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Money and relationships: how to tackle financial planning with your partner


Money and relationships

If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, then it’s likely you’ve disagreed about money with your partner at some point. Even minor money issues, like paying bills, can lead to conflict in a household. Recently we conducted some research into this, and we found that household finances are a source of tension for just over half (52%) of New Zealanders in a relationship.

Hamish McKegg, head of RaboBank Online Savings NZ, believes this tension comes from a lack of planning around a couple’s shared finances. “Often people fail to recognise that money carries huge emotional weight, and planning and communicating about it in relationships is key,” he says.

Finding a happy medium with money

Money management can be tricky in any relationship, particularly if the people involved have vastly different priorities or spending habits. Our survey showed that 38% of Kiwi women and 28% of Kiwi men in relationships have hidden spending from their partner. There’s nothing wrong with having different spending desires – your wish list might have a new car, shoes, sports gear or even a night on the town on it, but discussing major spending decisions openly and honestly will help you both avoid conflict.

Money is still a pretty taboo subject, so it’s normal that couples find it difficult to talk about their financial differences in a calm and open way. Even the thought of talking about money with your partner can lead to increased stress and anxiety. In our findings, 22% of Kiwis confessed that their financial situation keeps them up at night. 29% believe their financial position may even get worse in the coming year.

It’s important to learn how your partner values money, how they save money, and what they want to use their money for. There are differences in values in every relationship. But honesty is always the best policy to helping overcome these – and money matters are no different. Take a look at all of our findings to understand the money matters Kiwis are interested in.

Money and relationships: how to tackle financial planning with your partner - Rabobank NZ

3 tips for effective money management in a relationship

Money management takes work, whether or not you’re in a relationship. The best way for you and your partner to build a foundation of trust around money is to put the effort in. Start with these 3 easy tips:

  1. Understand: You need to have a strong understanding of how your partner values money. Sit them down and ask them questions. You’ll learn a lot about your partner’s spending habits by asking questions without judgement or hostility.
  2. Plan: Once you understand each other’s money motivations and backgrounds, create a clear plan together. This plan should detail your joint and separate purchasing habits which will allow you to come up with ways to save for your financial goals – both shared and separate.
  3. Communicate: Honesty is the best policy when it comes to discussing money matters. Your financial stability and your relationship needs to be open and transparent to work.

10 conversation starters about money

So, you want to have a money conversation with your partner, but you’re not sure how to get started. Don’t worry! Here are some questions you can ask each other to kickoff a good conversation:

  1. How much debt do you have?
  2. What are the interest rates on each of your loans?
  3. Have you ever gone to collections?
  4. Do you have a plan for paying off the debt?
  5. When do you expect to be debt free?
  6. How much money do you make?
  7. What are all of your income streams?
  8. When do you want to retire?
  9. What are your career goals?
  10. Do you ever want to own a house?

Remember to ask your questions and to listen to the answers without judgement or impatience. Money is a touchy subject, so be kind and loving when you go through our list of questions.

Money and relationships: how to tackle financial planning with your partner - Rabobank NZ

Should I have a joint account with my partner?

There are many benefits to combining finances, like a shared sense of unity and responsibility. Sharing a bank account with your partner enables you to work together to reach your financial goals, but it can also cause tension at times if your spending habits are at odds.This isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly.

You’ve got 3 options for merging accounts:

  1. Combine everything. You and your partner put your earnings together in the same account that you both have equal access to, including any investment or savings accounts. This type of money management system works well if you’re both savers. We’ve got plenty of accounts that help you reach your financial goals too.
  2. Have an allowance account. This is a joint account that you and your partner use for all shared expenses like your rent or mortgage payments, groceries, family trips, and bills. This is one of the most common ways to manage money in a relationship for Kiwis.
  3. Proportionate/percentage. Nearly half of Kiwi couples with joint bank accounts also have individual bank accounts, but this isn’t just an allowance account. In this scenario, couples choose to divide the money among each account as a percentage. For example, each person’s paycheck goes into their individual accounts and then each person has to contribute 50% of their income to the joint account.

The 4 most common mistakes couples make when it comes to handling their finances

Even if you’re ready to have money conversations with your partner, be ready for some conflict. You’re going to make mistakes and that’s totally fine. If you know the most common mistakes, you might just be able to avoid them:

  1. You disagree about lifestyle. Let’s say you’re perfectly content shopping at Goodwill when you need to update your threads, but your spouse loves to buy branded items at full price. If you have an income that doesn’t support expensive tastes, that’s going to be a problem. Your lifestyle needs to line up with what your actual income is—not what you wish it was.
  2. You let salary differences divide you. In many couples, one person is going to be making more money than the other. Just because your partner makes more or less money than you, it doesn’t mean you’re not equal. You’re on the same team. Work together to make your finances work.
  3. You’re financially unfaithful. Sometimes the biggest infidelities in a relationship are monetary. When you’re unfaithful to your shared financial vision by opening side bank accounts or stashing away cash, you’re being deceitful. The same goes for any credit cards your partner doesn’t know about. Be open and honest about all of your online bank accounts. You owe it to your partner to be truthful and transparent.
  4. You let the kids run the show. Kids have needs but that doesn’t mean you have to indulge all of their desires, all the time. You should decide together how to budget for your kids. Establish chores and an allowance for the work they do. This helps your kids establish a great work ethic and teaches them important money lessons.

Money and relationships: how to tackle financial planning with your partner - Rabobank NZ

How do I solve my money issues with my partner?

All relationships have ups and downs, it’s how you address the downs that matters. Here’s a list of some do’s and don’ts when it comes to money conflicts.

Do address the problem. If you’re having the same fight about finances over and over again, find a good time and place to talk. You both need to understand each other’s views on money before you can truly fix the problem. Acknowledging the problem is one thing, making a commitment to change is another.

Do be patient. The money conversation is never easy. You’re bound to feel frustrated, impatient, or just plain angry. Accept these feelings – they’re totally normal. If you start to feel your blood pressure rising, take a deep breath and de-escalate. Take a break. Go for a walk. Reset before you re-engage.

Do listen. When two people are locked in a “right and wrong” battle, listening can be a struggle. It’s easy to hear what we want to hear, and even easier to get lost in your own thoughts. The secret to listening well is to listen with empathy. Listen to understand your partner’s point of view. Repeat it back to them to make sure you truly understand.

Don’t interrupt when the other person is speaking. It’s tempting to listen for something your partner says that you disagree with, and immediately interrupt to explain why they’re wrong. If your partner is saying something you don’t agree with, make a note of it and bring it up when it’s your turn to talk.

Do have follow-up conversations regularly. Things can get heated in the moment, so make a regular schedule of catch ups where you can discuss money. The more you talk about it, the less hard it is. Talking regularly will get you both clear on your money deal breakers, values, and vision for the future.

Do take the time to understand your partners’ money mindset. Does your partner spend without regard, mindlessly using their credit card at any whim? Are they miserly, refusing to spend money on even the most basic goods? Your money mindsets need to be aligned for your relationship to work. Ask questions. Find out what makes your partner tick when it comes to finances.

Don’t hide purchases. Honesty is the foundation of a solid relationship. When you’re open and honest with your partner, you don’t need to hide your purchases. If you’re hiding them, you know you’re doing something wrong. Show your partner the respect they deserve and tell them you’re struggling to stick to a budget. Together you can choose the right bank accounts that will help you build a strong financial future together.

Money and relationships: how to tackle financial planning with your partner - Rabobank NZ

How to write an ‘action plan’ to help you and your partner establish healthy money habits together

Even if you’re squabbling over money, all is not lost. Don’t give up on your partner just because you have minor differences in how you manage your money. The best thing to do to move forward is to create an action plan. Here’s how to do one:

  1. Sit down and talk about your financial goals and values. Be open and honest.
  2. Remove all emotions from financial talk. Yes, it’s hard to do, but take a breather if you feel yourself getting upset.
  3. Grab a pen and paper and come up with a plan to meet your goals. Keep this paper somewhere you can see it everyday to keep you on track.
  4. Choose the right joint account system that works for both of you. To be able to put your financial plan into action, you need to know how you’re going to pay your bills, debt, deposit money into savings accounts, and set aside money for various spending needs.
  5. Have regular money check-ins. Your money meetings should cover your financial goals, money values, and more. Ask each other what changes need to be made. Are there any financial problems? Talk about them!
  6. Stay positive and be honest. There are easy ways you can both put effort towards your financial goals. Tackle your financial goals as a team and you’re much more likely to succeed. Motivate one another, troubleshoot together, and brainstorm new ways to work towards your money goals.
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