Millennials were already in a precarious financial position and COVID-19 job losses, cuts to hours, or the drying up of freelance gigs have hit many of us hard. If you and your partner are feeling stressed, know that even the best relationships can get stuck when it comes to money.
Here are some tips to get you on the same page.
Start the conversation now
It’s no secret that the longer we put something off, the bigger it gets. If you haven’t started talking about money with your partner, now is the time. Let them know you’d like to have a conversation about finances and agree on a time together.
Talking about money can bring up lots of emotions, like embarrassment or fear, so approach your partner with empathy and remember that you both want the best for each other.
Understand what money means to you
Our beliefs about money run deep, coming from our culture, our family’s attitudes and our life experiences. What we do with our money is an expression of our values. That means that when we argue about money, we’re asking: “Do you care about the same things as me?” Maybe you grew up without much money, so having savings is important to feeling secure.
Maybe your partner cherishes memories from childhood holidays, and spending money on travel is important to creating new memories with you. It could be anything, but once you know what money means to each other, you’ll be ready to agree on what you need to move forward.
Know what you spend
It’s not rocket science, but so many of us simply don’t know where our money goes. Whether you have a joint bank account and childcare costs or you’re just splitting the bill at dinner, there’s going to be some expenses that you and your partner share.
Consider taking a month to track your joint expenses, then sit back down together and talk about it. This isn’t the time for picking over costs, but for going back to your values and looking at whether you’re spending reflects what you both want from life. You might want to agree a budget together, and apps like MoneyBrilliant or Pocketbook now make that super easy.
Set your boundaries
There’s a good chance you’re earning different amounts, so now is the time to talk about what equity means in your relationship. Maybe one of you got a pay rise, but you’re still splitting rent down the middle? You need to be able to talk about what you each need to feel safe and supported, and how you’ll manage any changes in the future.
What’s right for your other couple friends may not be right for you. Recognise that every couple will make their own agreements and don’t be afraid to set boundaries for yourself. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you need to share everything and there will probably be some money stuff you’ll never agree on.
If you’ve got lots of joint expenses, this could mean agreeing on an amount that you each keep for yourselves and don’t have to explain to other.
Don’t be afraid to get professional help
You don’t need to be in a full-blown financial crisis to get help. The earlier you get help, the easier problems are to resolve. That might mean seeing a counsellor to help guide you through the money conversation, or doing a couples communication course. You could even consider using government financial tools like MoneySmart, or talking to a financial counsellor to help you through specific issues like managing debt or claiming benefits.
Keep the conversation going
Know that this conversation won’t be done in one go. Life will change, and you’ll be coming back to this at certain throughout your relationship. COVID-19 won’t be the last financial hurdle you’ll face together, so now is a great time to get comfortable talking money.
This article provides information for situations where you might have disagreements with your partner about how you spend your shared money. If your partner takes away your access to money, manipulates your financial decisions, or uses your money without consent, this is financial abuse. Financial abuse is a form of family violence. To talk to someone about whether you might be experiencing financial abuse, contact 1800RESPECT.
This article provides general information about financial stress in relationships and should not be taken as professional financial advice.
Shannon Harvey is a Senior Research Officer at Relationships Australia NSW.