How to talk about money with your partner

4 May, 2020

Head of CAP Money, Stuart, shares advice from his experience and expertise so you don’t have to learn the hard way

I like to be in charge. So does my wife. Let me tell you a short story of how that played out in our personal finances shortly after getting married…

Back when I was a single man, every payday I would fire up my internet banking and distribute my money across my spending account, regular payments account and various savings accounts. It was a chance for me to do a quick stocktake and allocate according to my priorities.

Once I got married my wife and I decided to continue this habit. ‘Very good’ I thought, ‘aren’t we such a well organised couple, what a good opportunity to get on the same page with things.’

And so, on my payday my wife Sammi and I sat down and distributed my money across my various accounts according to my priorities — anyone spot my rookie mistake? Let’s just say we had a… strong discussion.

Let’s consider three things I learned after this first budget night (better you learn it from me than for yourself — seriously!). Talking about money with your partner is a cornerstone in both your finances and relationship; it’s best to get some things straight, so these conversations bring us together rather than drive us apart!

1.       What’s yours is mine
I was the sole wage earner at this time as Sammi was still studying, so I thought of my money as all mine.  This way of thinking can cause a major power imbalance. Let there be no distinction between the money you make and your partner makes — you’re in this together and your money should reflect that. All the money that I earn and all the money that my wife earns is how much the Sampsons earn as a whole. Thinking of your income as joint prevents any jealousies or insecurities about ‘who earns more’, because it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same. Even though my wife was not able to earn as much money as me, the fact that we learned to practice ‘what’s yours is mine’ meant I could never turn around and say something like, “Well I earn the money so I get the final word” — using money as a power move is not how any loving spouse treats their partner.

2.       Sharing is caring
Our bank accounts were still all separate at this time, and this caused significant mistrust. Because Sammi couldn’t see where all of our money was, she felt excluded. While we do like to talk to each other before making big purchases, it was embarrassing for her to have to call me if I forgot to transfer coffee money into her account! Having separate accounts can create mistrust, which is definitely a relationship killer. I know some partners may take a ‘don’t know, don’t care’ attitude to the household budget, however, it is still worth sharing your banking. They don’t have to check it if they don’t want to, and the trust it shows you have in each other will set you on a good path. Again, you’re a team, so act like it!

3.       Go the same direction
One thing we quickly learned that first budget night was that we had some different goals, priorities and opinions when it came to how we should spend our money. Before we could start moving in the same direction it was important to get points one and two sorted, so there was no power imbalance or mistrust. Getting those two things sorted made setting our priorities a lot easier. We started simple, each writing a list of our goals and priorities both short-, medium- and long-term. Then we compared them and talk through each point, listening to each other. Once we had both shared our list, together we put them in order of most to least important. It took a couple of tries to really feel like we were on the same page, but now we are going in the same direction with our money and we are stronger together because of it.

It really is amazing how many of us avoid talking about money with our family. Sometimes we think we’ve already had the conversation, but it’s really just been in our head (just me?).

Having healthy conversations about money is not just about building financial resilience but building a solid foundation for your relationship. And remember, talking about money is about more than the numbers, because the way we use our money reflects both who we are and who we want to be. Budget night is actually an amazing way for me to get to know my wife a little better!

For help getting started with your money conversation, let me introduce you to a CAP Money Coach. They will help you work out a simple way to organise your household budget, which should make the conversation a little easier.