credit card companies.
8. Power imbalances
Money can create a power imbalance in your relationship e.g. one partner might earn more than the other, or one partner might not work at all.
The non-working partner might feel bad about not contributing financially, or the higher-earning partner might have concerns about how their income is being spent. Talk about your concerns together and tackle any issues as a team.
9. Honesty and financial infidelity
It is not uncommon for partners to keep secrets about money from each other such as credit card debt. This is the time to admit to anything you are hiding from your partner to avoid any future issues.
10. Use all resources possible
Check government supports and concessions as well as bank deferrals and payment plans, e.g. move credit card debt to a zero-interest credit card.
Financial concerns and difficulty talking about money are very common. Times of stress create a difficult emotional climate in which to approach it. One person unilaterally deciding about money to control the other is also part of a pattern of abuse.
Elisabeth Shaw is CEO of Relationships Australia NSW and a clinical and counselling psychologist specialising in couple and family work.