Do you like talking about money? If you answered “no,” you’re not alone. Almost 30% of Australians would rather discuss almost anything besides their finances1. Politics, religion, death… these are all more popular topics than financial matters!
Millions of Aussies aren’t happy to openly talk about money. This impacts not just our financial future, but our emotional wellbeing too. And when it comes to relationships, money can also cause romantic strife.
A 2015 survey found that 16% of Australians won’t talk to anyone about their financial worries—not even their partner1. The reluctance to reveal our finances to family and friends makes some sense. Our success with money often gets entangled with our own self-worth. Society (rightly or wrongly) equates wealth with traits such as likability and intelligence. It can be embarrassing to reveal our financial failings to others, or may seem like bragging if we show our success.
But why do people refuse to talk about money with their spouse? We often seek romantic partners who are caring and empathetic, who can give advice or provide support during difficult times. A significant other would be a natural person to turn to in times of financial stress, but for many they are not.
By avoiding the “money talk” with their partner, people are often hoping to dodge conflict. According to a Relationships Australia survey, up to 85% of Australians think money issues are likely to push couples apart2. And they may be right. Disagreements over household finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships3 and can strongly predict divorce4.
Rather than risk a fight (or worse), some Aussies opt to hide their personal money issues from their partner. Approximately 1.2 million people admit to owning a credit card or making purchases that they don’t tell their partner about5. Even more troubling, just over half of Australians have lied or hidden their debts and spending from their significant other6.
These behaviours may seem innocent, but could impact your finances and relationship. Hidden money habits could jeopardise future plans you’ve made as a couple, such as buying a house, starting a family or funding your retirement. Your partner may feel angry when they discover your financial secrets, and could react badly to this betrayal of trust.
For many couples, tension over money often stems from differences in spending. One in 10 cardholders say their credit card spending has led to an argument with their partner5.
How people handle their money can be broken into two broad categories: spending or saving. Spenders may not necessarily be living paycheck to paycheck, but they generally spend much more than they set aside each month. Impulse purchases are common for this group, and they may be more likely to run up credit card debt. This often puts them at odds with savers, who prefer growing their savings account to shopping. In fact, making purchases—both necessities and luxuries—may be uncomfortable or even stressful for savers.
But even two savers can disagree over how to handle their money. Women are more likely to take a “slow and steady” approach to saving, setting aside small amounts regularly over a long period of time. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be “fast and determined” savers, preferring to save as much as they can, as quickly as possible7.
Whilst it’s clear that discussing finances is unpopular with many couples, there are compelling reasons why we may want to open up. By having an honest conversation with your partner, you could improve your mental health and relationship.
Anxiety about money is common, with 63% of Australians saying they are worried about their finances1. However, those who talk openly with others about money are less concerned than people who don’t like having these conversations. It may be comforting for people to know that they are not alone in their worry. This may lead them to seek advice from their romantic partner or another trusted individual.
And in relationships, the more couples talk about money, the less they report fighting over it1. Again, if you’re stressed about money, chances are your spouse is too. Couples who are open and honest about their worries, habits and goals can work together to build a financial future that works for both of them.
You may be ready to have a “money talk” with your significant other, but don’t know where to start. These tips can help you get the ball rolling.
Bringing up money early on in a serious relationship can help both partners spot potential red flags and start to work through any areas of disagreement. Someone who immediately becomes defensive may have something to hide or underlying issues to work through.
If you’re truthful, then your partner is more likely to be as well. Be honest about your salary, spending and any debts you hold. Getting everything out on the table gives both parties a clear view of your joint financial standing.
Spenders and savers can live in harmony, but it will take a bit of compromise. A spender may need to commit to a firmer budget. A saver may agree to allow more discretionary spending each month.
If you’ve decided to join all or part of your finances, it’s important to build a plan that will work for both of you. Work together to create a budget that everyone is happy with. You may also want to discuss shared goals you want to save towards, such as a wedding, house deposit, travel or retirement.
Disagreements over money may still happen, but if you feel they’re getting out of control, it could be time to get a professional involved. A marriage counselor can help you work through relationship issues that may be intensifying your money conflicts. A financial advisor may be helpful if you’re unsure exactly which steps to take.
Money will continue to play a part in your relationship, for as long as it may last. Checking in with each other, reviewing the shared budget and revising your goals should become a regular part of your routine.
Talking about money may feel awkward at first, but it will hopefully get easier over time. Remember that your partner is likely just as uneasy about having this conversation! But by discussing your finances openly and honestly, you can help strengthen the bond you already share.
1. "Sex and money are our top taboo subjects" September 2015, Me Bank
2. "Impact of financial problems on relationships" August 2015, Relationships Australia
3. "Fighting with your spouse? It's probably about this" 4 February 2015, CNBC
4. "Early financial arguments are a predictor of divorce" 12 July 2013, Science Daily
5. "Dishonest cardholders: 1.2 million Australians hiding secret credit cards" 27 April 2015, Finder.com.au
6. Half of all Australians hiding guilty 'debt secrets' from loved ones: latest Galaxy survey" 14 November 2016, Fox Symes
7. "How Australians save money" July 2014, ASIC's MoneySmart