Knowing that money and finances can cause strain in a relationship, we wanted to share our top 5 tips how to better manage money as a couple – so you can minimise money stress and focus on what matters most in your relationship on Valentine’s Day and beyond.
1. Learn to have open conversations about money
The more open, honest and frequent conversations about money you have with your partner, the better.
This doesn’t mean you have to discuss the ins and outs of your bank balances, debts and financial aspirations every day. Rather, it means finding a format and cadence for discussion that feels fair and works for both parties. Although it can feel challenging, try to take as much emotion out of the conversation as possible to ensure you’re being constructive.
But with money being such a taboo, it can feel daunting to get started.
Here are a few conversation starters to inspire discussion about money with your partner:
- What are your long and short-term financial goals?
- How comfortable are you being open about money?
- How do you feel we could better handle our finances as a couple?
- How much debt do you currently have? How much debt are you willing to take?
- How do you feel about financial risk? How could we safeguard ourselves financially?
- What would happen if one of our financial situations changed?
If you’re having trouble getting started, suggest watching a finance documentary or listening to a podcast together, which might spark ideas and conversation. There are many to choose from on most streaming services.
As with anything, the more you do it, the easier it’ll become. Start small and build from that.
2. Create a household budget that works for both
Being across your household budget is an important part of staying on top of your finances and this goes for everyone.
If you’re in a relationship, consider the best way to create and maintain a household budget, be clear on roles and responsibilities and how much you are willing to share.
It’s completely fine not to combine your finances as long as you’ve talked it through and agreed how to divide mutual expenses and who is responsible for which bills. Many couples who’ve been together for years continue to keep their finances separate.
If you choose to combine your finances, one way to do this is to come together at a time where there are no distractions to review bank statements and bills to complete a budget. Many free online budget planners and apps are available or you could fill in an Excel spreadsheet like this one Way Forward uses with our clients.
When going through the budget, break down costs to weekly/fortnightly/monthly and set up direct payments for bills. This is also a great time to discuss current financial commitments. Can the other person afford to contribute equally? How would you feel if they couldn’t? Make sure your partner understands what she/he is responsible for and what you’ll take on.
Review the budget yearly or when there is a significant change to your situation – for example a job change or a new baby.
As a couple, co-creating a budget gives a detailed view of where your money is going and how much you both have left so you can understand your situation and make informed decisions about money together.
Even if you opt for separate bank balances, we still recommend both of you create a household budget, so you know where your money is going.
3. The art of compromise
We all come from different cultural and family backgrounds and have learnt different approaches to handling money, credit and debt. Hence, there will never be one correct way to combining finances with your significant other. This means you will most likely have to compromise – but the real trick is knowing how much.
There is no clear-cut way to tell if you’ve traded off too much when it comes to your finances but it might be worth asking:
- Do I feel heard in our conversations about money?
- Do our combined finances feel fair?
- Do I feel I can raise issues with my partner and she/he is open to change?
If the answer is no, it might be time to find a constructive way to address the matter. As with any financial problem, the longer you wait, the bigger the problem becomes, so try finding ways to address any imbalances as they arise.
4. See the warning signs of financial abuse
At Way Forward, we support hundreds of Australians in financial hardship and unfortunately, many of our clients have experienced financial coercion or even abuse. When you’re in the thick of it, it can be hard to recognise the signs.
Let’s begin with the definition. According to the Government’s financial guidance website MoneySmart:
“Financial abuse is when someone takes away your access to money, manipulates your financial decisions, or uses your money without consent … Financial abuse is a type of family violence. It often happens alongside other types of violence, such as physical or emotional abuse. It can leave you feeling vulnerable, isolated, depressed and anxious. It can also take away your independence.”
If you’re uncertain whether you’re a victim of financial abuse, ask yourself:
- Do I feel in control of my own finances?
- Do I need to ask for permission to spend money?
- Do I have access to my own earnings or bank account?
- Do I feel I can have an open, honest conversation about money with my partner or does the idea leave me nervous or even afraid?
- Do I feel my partner might be withholding financial information or even lying to me about money?
If you or someone you know might be experiencing financial abuse, ask for help. MoneySmart offers a helpful list of available community support services.
5. Read the fine print and seek independent advice
Building a life together means you are also building a financial life together. This will involve complex financial decisions and legal agreements, which should be carefully considered at all times. Regardless of the situation, always read through and fully understand documents you are signing, as they could have long-term legal and financial implications. You should never feel rushed to sign documents or make financial decisions. Seek independent financial advice from a lawyer or a professional advisor to minimise any risk.
Making big financial commitments together, for example applying for a mortgage or buying a new car, can be an exciting time as you build a life together as a couple. But it is worth playing devil’s advocate in these situations and asking… what if?
What if our financial situation changes and we can no longer make the repayments? What if one of us changes their mind down the track? Can we afford this commitment if we have a child together? Is this a long-term financial agreement or something else?
Have an open, honest conversation and evaluate all implications before making a decision. This way you’re both on the same page from the start and you can trust you’ve made the right choice for everyone, for the long haul.
Find your way forward, together
Each couple’s finances are as uniquely different as the individuals who make it – so there is no one way of co-handling finances with your loved one.
Finding your way to handle finances will ensure you can focus on enjoying your time together instead of worrying and arguing over money – be it on Valentine’s Day or any other day in the calendar.
How can Way Forward help?
At Way Forward, we cannot provide financial advice, but we can help manage and reduce your debt. We’re a completely free service and there are no hidden fees or costs. Our dedicated team of professionals are funded by some of Australia’s leading financial institutions, allowing us to help you find your way forward, faster.
If you are struggling to make ends meet, ask for help sooner rather than later to get what you need to manage your situation. A range of free support is available through government services, community organisations and charities like Way Forward so there is no reason to struggle on your own. Do your research and consider free services before paying fees or high interest rates, as these options may worsen your situation in the long term. We’ve compiled a helpful guide of free support and funding available in Australia.
How Way Forward can help in simple steps:
Step 1: Reach out to our team
Step 2: We evaluate your circumstance and verify your financial situation
Step 3: We take over negotiations with your creditors and act on your behalf
Step 4: We put together a manageable plan and combine your repayments to one reoccurring payment across your creditors