Money. They say the love of it is the root of all evil. However, money itself might just be the root of all love problems.
Money is one of the most common sources of stress in relationships. It’s the topic that married couples argue about the most, and can be a big driver in the decision to break up. Student loan debt on its own may now be a leading cause of divorce.
Money problems in relationships come in many forms, from feeling like you don’t have enough of it to feeling like your partner is spending it all wrong. However, just because money can be a big stressor in relationships doesn’t mean it has to be.
Here are some of the most common money problems couples face, and how you can prevent them from hurting your relationship.
We’ve all heard jokes about spouses hiding receipts or shopping bags from their partners lest they get in trouble for spending more than they should have. It’s a plot point that’s often played for laughs on sitcoms. The reality, however, is no joke.
Financial infidelity, or lying to your partner about money, is a serious breach of trust. According to an NBC poll, 41% of respondents have lied to their partner about how much something cost, and 27% have incurred debts without telling their partner.
Not only is it financially bad to spend joint funds without telling your partner, but it erodes trust in the relationship and can cause problems on the emotional end as well.
If either of you have bad spending habits, you might need to work on them or even seek out help for a shopping addiction. If your partner makes you feel bad about treating yourself every once in a while, have a conversation about what your expectations are for how much money you can both spend each month.
If you find that your partner is lying to you about money, talk it out. Find out if there’s some bigger, underlying reason why they’re committing financial infidelity.
While it’s not right for your partner to lie to you, you both need to get down to the underlying reason for why they did if you want to start to resolve your problems. Maybe the issue is that you need to allot some space in the budget so you both have some discretionary money, so you can make your own purchases without feeling the need to defend them to one another. Get to the core of the issue so you can figure out how to solve it.
A couple’s therapist might be a good investment in this situation. However, if the lie was a big one with serious consequences, it may be grounds for a breakup.
Until you feel that your partner has addressed and resolved whatever made them lie, don’t further tie up your finances to theirs. Don’t co-sign any loans or open a joint credit card.
One Partner Is Bad with Money
While financial literacy is a skill that can be learned and improved upon, some people are just simply better with money than others. In fact, there’s evidence that suggests a person’s propensity to spend or save may be determined by their genes. People who are bad with money can often have the best of intentions, but still end up spending too much money.
Not everybody comes into adulthood with the same knowledge of how to responsibly deal with finances, and that’s OK. What is important is that each partner makes a commitment to work together going forward.
It can also be helpful to play to each of your strengths, rather than try to fight your partner’s natural tendencies. Often, the more financially responsible partner will take the lead on making the big decisions. However, that doesn’t mean that both partners can’t contribute to the financial health of the relationship.
Now, for the moment of truth: which one of you is bad at handling your finances?
If you’re the “bad with money” partner, you should focus on raising your level of financial literacy and figuring out what you need to work on.
Clean up your finances. If you have a lot of debt, create a plan to start paying it back. Pay off your debts with the highest rates first.
Start tracking your spending and figuring out how you’re spending your money. Once you know exactly how your money is being allocated, you can create a budget that reins in extraneous spending.
Identify any bad habits you have. Enlist help from your partner, as they might be able to point out things you may not have noticed, and help to hold you accountable while you work on them.
Find ways to trick yourself into being more financially conscious. Set up a direct deposit savings account so that a chunk of your paycheck gets saved before you can get your hands on it. Leave your credit card at home and just take cash when you go somewhere you’re likely to overspend.
Maybe you’re a financial rockstar and you feel like your partner is dragging you down with their bad habits.
Bad money habits are just that: habits. They aren’t necessarily signs of moral failings, and you should do your best to avoid labelling your partner as irresponsible or selfish.
Have a conversation with your partner about how their bad habits affect you, and ask what you can do to help them get better.
Make sure your partner is really committed to being a better financial partner, but don’t expect it to happen overnight. Change takes time.
If your partner has a lot of debt, ask them if they have a plan to pay it off. Their plan should be specific and attainable. If you’re married, you may consider helping them pay it off, especially if the debt is holding you back from your shared goals, like getting a mortgage.
You may also find it helpful to visit a financial advisor with your partner. Some may find it easier to accept advice from a neutral third party, especially if it’s coming from a professional.
One of You Wants to Share and the Other Doesn’t
Combining finances after marriage is pretty common, and even some cohabiting, unmarried couples find that combining finances in at least a few areas can be helpful in running a cohesive household.
However, keeping finances separate after marriage is a rising trend as more people prioritize financial independence.
There’s no right or wrong answer. Combining finances can make things like paying bills simpler and cultivate a feeling of unity for a couple. However, keeping them separate can be a plus for individuals who prefer feeling like they have autonomy. Plus, combining finances means if your spouse racks up debt on an account with both of your names on it, that debt affects you, too.
Only you and your partner can determine what makes sense for your relationship, but you should both be in agreement or at least be able to reach a compromise.
So, what do you do if one of you wants to combine your finances and the other thinks it’s a bad idea?
Figure out why you both feel the way you do. Is there a trust issue? Is that issue valid or based on past experiences? It may be that you only need a joint account for household expenses, while the rest of your finances are kept separate.
Be careful about combining finances with someone you’re not married to. There are legal protections in place for married couples going through divorce. This isn’t always the case for unmarried couples going through a breakup, and if your boyfriend or girlfriend decides to leave with all the funds in your joint account, it can be pretty difficult for you to get that money back. If you’re thinking about combining finances with your partner, draw up a contract that outlines who gets what in the event of a breakup.
Your Incomes Are Very Different
Differing incomes can cause serious resentment in a relationship. Sometimes, one partner will make significantly more money but expects everything to be split 50/50, putting a disproportionate financial burden on the lower earner. Conversely, the lower earner might expect the higher earner to cover all of the shared expenses every time.
If you’re trying to figure out a budget when you have different salaries, consider having each partner pitch in proportionate to how much they earn. Combine the amount you both make in a year and figure out what percentage each of you makes of that. Split bills and expenses accordingly.
It’s not likely that you’re going to find a partner whose financial ideals line up perfectly with yours. Maybe one of you wants to save for retirement while the other prioritizes short-term saving for vacations and big-ticket items.
However, if you plan on being in a long-term relationship with someone, you should have some common goals. At the very least, you shouldn’t have goals that are in conflict with each other.
If you decided as a couple to keep your finances separate, this might not be a big deal in the short term. However, if you plan on staying with this person for life, you should seriously consider whether you have conflicting or incompatible goals. If you’re busy saving for retirement while your partner is spending all their extra cash, are they going to be comfortable living a more frugal lifestyle than you in retirement? Will they suddenly become more interested in combining finances when there’s little time left to save for their golden years and you already have a good-sized nest egg for yourself?
Ultimately, you’ll need to decide what you’re willing to compromise on, and what are deal breakers.
Avoid All This by Keeping an Open Dialogue
The very best thing you can do for your relationship is to start talking about money as soon as things start to get serious.
Be open about your financial history, the good and the bad. If either of you have had delinquencies or bankruptcies in the past, you need to be honest about that. Talk about how much money you have and what your debts look like.
Remember that money is emotional and a lot of our feelings about money stem from our childhoods and the ways our parents talked about money. Understanding your partner’s emotions toward finances, as well as your own, can allow you both to approach conversations about money from a place of empathy and understanding, rather than stress, anger or defensiveness.
Touch base with your partner frequently. Plan a time every month to sit down and talk about finances. Use this time to bring up any concerns you have without being accusatory. Set limits on what you can each spend without needing to consult the other person. Be clear about boundaries you’re not willing to cross, like covering their share of rent. Be upfront early on about what your personal goals are, as well as what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not.
When issues arise, bring them up right away. Stay specific with what the actual issue is. Be fair, and be open-minded when you’re on the receiving end of a financial critique.
When to Walk Away
It’s important to approach your partner with love, empathy and an awareness of the issues you bring to the table as well. Nobody is going to be perfect when it comes to handling their finances – not your partner, not you.
But part of a relationship is being willing to grow in ways that make your relationship stronger and benefit you and your partner. If your partner has any bad money habits with serious consequences – making huge impulse purchases, gambling, lying about money, spending shared money without asking – and is unwilling to try to change, you might have to walk away.
Even if the consequences of their bad habits aren’t so high-stakes, being with someone who’s bad with money can take a toll on you long-term. Marrying someone who is irresponsible with money can end up being a lifelong struggle.
Every situation is different, and while there are many constructive ways to solve for some of these common financial problems that frequently spring up in relationships, if your partner is destructive and resistant to change, that may be a sign that you need to end it.
Do you have tips for how to deal with financial problems as a couple? Share them in the comments!
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