Bills, budgets and debt might hardly be the stuff of romance but talking money with your partner can be key to a healthier financial relationship.
So how do you start these awkward conversations? If it’s a new relationship, going in lightly may be more effective. For example ask: “What would you do if you won $1 million?” Their answer should give you some insight into what they value and whether they’re a spender or a saver. Going straight in with “Do you have a spending problem?” may not work out too well on your first date.
Before you jump into any money talks, it’s a good idea to make sure you are both in the right frame of mind. Setting up fiscal date nights can help to break the ice. Bring a bottle of wine, sparkling mineral water or whatever it takes for you two to get into a money mood. While you should never be short on money topics, here are five themed fiscal date nights to get you started.
1. Confession night
Don’t panic! I’m talking about letting your loved one in on how much debt you’re lugging around.
If a person brings a ridiculous amount of debt into the relationship, who’s responsible for it? What would you consider ridiculous? How did this debt come about? The answers to these questions will reveal a lot about your partner. A student debt, for example, is understandable. A debt from an overseas holiday, maybe. A gambling debt? Cause for concern.
The more open you are with how the debt came about, the easier it will be for you two to work through it. Write down a list of what you owe and the interest you’re paying. Put the good debts to one side, then focus on how you intend to pay off the bad ones.
If you can’t agree on who pays what, then it may be worth seeking additional help from an adviser or money counsellor. Red flags should pop up if your partner is cagey on the details.
Even good debt like a mortgage needs to be discussed. You don’t want to be supporting them at your expense as you build your assets as a couple.
2. Apple pie night
Apple pie night is all about how you two lovebirds intend to manage your expenses. How do you share the apple pie? If you intend on sharing a bank account, what’s the objective? A joint account can make joint payments such as mortgage, rent and other bills easier to manage. What if one of you earns more than the other? Do you work on a percentage of your salary to put towards your bills? A good compromise can be a joint account for bills and/or investments, and separate accounts for personal savings.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to how you manage your money but it is important to have the conversation. Here are four ways you could handle your cash as a couple.
What’s mine is mine
You keep your earnings separate, as you do with your bank accounts. You may decide on a joint bank account for bills or you may decide to pay the bills directly from your own accounts. You work out what your joint expenses are and decide on how you split the bills – either 50/50 or if your salaries differ you can agree on a percentage of your income. You communicate regularly and support common financial goals. You’re mindful that just because you have separate bank accounts you don’t spend at the expense of your joint commitments.
What’s mine is yours and yours is mine
You’re happy to share everything in a joint account. It works for you because you’re able to keep an eye on everything (including your individual purchases). You both have similar spending habits but to avoid any argument you put rules around how much each of you can withdraw before having to consult one another.
Your legal affairs can also be easier with a joint bank account. If one spouse dies, the other will be able to access the funds in a joint account without having to go through the legal system. On the downside, if the relationship ends there’s nothing stopping your loved one from clearing the account and doing a runner.
Your shout but it’s no favour
One of you is the homemaker or earns considerably less than the other. The main income earner pays this partner an allowance that’s transferred to their own account. The value of the allowance depends on what you both agree this money is to be used for. If it’s for bills and groceries, then it would be considerably more than if it were just for personal expenses. The allowance is never seen as a favour. You have a joint account for bills which both partners can access.
I’ll take care of that, you take care of this
Perfect for blended families or couples who may have commitments outside their current relationship, such as student debts or another child. Each partner picks a bill or expense that they are responsible for. It doesn’t necessarily need to be equal. Couples need to agree on how this may affect their ability to reach joint financial goals so as to avoid any arguments down the track.
3. Role play night
The idea here is a little like truth or dare. Truth: “If you won $1 million what would you do with it?” If they answer “First-class tickets to Las Vegas, Mercedes-Benz SLC convertible, Ducati and pool for the kids,” then you’re dealing with a spender. But what if they answered: “I’d give most of it to my mum and dad – after all they raised me!” Will that cause a problem? You’ll be surprised at what comes out of role play nights.
Here are some other questions you can ask:
- If you had to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 1000 – 1000 meaning you’re great at handling money – what would your score be? Believe it not, somebody is rating you and if you’re about to join your finances together it may be worth knowing what credit score your partner has.
- If your mate Robert asked you for $5000, would you give it to him? Again, the answer to this question will give you an insight into how your partner manages their money. There’s nothing wrong with your partner helping out a friend but will they do it properly – because a bad debt will come back to haunt you. I learnt this the hard way. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still happy to help out but now I either just gift the money – far easier and I can never be disappointed (it’s also good karma) – or if it’s a big request I set up a formal arrangement.
4. Goal night
Does your partner need help putting a plan in place to pay off their credit card? Do you need a little motivation to stop spending? Whatever your money secret, don’t be afraid to share it with your partner.
Identify what’s important to you and what’s important to both of you, then put some plans in place to reach your goals. Group them into immediate (under one year), short-term (one to three years), medium-term (three to five years) and long-term (five years or more).
If this is overwhelming and it stops you from acting on anything, don’t overthink it. Keep it simple, such as saving three months’ rent “just in case”.
5. “What if” night
“For richer, for poorer.” Sounds reasonable at the time but when the going gets tough most couples choose to go their separate ways. “What if we break up?” is not a ridiculous question to ask. Anyway, it’s only hypothetical.
Protecting your interest and your partner’s interest is best for all, and one way you can both do this is with a prenup. It’s even more important if you’re coughing up after a divorce, where you’ve already been through the ravages of a property settlement and you want to protect assets so that you can pass them on to your children from your previous relationship.
This is an edited extract from A Real Girl’s Guide to Money: From Converse to Louboutins (Bauer Books, RRP $24.99) by Effie Zahos.
About Effie Zahos
Canstar’s Editor-at-Large, Effie Zahos, has more than two decades of experience helping Aussies make the most of their money. Prior to joining Canstar, Effie was the editor of Money Magazine, having helped establish it in 1999. She is an author and one of Australia’s leading personal finance commentators, appearing regularly on TV and radio.
Main image source: wk1003mike (Shutterstock)