Love may still be in the air after Valentine’s Day, but do you and your partner agree on how much to spend on the celebration? How about on everyday expenses?
Money is an infamously thorny subject when it comes to relationships. After all, disagreeing over finances is a top reason why people get divorced. Like other tricky relationship issues though, talking about money is something better done sooner than later, before unsaid expectations and hurts pile up.
How can couples navigate the potential minefield? We take a look at some of the common issues that crop up when talking about money, and how to approach them in ways that minimise ‘explosions’.
#1 Disagreeing on how much to spend on something
He may think that every cent spent on a new car is worthwhile; she’d rather take public transport. She feels that dining out at restaurants are experiences worth splurging on; he’d happily eat cai fan from the hawker centre and save the money.
Sound familiar? It’s common to have differences in perspectives when it comes to how money is spent. What makes this especially tricky is how deeply rooted and subjective your points of view can be.
Something that may be essential spending to your partner, may seem like a frivolous expense to you. Your partner’s choice of what to spend on may cause you to feel incredulous or disconnected, or even suspect their responsibility.
The key is to be aware that these perspectives usually stem from each person’s values. While you may differ on how they are expressed, you can still respect and even agree on some of the underlying values.
For instance, one person may feel that a car is important because he/she feels that it will save time in commuting, allowing more time to be spent together as a couple. Whereas the partner may feel that taking public transport helps save money for holidays together.
Both partners actually value spending time together, but are pursuing this in different ways.
To address this issue, take a step back the next time you feel that your partner has spent a ‘ridiculous’ amount on something (or spent on something ‘ridiculous’). Instead of approaching your partner with your assumptions, which can cause defensiveness, ask openly about what this item/experience means to him/her.
Listen without judging and try to understand how it connects to their values.
#2 How to split the bills
In this era of women being just as able as men to earn their keep, it’s no longer taken for granted that men pay the bills. Differences of opinion on how much each partner should pay can become a topic of contention.
So discuss this before the situation comes up, especially if you foresee something to be a regularly occurring expense. Possible points for consideration include each person’s income and budget. These may shift with different seasons of life, so you may want to come up with an arrangement that accommodates changes.
For example, you could both contribute a percentage of your income to a fund used to pay for meals and household expenses. Or the partner with the higher salary could pay the mortgage instalments, while the other covers groceries and utilities.
There is no hard and fast rule; the point is to be flexible and come up with a practical arrangement that both partners are both comfortable with.
#3 Forgetting to pay bills
A letter arrives in the mail, or an SMS pops up. “Your account is overdue. Please arrange for payment…”
A late-payment notice can stir up anxiety and cause you to play the blame game, especially when it is the other person’s duty to settle a bill. Chances are though, that it was an honest mistake or carelessness on their part.
It could possibly even be a signal that they need your assistance, whether financially or administratively.
Whatever the cause may be, it helps to remind yourself that you’re on your partner’s team, and you want to support them in fulfilling whatever they’ve set out to do. Assess the situation by assuming the best first, like saying, “I know you’ve been meaning to get this paid, but you’ve also been working hard and it probably slipped your mind. Is there any way I can help?”
If the missed payments come down to a straightforward reason, such as forgetfulness, you can suggest practical solutions such as setting up GIRO or calendar notifications.
#4 Differences in financial priorities as a couple
Individual priorities are one thing, but a potentially even thornier issue could be your financial priorities as a couple. One partner’s goal could be to work hard and invest in order to retire early and travel, while the other prefers more work-life balance and is perfectly content with working for as long as possible. Or it could be something shorter term, such as what kind of property you see yourself living in and/or buying.
Whatever the scenario may be, it’s usually about one central issue: clarifying and agreeing on your shared dreams as a couple. Money is simply a means of achieving them.
Don’t put the cart before the horse – talk about these dreams, where you see yourselves heading towards and why. Then come up with a financial plan to support your shared dreams.
If one partner has a vastly different view from the other – say, retiring early compared to continuing to work – again, talk about the underlying values and how to work out a compromise based on these.
#5 Lying about finances
Discovering your partner is lying about finances – how much they have, spend, their debt or otherwise – can break the trust in a relationship. While it’s a difficult issue to navigate, the question to ask here is: why did the other person lie in the first place?
It could be that they were feeling unsafe or worried and insecure about being judged for how they handle their money.
That’s why it’s important to aim for open and judgement-free conversations about money from the start. Though easier said than done, this can go a long way towards building trust and healthy communication on financial matters.
And the uncovering of any deceit is a chance to let the other person come clean about why they felt the need to cover up their money management.
One reason why money can be such a sensitive topic, is because our attitudes towards it have been ingrained in us since childhood. It’s deeply personal, and can represent our security, goals, and self-worth to varying degrees.
The beauty of getting together with another person is the ability to be vulnerable with each other and find acceptance. It’s no different when it comes to money. The first step in any money discussion is to keep an open attitude and lay aside your own biases, to truly understand the other person’s point of view.
One financial matter that all couples can surely agree on is savings. Use these best dining credit cards to get cashback on your next romantic date.
Read these next:
7 Hidden Restaurants for Delicious, Wallet-friendly Dining in Singapore
101 Date Ideas For Couples In Singapore To Suit Every Budget
Should You and Your S.O. Get A Couple’s Credit Card?
Handling Finances As A Couple: Here’s How We Do It
Investing As A Couple? Follow These 7 Essential Tips For Success
By Cassandra Yeap-Andrean
A believer that the best things in life are free. Good deals come a close second.