As Frank Sinatra had crooned, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.
If finance were part of this picture, it would be driving the carriage.
Disagreements over the management of household finances have long been known to be a source of major stress on a relationship and, not uncommonly, lead to divorce.
Whether you are freshly engaged or newly wedded, it’s never too late (or too early) to start talking about money. Because your finances will be the key determining factor in many of your future decisions together – such as where to live, when to start a family, what retirement will look like – it’s important that you can have an open, honest dialogue with each other. Building a comprehensive budget, setting priorities and having a strategy in place for resolving arguments about money can help you and your partner focus less on fighting about money and more about using it as a tool for building/roadmap for navigating your new life together.
Where to begin?
Start with what you know. How much money do you each make? How much money do you expect to spend in an average week, month, year? Do you either of you owe any money? If so, how much and how are you currently paying it down?
Congratulations, you’ve just made your first budget together. Conversations about money can be difficult, but once you have the numbers in front of you, it can be a lot easier to communicate with each other. If you don’t know where to begin, start with a budget – everything else will flow from here.
Who’s debt now?
A common misconception and cause for conflict involves marrying into debt or bad credit. While we cannot help who we fall in love with, we can protect our credit and help them to repair theirs. For those with good credit, your record will not be impacted by your spouse’s less-than-stellar score. Unless you apply for joint credit, co-sign a loan or add your spouse to any of your loans, you will not be affected by their debt.
Of course, we are speaking in the context of a credit score – you will be affected by their debt because it is an additional expense to be deducted from your household income and it could affect your decision or ability to make a major purchase, such as a house. It is important to discuss your debt together and build a plan for tackling it – avoid blaming each other, and look at the situation instead as an opportunity to work together as a married couple (remember how exciting your wedding day was?).
What matters most?
It’s helpful to remember that things aren’t always as they seem. Situations can be more complicated, people can be more complex, and even our opinions can be deeply rooted in experiences and beliefs that we ourselves are not immediately aware of. In other words, many arguments about money are often not about finances at all – they are about people’s fears, hopes and dreams. It is important to clarify your own fears and goals for each other to see where they are aligned and appreciate where they may be different.
If your priority is to start a family but your partner wants to purchase a home first, avoid arguing and focus on communicating – try to understand the deeper reasons for your partner wanting to purchase a home first, such as security, and try to communicate the deeper reasons for your wanting to start a family, such as timing constraints.
It is only by clarifying and prioritizing your goals that you can start working toward accomplishing them.
Strategies for success
Set up an allowance – Goals don’t necessarily have to be long-term or major expenditures to be important to us. Maybe you want a new camera, maybe your partner wants a new TV. Plan ahead for these fun purchases by building an allowance into your budget. This allows each of you to spend some of your hard-earned money more freely and should automatically reduce the urge to judge and argue. With a set amount set aside for personal spending, you can show off your new boots or jackets instead of hiding them in your car or closet.
Work towards a goal together – Budgeting for the sake of saving is like dieting for the sake of starving yourself. It’s bound to fail and just plain crazy. Set up a joint goal – such as a vacation – and work towards it together. It will not only give you something fun to talk about on date night, but it will help you build a stronger relationship by working together to accomplish something you both want.
Educate yourselves – A lack of knowledge can be a major source of misunderstanding and conflict in any situation, not just a relationship. There is a wealth of information available in books, on the internet and through financial institutions. Work on building your financial literacy together to ensure that you are on the same page.
If you don’t know where to begin and are already feeling overwhelmed by your own debt or your partner’s debt, we can help you understand your situation and show you the best options for moving forward. To book a free consultation with a Debt Relief Specialist, visit your local 4 Pillars in Burnaby for more information.
Gurinder Dhaliwal is a Debt Specialist with 4 Pillars in Burnaby, BC. If you have any questions about Credit Card Debt or if you’d like to discuss your debt relief options call Gurinder at (778) 340-4002 or log onto to 4Pillars.ca to find a Debt Specialist near you.