1. Set The Atmosphere
Walking straight into a conversation about money when you can already feel tension in the room is not going to bode well for your financial chat. Life coach and relationship expert Olga Levancuka says it’s important to set a specific time for the two of you to sit down and talk about money and make sure it’s clear what you’ll be discussing: “Don’t just say to your partner that you want to have a conversation related to money issues and expect it to happen there and then. Mention the topic and say it’s something you need to sit down and talk about. This will give you both time to think about what you want to talk about feel ready for it.”
Maike Currie, Investment Director at Fidelity International, agrees that talking money isn’t the most romantic of topics. Before you sit down for your talk, she advises thinking about your own relationship with money – ask yourself: Are you naturally more of a spender than a saver?, Do you think of yourself as a risk taker? Do you have an eye on the future or are you all about the here and now? “It’s essential to make sure your savings are in line with your personal goals,” Currie stresses.
2. Leave Guilt Out Of It
There’s a huge guilt culture surrounding money, especially for women who earn more. But it shouldn’t be a source of shame if you’ve worked hard to earn it. Life coach Levancuka says feelings of guilt will only have a negative impact on your conversation: “It doesn’t mean you should feel obliged to pay for more if you don’t want to. Treat it as a fact and move on to talk about the practical stuff. Talk about creating a realistic budget that suits your needs as a couple.”
She also added that, while you shouldn’t feel guilty about being the breadwinner, it’s important not to make your partner feel guilty about bringing in less, too: “Don’t consider yourself a better person because you earn more – approach the subject from a practical point of view and decide what your plans are for the future, in the short and long term. Don’t make a big deal out of it and focus on being honest about the way you feel, and how your income inequality affects your relationship.”
3. Be Completely Open
Let’s be honest: Secretive behaviour is never a beacon of hope in a relationship. So if you’re going to do this money talk right, then you’ve both got to agree to be completely open and honest when it comes to your finances. “While it may seem tempting to keep this information to yourself, it can have a detrimental impact on your financial decision and, ultimately your relationship,” says Levancuka. “When you both know how much you earn, you can work towards realistic long-term financial and life goals.”
Currie agrees: “Many people today choose to live together rather than tie the knot, but even without marrying we still tie ourselves to the fortunes of our partners. Being cagey, secretive or lying about what you earn doesn’t exactly bode well for your future together. If you pretend you earn more or less than you actually do and the shortfall is soon going to become apparent. You’re sowing the seeds for a relationship that’s lacking in trust from word go.”
4. Consider Splitting Costs Evenly
No matter who the main earner is in your relationship, it’s important to come up with a financial arrangement that works for both of you. Currie says it’s fair to assume the breadwinner will ultimately contribute more to the relationship money-wise, but this could manifest in something other than just rent or house bills: “Ultimately, you need to take a more holistic approach to your finances. Think about each person’s commitments. For example, instead of contributing more to the bills, they could contribute money into a pension or ISA for the two of you.”
But Levancuka disagrees, believing that being the higher earner doesn’t necessarily mean you should pay for more: “It’s up to you to make an arrangement that works for you. Sit down and work out your main outgoing and living expenses – these should be shared between you. It’s then up to you how to split any expenses for luxuries like holidays or nights out.”
When it comes to those luxuries, it can be hard to find a happy medium if you’re not earning the same money – but Levancuka is optimistic that couples can make it work: “You have to think about different ways that one of you can invest into common goals. If, for example, you earn more and want to go on holiday but your partner can’t afford a glamourous destination, perhaps your partner can take on the admin role and organise everything for your holiday if you pay more towards it. Think of ways you can make your relationship equal outside of the financial aspect.”
5. Stay Sensible
When you’re in love with someone, it’s easy to get lost in the romance of it all. But sometimes you’ve got to face facts: When it comes to money, it’s not all going to come up roses. If you’re the higher earner and your partner asks to borrow some money, don’t feel obliged just because you’re in love.
No matter how long you’ve been together, it pays to write up some sort of contract that binds the two of you to the money. “Put it in an email so you have a paper trail,” Currie advises. “And make sure beforehand your partner has no outstanding debts – this will help determine whether they’re actually in a position to pay you back – an astonishing report by the Debt Advisory Service revealed that one in five people haven’t told their partner the full extent of their debts.”
6. Let Go Of Resentment
If you’re the lower earner, it can be hard to watch someone spend their money without worry, whilst you’re having to pinch pennies. But if you’re feeling that way towards your partner, Levancuka says it’s important to first address your concerns with yourself, then communicate those feelings with your partner.
“Look closely into what aspect of your partner’s behaviour has made you feel this way, and ask yourself why you feel that way” she says. “Are you jealous? Do you feel you’re not good enough? Does your partner have a ‘what’s mine is mine’ attitude? In order to move past any resentment, you have to address the issue and take responsibility to overcome it. Discuss the problem and why it hurts, and make sure to not dismiss each other's feelings. Be empathetic, try to forgive, and communicate about the problem in future.”
7. Don’t Let It Rule Your Life
There may be laughs and there may be tears, but once your financial tête-à-tête is over and done with, don’t keep revisiting it. “If you’ve already agreed on the monthly bills and other responsibilities, you only really need to bring up the subject of money when it’s particularly pertinent, for example when considering buying a new house or planning a holiday,” says Levancuka.
It’s important to get everything out on the table during the time you’ve set aside, so that you’re not holding on to any resentment once it’s done. Equally, as Currie recommends, make sure your partner knows if there’s anything else they want to discuss, you’re there to listen: “Don’t obsess but always keep open communication lines. Money is part and parcel of life and having a healthy relationship with it will be the cornerstone of a healthy relationship with your other half.”