Love and money: Avoiding the danger zones
My friend Anne* messaged me on Facebook the other day. In between sad-faced emoticons and triads of exclamation points, she railed and ranted about her most recent argument with her boyfriend of 5 years. Their issue? Money.
Anne was earning a little more than her boyfriend, and she felt that they didn’t see eye-to-eye when it came to their savings. He was still looking for a stable job and was usually broke. Anne frequently shouldered their expenses during dates. She felt frustrated.
There’s a recently published study that says most Filipinos have a bright outlook when it comes to their own finances. But when it comes to discussing a financial future with your partner, it’s a different thing altogether.
Like my friend Anne, most couples consider the big Money Talk one of the most difficult conversations in a relationship. It's easier to bring up other topics like politics or even sex.
Raising issues about finances can be a little tricky. It’s hard to do it without seeming offensive, or worse, comparing your status vs your partner (which, eventually, was what prompted that little spat between Anne and her partner).
Still, it’s a necessary talk to have, especially for serious relationships. There’s no getting around the topic – it’s only a matter of figuring out how to do it.
I chatted with Jennifer Del Mundo, Sun Life Head of Agency Fundamentals, and asked her for advice on dealing with these sticky and emotional money issues. If Anne’s situation sounds familiar to you, maybe you can pick up a thing or two as well.
Money does matter
Sappy as it sounds, love and trust will always be the fundamental foundation of any relationship. But the daily aspects of togetherness will always involve money. When you eat dinner, you spend. When you travel, you spend. Achieving your bigger goals together – like a house or raising kids – will require pooling your resources.
Jennifer says that regardless of a couple’s background, not talking about money can lead to problems. “You hear about breakups, and whether it’s a well-to-do couple or a struggling one, and there’s always a financial issue that leads to [the breakup],” she says. So it’s better to lay down the cards early on to avoid a bigger dilemma in the future.
Taboos, tradition, and society
As it turns out, it’s not just a couple thing. Filipinos are simply hesitant to talk openly about money.
Initially, Anne was hesitant to talk about money because she was afraid of hurting her boyfriend’s so-called “man’s ego.” She was also afraid of being misinterpreted as a “reklamador (whiner).”
I asked Jennifer if it’s okay to discuss salaries with your partner. She said, “That’s still taboo for us.” She added that most guys feel uncomfortable about earning less than women. Our cultural conventions about pride and discretion can hamper practical talk about money.
Yet even the decision of whether to get married or not requires financial consideration. For example, “It’s easier for married couples to apply and get approved for big loans because the banks consider the combined incomes,” Jennifer shared.
In most Western countries, signing a pre-nuptial agreement is considered normal. But here in our country it’s practically unheard of. The Family Code mandates that upon marriage, all properties acquired during the marriage are conjugal.
A pre-nuptial agreement creates provisions in the case of a breakup of marriage. “[It can] basically state that every property acquired in the marriage will not be shared by the couple,” Jennifer said. And even when it’s brought up theoretically, “people feel awkward about it because they think it ruins the romance and it’s a sign of a lack of trust.”
When it comes to these sensitive issues, it’s really a matter of assessing how much you feel about it. Jennifer insists that, “you have to bring it up. Otherwise you will always have that nagging thought in your mind.”
How to do it
So given these situations, how do you bring up the money talk with your partner? Is there a way to doing it without arguing, like Anne did?
Jennifer said that you might already be doing the money talk without knowing it. “Deciding where you both spend your money on every day is already money talk without the labels,” she said. For the bigger things, she highlighted 3 tactics: be observant, be honest, and bring up the Life Goals.
1. Be Observant. Pay attention to your partner’s spending patterns. Does he or she spend a lot on clothing and gadgets? Is there a family member whom they are financially supporting? Jennifer says that casually observing his or her recent expenses can clue you in on his financial status and money habits. “If you share the same belief practices, then there’s nothing that will trigger alarm or conversation.” Watch out for the “Red Flags,” which indicate a deeper attitude problem. Constant debt, whether in credit card or personal loans, is always a cause of concern.
2. Be Honest. The key to effectively raising your issues is to be frank emotionally. Rather than condemning the behavior, “have an honest approach on how it makes you feel and why you’re worried about it,” Jennifer said. That way, your partner understands that you care about them and the relationship, and will be more willing to listen. My friend Anne complained about what her boyfriend did and didn’t do. Maybe if she opened up with her worries (i.e., “I’m rooting for you to be successful,”) he would’ve been more open to listen.
3. Bring Up The Life Goals. Admittedly, waving an excel spreadsheet in front of your partner’s face is a little intimidating. You don’t want to seem too controlling by asking money questions. So Jennifer said that a better way to do it is to mention the Life Goals. After all, couples always ask each other: “What do you want to do in 5 years?” Opening the conversation this way can make your partner excited about the goal too. Jennifer added, “It’s your dreams and aspirations for a future together. It’s like a blueprint. Make a timeline of what you want to accomplish – Have, Be, Do — then put a deadline on each, and add a price tag.” Creating your bucket list together can spin off to discussing how to get funds, what investments to make, and so on.
Doing it together
Jennifer said that it’s really up to you when to have the money talk. But at the end of the day, if you will bring up this conversation, you need to be armed well. Attend public forums on wealth management and financial advice. Or you can read online and share with your partner what you’ve learned.
You can also seek the counsel of friends and relatives who are in the financial services industry. Just make sure to make your partner feel involved. Ask for their opinions and suggestions, rather than imposing your ideas. “Let the splitting of responsibilities happen naturally,” Jennifer said.
I told Anne about using the Life Goals tip next time, and she liked the idea. Hopefully, her next Facebook message will be about plans for their first overseas trip together.
How about you? How do you discuss money matters with your significant other? I’m sure that out there, other couples may do it differently. But it boils down to one simple truth: the money talk is important, don't ignore it. - Rappler.com
For more tips on how to achieve brighter finances, family life, and health & wellness, visit www.brighterlife.com.ph
*Name has been changed upon subject’s request.
Stack of bills image by Shutterstock
Man and woman image by Shutterstock