A survey conducted by Relationships Australia revealed that only 31 percent of women surveyed had talked about how their individual incomes would be shared before they committed to their current or most recent partner.
Let’s face it, it’s tricky to talk about money, especially with someone you care about deeply. Avoiding conversations about money might feel easier in the short term, but when financial stress is one of the leading causes of tension between couples, the best thing you can do is start early.
Here are some financial topics that are best discussed early in your relationship rather than down the track.
Be open about your financial habits
We all develop different values, attitudes and habits around money – some of us were taught from a young age how to save, while other might not know the first thing about budgeting. Swap stories with your partner and find out where your money beliefs come from – after all, their attitudes will affect you.
Some questions to ask could include:
- Are you a saver or spender?
- Do you set a strict budget or do you manage your money as you go?
- How did your parents handle money and what did they teach you?
- What does money mean to you? Is it about freedom and choice, having fun, or fear and insecurity?
- Are there any experiences around money that have caused you a lot of stress in the past?
Your approaches might be quite different, so set the ground rules and agree to talk about it without passing judgement. Keep an open mind, you may actually learn something from them too.
Set financial goals and get organised together
Once you and your partner understand each other’s approach to money, it’s time to get organised – together! Do your homework and assess your financial status, look at what you’re earning, work out your net worth, and be transparent with your partner about it. From here you can set some goals that work for the both of you and come up with ways how to achieve them collaboratively. Feeling that your partner is contributing to your goals and sharing the load will help negate any feelings of resentment down the track.
It’s also important to put some systems in place so you can keep track of everything:
- Know what you have and what you owe. List all your accounts and what’s in them, loans, investments, superannuation and insurances.
- Keep your financial information, including receipts and tax records, in one place you can both access them.
- Agree on how you will handle the finances. Will it be one of you or will you share the role? Agree on how often you’ll talk about money matters and set ground rules for those conversations to help minimise any tension. It may also help to make the conversations part of a ‘date night’ with a nice dinner and a glass of wine to take the formality out of them.
Get advice and ensure you’re both protected
If you and your partner are struggling to talk openly about money, a relationship or financial counsellor could help you build understanding and take the pressure off. The most important thing is that you can be open with each other and come to an agreement on how finances should be handled in your relationship, ensuring that the approach benefits both of you.
You may not like to think about the worst case scenario, but it’s essential that you have a plan in place should you separate – you don’t want to find yourself in a place where you’re responsible for debts or other liabilities you didn’t know about.
Never sign anything you don’t understand, and always read financial documents carefully. If you have any doubts, seek professional financial advice, especially before:
- guaranteeing a loan
- giving your partner joint permissions to your bank accounts
- becoming a partner in a business
It’s also wise to get professional support if you feel pressured by your partner, or you both feel pressured by someone else to do something with your money you don’t want to do. Exerting pressure on someone to hand over control of their finances or money is financial abuse and is should be taken seriously, visit Westpac’s website or the MoneySmart website to view more information about financial abuse and a list of organisations that may be able to provide assistance.
Talking about money is important at every stage in your relationship, and it’s never too late to start. Financial decisions that affect you both should be made together, and communicating openly will help you understand how both of you feel about money before it becomes an issue.
Working together, you can build a stronger relationship as well as a solid financial future.