Despite all those first dates, Valentine’s Day gifts, and even the wedding being funded by, dare we say it, ‘money’, it’s still a contentious topic over a candle-lit dinner. But, poor money management, reckless spending, and crippling debt are tearing households apart, because couples are not addressing the money talk early enough.
The latest findings on marriage from Stats SA revealed a 5% increase in divorce since 2012 and an increase in couples choosing to cohabit, rather than wed. According to South African attorney, Hugh Raichlin, finance is still one of the three biggest factors leading to divorce, next to lack of communication and infidelity. But, there are simple habits for a couple to build into their finances to help avoid age-old mistakes.
The 3 Biggest Finance Mistakes Couples Make
1. Not Knowing Your Partner’s Money Story
You can tell a lot about a person from their relationship to money. You can tell even more from their credit rating. If banks make an assumption of how likely a person is to honour future commitments based on their credit score, why shouldn’t you?
How you feel about money is often shaped by your experiences with money growing up. Same goes for your spouse. Brad Klontz, coauthor of Mind Over Money, says knowing your partner’s history can help you understand their attitude toward money. He uses the example of someone who has grown up poor and didn’t get to eat out. As an adult, he may like to eat out more to feel wealthier. If you constantly tell that person, “We can’t afford to eat out,” it sets off an emotional trigger.
Understanding the root of your spouse’s money behaviour will help you avoid trigger phrases. You can tackle issues with more compassion, and less arguments.
2. Splitting Finances
We all know opposites attract, and this applies to money as well. Savers marry spenders resulting in a struggle to reconcile their differences, so they split the bills down the middle, and the spending money too. This sounds reasonable, but partners can become resentful about individual purchases. That’s besides the fact that your spending power has now been halved.
On the other extreme, giving only one person access to the purse strings (because only one person works), means the other partner, in some cases, has to ask for money. This creates a terrible power dynamic that could potentially cause even greater resentment.
We live in a society that values independence, but money should never be a ‘his or hers’ affair. If something were to happen to the breadwinner and the finances were not equally accessible, how would the surviving spouse pay the bills? Or, if the bills were split, what if one of you wasn’t responsible with honouring the debt? Or, what happens if you lose your job?
How well you manage money as a couple, determines the quality of lifestyle you get to enjoy, both now and down the line. From the very get-go, combine your finances (this includes your debt). Make a budget together. Save, invest, and spend, together.
3. Financial Infidelity
Spending in secret, in business, is called embezzlement, and it’s punishable by law. When it comes to good money management, you never, ever want to keep anything secret. We get that it’s not easy telling your significant other you’re R100 000 deep in credit card debt, but it’s not something you can hide forever. If you have poor credit, it will come to light when you apply for a mortgage bond or car loan.
In fact, arguing about money early on is actually better than not talking about it at all. Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of Financial Infidelity: Seven Steps to Conquering the #1 Relationship Wrecker, says arguing about money can actually be good because you’re talking it out.
Plus, if you’re lying about money, what’s to stop your partner thinking you’re not lying about other things too? You can see how this can become a problem. Share the money, be transparent, and live happily ever after.