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Five ways money can wreck your relationship

14 September 2017

Young woman staring forlornly out of window

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

Although women are often portrayed in television and film as “shopaholics” – for example spending thousands of dollars on shoes – in reality it is more likely for women in relationships to be the conservatives and the men the risk takers, says Kane Jiang, managing director at AA Financial Planning in Perth.

“From a financial planner’s perspective,” Jiang says that couples often argue due to their “different risk profiles”. He says when one partner is risk-averse and one isn’t it is more likely there will be arguments when buying investments, selling investments and changing jobs or starting a new business.

Saver versus Spender

Jiang says other problem areas include spending versus saving, “when one partner is a saver and one is a spender,” as well as “having different goals”.

“Often couples will have similar long-term goals”, says Jiang, but their short-term objectives may be different, for example one partner might want three kids, the other only one child and more travel. Or one may wish to work longer but the other wants to retire and go travelling as soon as possible.

When it comes to couples who are planning their financial future together for the first time, Jiang gives this advice:

Be honest with each other:

  • Open joint bank accounts and try to consolidate finances as much as you can
  • Talk about each other’s short term and long term goals and find common ground

Personality opposites can be a good thing:

  • To achieve stable long-term positive results, a balanced approach is required
  • Too high risk or too conservative can be disruptive to your wealth; ideally your qualities should complement your partner’s.

Trust your partner’s instincts and get proactive with the family’s finances:

  • There’s no point having constant arguments or losing sleep over investments or financial matters. Having a happy family is the most important thing.

Decide who’s “captain” for final decisions or discuss major joint purchases on a case-by-case basis.

Secret Spending

Asked what are some of the ways money can cause friction in a relationship, Bessie Hassan, money expert at finder.com.au, says “secret spending is a big one”. Research done by the company found that 31 per cent of Australians kept some transactions hidden from their partner, with men being slightly worse offenders. Thirty three per cent of men lied to their partners about their spending whereas 30 per cent of women did the same*.

*Note: Finder said they didn’t ask if couples were in male/female or same-sex relationships in their research so the same stats should still apply to male/male or female/female couples.

At the top of the list of secret purchases were fashion and beauty items (7 per cent), followed by gambling (6 per cent) and ‘guilt’ foods (6 per cent). Alcohol (3 per cent), adult entertainment (3 per cent), and cigarettes (2 per cent) were also identified as commonly hidden purchases.

Interestingly, couples with no kids were most likely to spend money in secret.

Hassan says keeping some spending hidden from your partner isn’t necessarily a “bad thing”. If you’re in the early stages of a relationship, it can make sense to keep some transactions to yourself.

Lack of honesty about finances and spending

“However, if you’re in a long-term relationship, and you trust your partner completely, it can be smart to open up a joint account as you’ll pay fewer account-keeping fees, and you can work towards common savings goals or milestones,” she says.

Hassan encourages couples to have an open discussion about their spending plans. “Discuss your spending habits and outline your budget plan so you’re both on the same wavelength.

“Set some boundaries and decide who will be responsible for managing the account and authorising transactions,” Hassan says.

Not understanding what’s important to your partner

Michael Miller, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and owner of MLC Advice Canberra, says the best way to “reduce conflict when you have joint finances” is to understand each other’s “non-negotiables. That way you can plan for these in advance and work out the other areas you might agree to cut back if that’s what the budget needs,” he says.

Miller gives the example of a friend who is a sports fanatic. “There’s no way she is negotiating away her Foxtel subscription – it’s the main form of entertainment and great value for her.” He says he’s also a big fan of getting out of the office for a coffee, so even though this often makes it into the ‘cut backs’ suggestions for some planners, it’s not in mine.”

When one partner earns more than the other

Realistically, one partner is going to earn more than the other. Whether that’s a little bit or a lot, there are ways to prevent it causing friction. Some tips to help even out the balance include:

Regular open discussions about finances:

Have frank discussions about how much income you both bring in and what are the best ways to manage paying the bills. Some couples work out what percentage of the bills they can afford to pay, by first working out how their salaries compare salary-wise.

Open an extra joint account just for recreation:

If both partners contribute the same amount of money each month, even if only small amounts, the funds will grow and when it adds up, the couple or family can enjoy this money and what it pays for together.