Money and marriage: Financially ever after

My Money Matters Written by  Mapalo Makhu 

Let’s be honest - it’s a challenging time for married couples right now.

You may be madly in love with your spouse, but with millions across the globe now unemployed because of COVID-19, many marriages are facing a financial crisis.

Face your fears and make a plan together

One of the key things right now is to have grace for each other, be sensitive if your spouse is feeling scared - share your financial fears with each other and acknowledge them.

Understanding those fears will help you to understand why your partner views money the way they do. It is also important not to allow fear to drive your decisions. Especially with your money. Fear should fuel you to get facts - make decisions based on facts, not fear.

Take debt completely off the table

Debt will keep you paying for your past when you should be focused on your future. It’s tempting when you’re in a financial crisis to rely on debt, but it’s only going to increase your stress levels, so avoid making debt.

Share your dreams for the future with each other

Having a shared dream with your partner or spouse brings you closer together, when you share a dream, you work as a team.

How financially compatible are you: Learn about each other’s money personalities

How we handle and manage money gets cemented at a very young age, and every person has a distinct way of thinking about and dealing with their finances.

In a relationship, those distinctions can be the difference between being on the same page about your household finances or having money be a constant source of conflict.

To help you understand each other better, here are 5 money personalities that couples can identify with:

1.    The Spender

The spender loves to make money and spend it. They convince themselves that they work too hard and therefore they deserve to enjoy their money.

2.    The Saver

There is nothing that gives the saver more pleasure than knowing they have money at all times. They live for balancing their numbers, patting themselves on the back for saving a higher amount than they did the previous month and they feel secure only when their savings are at a specific level. They are mostly risk-averse, although they save, they do not go further and invest their money in income-producing or growth assets. They find putting money in the bank more secure.

3.    The Avoider

The avoider would rather not discuss the topic of money at all. They work, earn an income, spend and get involved very little when it comes to meaningful purchases such as investments, retirement or insurance. They live by the mantra: as long as I can put food on the table, I am fine. But they are really just fearful that they are not where they want to be financially, so they would rather ignore their financial situation.

4.    The Money Monk

As the name says, the money monk has mastered their finances. They have a good balance between saving, investing and spending. They are comfortable to talk about their finances. It gives them pleasure to look for new opportunities to make their money work for them. They are prudent but they also enjoy their money.

5.    The Cinderella

The Cinderella thinks that there will always be someone to take care of their bills. They can’t fathom making a financial decision for themselves, and they are not concerned about budgeting, what is a budget anyway! They haven’t got the slightest interest in learning about their personal finances; they can never have enough money, and every cent gets spent.

How to talk to your partner about money

Money is consistently the number one thing that couples fight about.

The problem with money is that it is never really about money. We often use money as a stand-in for deeper issues we do not want to discuss. We argue about the expensive new leather jacket, when what we are feeling actually may go much deeper.

Having a relationship where you can speak openly about money is very important, but it is not that easy.

So how do you talk to your partner that elephant in the room when it comes to money?

Here are some tips to help you with that dreaded money conversation:

1.      Get into the habit of talking about money on a regular basis, not just when there is a crisis. Make it at a regular time and place that is always in your diary.

2.     Find a place where you meet which is your “money” place. It must not be in your home but somewhere neutral, like a coffee shop. Get comfortable with your laptops and spreadsheets and find comfort in coffee and muffins – although sometimes a stiff drink would be more appropriate!

3.     At your monthly meeting, discuss the monthly budget and discuss your financial goals and how you will reach them. This is also the place to discuss money issues – like overspending on a credit card, for example.

4.     Decide how you will split your combined household expenses. Talking about this helps eliminate expectations that might end up causing fights about money.

5.     Have a “to discuss” box in the house where you can put notes on what you want to discuss. Leave your money issues for your monthly appointment.

6.    When talking about money, you also need to have a “no shame no blame rule”. Your partner will not want to talk about money if they feel “blamed”. Discuss the problem and find a way to resolve it together.

Make time to talk to your partner about what money means to you.

Here are some questions to discuss with your partner.

  • What role does money play in your life?
  • What needs to happen in the next few years for you to feel like you are making good progress?
  • What money mistakes have you made in the past that you want to avoid in the future?

So, if you're still single, next time you fill in those online dating questionnaires, the most important attribute may just be a synergy in the way you and a prospective partner view money.

Merging your finances

Even if you and your spouse are one of those financially independent couples where ‘his is his’ and ‘hers is hers’, when you live together, raise children together and hopefully retire together, there is an inevitable merging of finances.

On a really practical, day-to-day level, you need to figure out how you are going to pay for all those shared expenses.

Here are some options:

  • The joint bank account

Some couples may consider a joint bank account. While this may seem the easiest, most practical solution, it can be an administrative nightmare should a spouse die, as there is no such thing as a “joint” account.

In South Africa there is only one option, with a main account holder whose spouse has signing rights. This means that if the main account holder dies, the account is frozen, along with all the money to pay the bills.

  • Running a tab

Some couples work with the “running tab”. If you decide to keep your finances separate, then you need to have an arrangement as part of your monthly budget as to who covers which expenses. This arrangement only really works if you sit down and work out a proper budget.

  • The household bank account

Then there is the household bank account. In many cases, when a couple gets married, they already have their own bank accounts along with a relationship with their bank and their own credit history. It makes sense to keep banking the way you did, but then form a household bank account where each spouse deposits funds at the beginning of the month.

  • The household credit card

Finally, you could use a joint credit card, which would save on bank fees, but please ‒ remember to deposit your share into the account at the beginning of the month, and to retain a low credit limit to avoid overspending.

Should a wife have her own financial adviser?

We often hear stories of husbands dying suddenly or walking out after four decades of marriage, leaving their wives with no idea of where or how the family finances operated.

Every married woman should seriously consider having her own financial adviser, who has her best interests at heart.

And just because you may not be the main breadwinner, does not mean that you don’t have an equal right in managing the family finances; and it should definitely not be an excuse to leave it all to your partner.



Disclaimer: The advice contained on this blog is for general purposes only and does not take into account individual circumstances, objectives or financial needs. Accordingly, readers are advised to seek appropriate advice from licensed professionals prior to making any investment, or taking up a financial product or service.