Financial issues are a hot topic in marriage; finances are the number one reason couples divorce. It has been estimated that money issues are a high factor in about 90% of divorces. I don’t believe anyone wants to be part of that statistic, and yet many partners are afraid to have the ‘finance talk’.
The statistics alone should be reason enough to talk about money, but most couples hope that it will just take care of itself. Psychologists say that for many couples finances are harder to talk about than any other subject.
It turns out that talking about personal finances is a big issue for a lot of people. A survey by Wells Fargo (an American bank) revealed some interesting statistics about what people consider to be tricky subjects.
Topics people find it difficult to discuss with others:
personal health (20%)
Yes, right up there at the top of the list is that stinker of a subject, money. For those of you who feel like dismissing this as a cultural issue, let’s take a look at the Brits:
‘A new study has revealed that people in the UK find it easier to discuss mental health and infertility than they do money.’
You may find that it is a difficult subject for you too, but be brave and broach the topic with your fiancé/e. Don’t brush it under the carpet!
Why is it so difficult to talk about money?
There is definitely a cultural taboo around the topic of money. If you’ve ever been in a situation where someone has asked how much you make, which tax bracket you’re in or if you have any debt you’ve probably felt appalled.
How rude! Right?
That’s because we’ve some cultural rules and boundaries set in place. I know my immediate thought when someone asks me about what my income is, ‘It’s none of your business’!
In most cases that’s true. What gives someone else the right to that personal information? Strangers shouldn’t know what you earn, many friends and family members don’t have a right to know either but your partner should. They are the one you’re going to be doing life with so if you want to avoid problems in the future honesty is the way to do it.
Fear of Judgement.
Finances are often entangled with identity. That’s why people take pride in the car they drive, the brands they wear and the place they live. Money may provide a positive status for some, but for others, it devalues their worth.
That’s why so many people hide the truth. Everything can look good on the surface, but it might not be an accurate reflection of the facts. The bank could be payrolling your spending habits, not your salary.
“You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” — Warren Buffet
Anyone getting too ‘up close and personal’ could discover everything isn’t as hunky-dory as it seems. Being transparent can pop the illusion, but it’s necessary to have that ‘talk’. If you’re thinking about hiding the facts from the person you intend to do life with, then you’re on the road towards a rocky relationship.
If you fear judgement regarding how much you earn or how you spend your money, you’ll also fear the finding out. You’ll find yourself hiding your purchases in the wardrobe and telling lies about how much something cost. That’s not the basis for a healthy relationship.
Healthy relationships are established on honesty and trust. The first person you need to be honest with is yourself!
How do you deal with finances?
Frequently couples struggle because they both have different attitudes to money. What is yours?
Head in the Sand
Some people adopt the “head in the sand” position. They would prefer to ignore the problem rather than acknowledge that it is there and it needs a solution.
It is essential to talk about your financial issues so you can navigate your way through the difficulties. Many people don’t want to talk about the problem because they fear rejection, blame or even shame.
If you already have debt from student loans etc. don’t ignore them! Make sure that your fiancé/e knows your financial position. Take steps towards clearing the debts and getting your feet on a secure financial position. Courses like those Crown Financial Ministries or Financial Peace University have to offer are great resources to help you on the right path.
Head in the Air
Unrealistic expectations are a source of grief in some marriages. Have you been ‘Daddy’s little girl’ and used to getting whatever you ask for? Are you a son who has his every whim met? You must be realistic; you both need to know the income and expenditure situation so that you can make sound financial decisions.
The “head in the air” personality type only hears “for richer” and not “for poorer” when they say their vows. It’s easy to become disappointed and critical when financial concerns occur. Start by taking responsibility for your spending now! Don’t spend what you don’t have.
Reliant on Credit Cards
Relying on credit cards in the hope that your financial situation will change soon and you will be able to get back on track is dangerous! Some people say that when they use credit cards, they don’t feel like they are spending real money. They feel less guilt than using cash, so they spend more.
“Act your wage.” — Dave Ramsey
If credit cards give you a false sense of your income cut them up and use cash. If you already have a high credit card bill start working to pay it off so that you aren’t throwing money away on high-interest charges.
Saver rather than Spender
Having money sense and having good budgeting skills is essential. A ‘saver’ usually has their head screwed on financially but can have trouble being generous. Make sure you have the right balance!
Couples usually hit issues if one is a saver and the other is a spender, so make sure you agree on your budget. Decide which portion of your income you are going to save and make sure you allow some ‘fun money’ in your budget.
“A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” — John C. Maxwell
By the way, when I said decide I meant decide together! If you’re going to be a couple, then plan for living like you’re married not married singles.
When you fall into the trap of retaliation spending, let’s face it emotion has overridden logic. Logic seems to play a part in the process but believe me it’s minor. You might convince yourself that you ‘deserve’ to spend, but that usually means ‘I feel bad and this will make me feel better’.
Couples can fall into the ‘he spent so I can spend’ trap without taking into consideration the impact that behaviour will have long term. When people get angry with each other, they can adopt “revenge” behaviour.
Since we work to get money and money often is a representation of our life and value, the logic continues, “If I hurt their pocket I hurt them”.
If you have found that you are already doing this, have an honest conversation about it. Although I’ve used the term retaliation spending, not all spending is motivated by anger or revenge. It sometimes happens under the guise of ‘it’s only fair’.
Since you are getting hitched there is no harm in getting on the same page financially before you say your vows. What do you both consider ‘fair’?
The way you handle your wage as a single person may have to change radically when you settle down. A fifty-fifty split might seem fair if you’re on a similar salary but what if you’re not. Will it be appropriate for one of you to live the high life while the other struggles to buy necessities? How will you handle your finances when you have kids?
Don’t assume you have the same expectations. Talk about it and if you don’t agree, keep talking until you do or consider going your separate ways.
Usually, in a relationship, both people contribute to financial problems. If “blame” is the pattern in your relationship, then you need to make an effort to see both sides of the situation. These cracks won’t take long to reveal themselves on the run-up to a wedding.
If your partner is spending too much (especially on the wedding) have you communicated the budget?
Have you discussed and agreed on it together?
It can boil down to the speck and plank principle. You can see the problem with your fiance’s spending, but you can’t see the problem with your own.
Find the right time
So when is the right time to talk about money? It might be easier to answer the question “When isn’t the right time to talk about money?”
It isn’t the right time to talk about it when you are feeling angry. If a credit card bill has just come in and you want to “talk” about it, chances are it won’t be a “talk” it will be a “fight”. So don’t talk about it as a knee jerk reaction to a bill.
It is the right time to talk when you’re feeling calm, and you’ve got enough time to talk things through thoroughly. If you’ve only small windows of opportunity, then don’t let that put you off just divide up the discussion into bite-size pieces.
Know what you want to talk about
Discuss your backgrounds
Money has a past
This past is not just rooted in your own experience with finances but also in your family’s attitude. We often inherit our reaction to finances from our parents.
If your parents struggled financially and you had to watch every penny you spent then even when you have more than enough, you may tend to be “careful” about every financial decision.
If however your parents were affluent and did not have to worry about finances, you can inherit a very casual attitude to spending. Knowing about each other’s financial past can help us see each other’s point of view.
Discuss what money means to you
Money is not neutral
It causes emotions to arise within us, including fear, happiness, comfort, power, control etc.
What does money mean to you?
For me, it meant independence. When I gave up work to stay at home and look after the children, I felt pressure concerning finances. It felt like my independence was being stripped away even though we had a joint bank account. We had to identify the source of my stress concerning money and the feelings that went along with it. Only then could we approach the subject without it being emotive.
Being self-aware and understanding what finances represent to you is vital. Whether status, security, independence, or something else gives your partner an opportunity to see what filter you have in place concerning money.
What’s a filter?
A filter is a belief system that runs regarding a particular subject. We have many filters in operation because there are many things we have beliefs about. When we have a filter in place, it changes the way in which we interpret what someone else says. Often our response isn’t to the words themselves but to what we believe those words mean.
I plan to write another article on filters but here are a few examples:
poverty=laziness or poverty=unlucky
rich=hard-working or rich = born with a silver spoon in their mouth /spoiled
debt=normal or debt=irresponsible
These are just some ‘headline’ filters which summarise beliefs but take those and run them through relationship scenarios and you’ll often be left with a relational message.
‘We’ve too much month left at the end of our money’ could be translated as ‘It’s your fault, you’re lazy and good for nothing’.
‘It’s okay for your family to insist on having the best at the wedding, they’re rich’ could be translated as ‘Your family are spoiled and don’t know the first thing about real-life’.
Wedding discussions can quickly get out of hand when people feel a relational message coming their way. It might not be the one you intended to send, but their belief system is telling them otherwise. If this happens pause and ask them what they thought you said. Make an effort to interrogate your filters; there might be another perspective which could change your ‘truth’.
Talk about your wedding budget.
Here are some helpful questions:
- What do you absolutely need to have to feel married?
- What isn’t that important to you?
- Is this what you want, or is this what others expect? (Family, friends or society).
- How much is that in total? What seems like a small amount might really mount up when you multiply it over a number of guests.
- What will we have to do without long-term for this short-term spend? Remember plan for the marriage, not just the wedding.
Be willing to cut back on some areas so that you will be able to take the pressure off during the early months of marriage. It’s hard enough to navigate finances in your first year of marriage without adding a considerable credit bill every month!
Talk about the way your finances will work after the wedding.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- Will you have a joint bank account or individual accounts?
- If you chose to have individual accounts, what’s your motivation? If lack of trust is the reason for that decision, should you be trusting that person with your future?
- How will the household bills be paid?
- How will you furnish your house?
- What do you think about buying things on credit?
- How do you feel about buying second-hand items?
- How do you feel about parental involvement in your finances? Loans etc.
- How do you intend to approach savings? What should your saving goals be?
- What do you consider to be a want, and what do you consider to be a need? Electronics, make-up, clothes, household items, vehicles.
- What will your budget be for gifts (not just for both of you but for the wider family and friends)?
by Lainey Hitchman