Relationship advice: money problems and issues

eyes moneyImagine that: even rich couples have money issues. Every couple does. You and your partner will be no exception – especially if you two are still fresh and still discovering each other – because couples just have issues. No way around it.

Lack of money is not the only reason for couples fighting about money. If it were so, then poor couples would account for most of the financial disagreements while wearlthy couples would live happily ever after. But as you can see, the social and financial status of a couple cannot be used as an indicator of how happy the partners are.

So if rich couples fight about money as much as poor couples, then… what do we do?

Well, we dig deeper into the issue.

Money fights stem from disagreements on how the money should be managed; that’s true especially with regards to spending, but it applies to earning, too:
workman axe

(Naturally, this goes for women, too.)

Suppose John and Jane make $5000 a month each. Jane thinks she and John should save up and later use those savings to start a business. John thinks that’s too risky and wants to go buy bonds instead.

Of course, John and Jane’s money “problem” is actually a good problem to have. They don’t fight over which bill to pay first or how to put food on the table. They don’t have debt or shortage of money. But having enough money doesn’t make them immune to money issues and disagreements.

That’s because they come from different backgrounds. Jane comes with a family track record of small business owners (starting with her great-great-grandfather who owned a flower shop) so she believes small business is the way to go. John on the other hand doesn’t want to own a business, be it small or big, and would much rather keep his stable day-job. He comes from a family with a more conservative approach to money and was brought up to believe that stashing money and low-risk investment is best.

You and your partner come from a different background and with different financial habits instilled in them. So unless you are living with a copy of you, disagreements will happen.

(See also: 10 tips: How to manage money as a couple)

When my boyfriend and I had just met, he told me he was going to take a loan to buy a used car. Hearing that, I felt goosebumps on my sking since I had already lived through one bitter debt-drama.

I said he should wait, because a) we don’t really need a car right now, b) there will be additional expenses besides the selling price, and c)  debt is bad (boy is that an understatement!) . We had several talks about it, but he ended up buying the car anyway.

And I ended up being okay with it… especially when winter turned out to be quite bitter!

It’s okay to not agree on everything about money. You need to understand that you two are two separate people, each with their own individual beliefs and needs.  Don’t press your money views on your partner because you wouldn’t like it if they were pressing theirs on you.

For example, you think your partner should cut their spending. Reverse situation: how would you feel if your partner started fighting with you because you wouldn’t increase your spending? Maybe to them, you look like a cheapskate.

Or, you have a second job and you think your partner should get one, too. Reverse situation: how would you feel if they were constantly nagging at you to quit your second job? Maybe to them, you look like a workaholic to whom career comes first and family last.

Recently, I was looking for a second job. Browsing, I came upon a part-time job: delivering leaflets by foot, 60-80 hours a month, some money.

“I’m applying for it,” I told my boyfriend.
“Yeah? Sign me up, too.”

I turned around, puzzled. “Why?”
“I want to earn some extra cash too.”
“Since when?”
“What do you mean, since when? You know I’d go for a second job.”
“No you wouldn’t!”
“I would! I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a while.”
“So? That only means that you would take a second job if it lands on your lap… which does not mean you actually want a second job. If you wanted it, you would have done it by now.”
“Will you just sign me up please!”


Me: “If you wish to sign up for something you don’t really want, you have to do it yourself. I think it’s wrong and I won’t have anything to do with it.” I stood up. “Actually, I’m turning the computer off.” Click.
“No! NO!… Why did you do that.”
“Because. If you really want that job, this won’t stop you.”

(PS – later he admitted that he didn’t really want a second job. AND, I got that confession out of him without any physical contact. Yeah, I’m that good. Hey FBI – are you guys hiring ?)

Anyway, we talked about it and he said he only wanted a second job because he thought that would make me happy. And to be honest, I do think that we both could put in some extra effort to make a little something on the side. But while I appreciate his effort to make me happy, I don’t want it to come at his expense because it will also take a toll on our relationship. That’s SO not worth the extra money.

Sometimes you might be tempted to charge your partner’s views like they are some fortress you must penetrate. Don’t do it. Even if you “win” and leave their fortress in ruins, your relationship may end up in ruins, too.

Instead, sit down and talk to them about what you want. If you want to get a second job, tell them. Explain to them what you need the extra money for (that will help them understand) and why you’d rather work more hours than cut down your spending, even if it means less “together time” for you two.

Speak out, then shut up. Now is your partner’s turn to tell you how they feel about money. Maybe they value “together time” more than the money. Maybe they think you already make enough money and working more hours is just greedy. In any case, let them tell you how they feel, and then you can work together to find a compromise.

You have got to compromise.

But hey, what about those couples with financial inequality, where one partner is in great shape financially, while the other is still struggling?

Just so you know, there was a reason why arranged marriages were once the norm. People knew that if the newlyweds where from different classes and had differences in their financial status, things were not going to be easy. You can’t have a spoiled-brat-kind-of-gal with a rough blue-collar workman as roommates, let alone romantic partners. Which is probably why Love without money or money without love? is a timeless question.

So what if the two of you have the same financial goals but are currently on different pages with money? What if one of you has already gone through the first few miles on their journey to financial independence while the other one is only a few steps in?

(I’m going to presume that YOU are the one with the miles, because usually it’s the one who’s better off that’s reading sites like this one. And YOU are also likely to be the one who does the thinking on your common financial future.) So:

First off, wait for your partner to catch up. If they have debt or are still building their emergency fund, don’t just offer them your money. Wait. Give them a chance to catch up with you first.

Otherwise if you rush into helping them, they might take it for granted. They might get used to it. They probably won’t appreciate it, just like you can’t fully understand and appreciate a parent’s efforts until you become one yourself.

Also, by waiting them out, you can see if they actually understand that they need to fix their financial problems. Words lie, but actions never do.

And finally, if for some reason you two separate, you will never see that money again. What’s worse, you will feel lied and cheated. You will feel resentful towards both yourself and the ex. So it’s much much better to just wait for your partner to catch up with you.

But what if your partner doesn’t want to catch up with you? Well, if you two have drastically different views about money, you should probably separate. Sorry. There are plenty of horror stories about couples who drive each other nuts because they just can’t come together about the money. Savers and spenders just don’t mix.

Of course, think twice about what’s grounds for separation and what’s not. Remember, you can’t expect your partner to be exactly like you. You both need to acknowledge that you are different. You have some common values, obviously, but you are not 100% the same.

And you also need to know that this is okay.

I mean, if it was your mother you were living with and not your boyfriend, and if you and her shared finances to some extent, you wouldn’t expect of her to have the exact same views towards money as you. You wouldn’t try to change her and get her to agree with you on every single money issue, right? And so it is not fair to expect that from your boyfriend.

You have got to compromise.

Don’t expect that your partner is 100% like you. Or even 50% like you. Don’t demand that they become exactly like you unless you think it’s fair if they demand you become exactly like them. Look for common grounds but be ready to compromise.

You have got to compromise.

(See also: 10 tips: How to manage money as a couple)

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7 thoughts on “Relationship advice: money problems and issues”

  1. It is very important to allow your partner to do their mistakes, but also to learn from them.
    What I am talking about is the following:
    My girlfriend earned a lot of money till 2008. But she also used to spend it all. As a result when she left work, she had about 10K loans.
    It was a mistake and she knows it now. But if I was telling her what and when to spend, she would hate me.
    I’m able to help her with her loan (even though I have a tenfold bigger mortgage to pay myself), but I don’t do it. And it’s not because I don’t love her, but because if I help her she will not learn the lesson.

  2. @Todor – I just loved your comment! My point exactly. You gotta let them catch up with you, otherwise they learn nothing. And it’s not about not loving your partner – quite the opposite.

    I lucked out with man who is frugal by nature, and who is also built to be a family man – meaning, we agree on what our big financial goals should be (all are family-related). We have a car, but we usually walk or use public transit and “save” the car for when we really need it.

    But after all, you can only let your partner learn if they are WILLING to learn.

  3. What I don’t understand about this subject is how the lack of trust drives couples to have separate finances. Above, Brett mentioned couples where one person irresponsibly spends a family’s money so there are no funds available for monthly bills. Emily then said something to the effect of, “I love you, but keep your hands off MY money.” In my mind, neither of these situations point to a money issue, but instead speaks to a complete lack of trust between spouses/partners.

  4. Hi Tiffany,

    I suppose Brett and Emily are the names of the people in that movie I used a frame of?

    Anyway, I think that separate finances can only be a temporary solution. You either go “all in” with the other person or you don’t go “in” at all. If your partner can’t respect your financial views or can’t keep their word on money decisions you both agreed on, that that’s an incompatibility issue.

    Consider this quote from Balzac on women, men, love and money:
    “You’ll ask me how a woman can take money from a man. Oh, God, isn’t it natural to share everything with the one we owe all our happiness to? When one has given everything, how can one quibble about a mere portion of it? Money is important only when feeling has ceased. Isn’t one bound for life? How can you foresee separation when you think someone loves you? When a man swears eternal love–how can there be any separate concerns in that case?”

  5. We all bring our personal biases to the table when it comes to money. The question is whether we’re willing to listen harder than we ever have before to figure out what our partners need from us. On some level, couples have to create their own vocabulary for how they talk about money. We can’t assume that the other automatically gets either the importance or point of what we’re saying.

  6. Patricia, I just loved your comment! Relationships need patience and work. I used to think (and I think many young people do) that if two people just love each other very much, very hard, that everything else will just magically fall into place. But that’s not how it works… How it works is, you put some effort and good will in it, you compromise, and you try not to forget that your partner comes with a different financial history.

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