Here’s a question: would you rather talk about death, religion, politics or your finances? According to research by Relate over a quarter of UK adults (26%) report that money worries are the biggest external strain on relationships. So no wonder many of us avoid talking about the subject altogether.
Whether you’re struggling or doing well there are many reasons why it’s really important to talk about finances as a couple.
It may be boring, difficult or awkward but talking about money but making plans together can head off a lot of stress and arguing later on. Arguments can easily escalate into serious conflict and not talking about money issues doesn’t mean problems go away, they can lead to serious consequences. Debt problems can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. When problems are kept secret or unresolved there will almost certainly be a loss of trust, which can affect a relationship as much as having an affair!
Serious money problems will almost certainly cause feelings of guilt and shame so it will be really important to be gentle when you communicate. Talking openly is the best way forward and you may want to get help (we’ve listed some help below).
Another reason for couples to talk about their finances is that people typically have different spending and savings habits and it’s important to understand these and work together. One of you might be happy to spend freely but the other prefers to save every penny, which causes tension. You might both be happy to spend but have different attitudes to debt; with one happy to max out credit cards and the other not.
Our spending and savings habits are often picked up from our parents and caregivers. If we grew up in an environment where parents worked hard, saved and spent carefully then we might want to be just like them. If no-one ever talked openly about money then it’s likely we won’t be open either.
Although we’re strongly influenced by the way we grew up we might want to manage money very differently. For example, some people may want to buy their kids ‘all the things they never had growing up’. While the sentiment is good, the practice may be bad.
It may not be obvious but we have an emotional connection to money and it can be really helpful to understand what’s beneath the surface of our money management. For many people, money is a measure of their value and success, and so buying expensive clothes and other luxury items may be closely linked to self-worth. For others money gives freedom and independence. Or money could bring a sense of security, which is why some people are careful, risk averse and like to save.
In relationships, money can be a source of control or power and so it’s vital to find a healthy way of managing it together. A 2017 report from the Netherlands found that couples who make joint decisions have fewer financial problems: they have a better overview of their financial situation and are more likely to have financial goals and plans for their future. Making joint decisions also leads to more harmony in the home (the report also showed benefits for children).
Managing finances as a couple also means you can plan in generosity to others. Drawing up a budget together will enable you to have control over many things: matching income and expenditure, planning savings; long-term (for things like cars, a home, pension) and short-term (holidays, Christmas) and allow you to make room for giving to a church, charity or cause that is important to you.
So how best to start a conversation about money that is less likely to get tetchy or negative?
Toucan, a free app for couples, recently released a module about money to help those in relationships handle their finances really well. Whether you’re doing ok or having some issues the app is totally interactive and helps create a shared understanding around money. You’ll hear couples share their experiences, good and bad, around finances in bite-sized video clips to prompt conversations. Toucan also provides you with helpful tools to achieve your financial goals, manage change and more. Check out this free resource produced in collaboration between FamilyLife and CAP. Toucan
There are many reasons to motivate us to have those important conversations around money. Life is busy but it’s worth making the time and effort to handle finances really well.