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Talking to your partner about money

Why it’s important to talk to your partner

The time to know about your partner’s finances is when they begin to mix with yours.

This will often be when you start living together and paying bills jointly. It’s at this point that your partner’s finances can begin to have a more significant affect on yours, and vice versa.

Money issues can come up at any point in a relationship:

  • when you’re first dating
  • when you decide to move in together
  • deciding to have children
  • buying a house
  • when you want to retire
  • even if you decide to separate.

And it’s important that issues are discussed and resolved. 

How you can tackle different attitudes or motivations about money

We all have different attitudes to money. You might be cautious and always saving your pennies. Or you might feel that money is there to be spent and that ‘you can’t take it with you’.

It’s completely normal to have different opinions about money – we all come from different backgrounds.

It’s how we manage these differences that’s important.

Moving in together

If you decide to move in together, the good news is it can cost less to live together and share expenses than to live on your own.

So, by being life ‘partners’, you’ll have opportunities to save and invest that wouldn’t be available otherwise.

But you want to avoid the frustration that comes if you and your partner have completely different attitude’s and goals about money.

In reality, couples are never going to agree on everything. But it’s working out what your differences of opinion are, that can lead to a compromise.

The first step is to work out what your opinions on money are, and then to come up with a plan.

Saver or spender?

Are you a saver or a spender? Some people are happy to live with credit cards or a maxed-out overdraft. Some want to pay for everything – leaving the other person feeling in their debt.

There can also be issues to resolve when one partner has a much higher income than the other.

Sharing decisions about spending and saving – and discussing money openly – will help avoid arguments and tension.

Use these questions to help you understand you and your partner’s attitudes to money and to talk about your goals. It’s important to think about what you both want:

  • Do you prefer to live for today?
  • Are you confident managing money?
  • Do you think it’s important to keep track of income and expenditure?
  • Do you like to shop around to make money go further or to buy on impulse?
  • Are you open to discussing money?
  • Do you feel it’s important to adjust non-essentials when life changes?
  • Do you ask for help with your money?

Setting goals

Setting goals might take more effort in a relationship. But they help make sure you both know what you’re working towards as you grow your finances.

You’ll also be more prepared for those changes that come along and affect your spending choices.

For example, if you both decide to start a family. It can be a big adjustment when the family grows and income drops if one partner stops working to look after the children.

If your partner doesn’t want to talk about money with you

There’ll be lots of ways you and your partner are compatible. You might both be dog people, love the same shows on Netflix, or would rather stay at home on a Saturday night than go out on the town.

But if you have different attitudes or habits when it comes to money – this could put a strain on your relationship.

Finding a way to talk about money and your finances is important. It can be an emotional issue for some people. For example, bringing back concerns of control or bad experiences when growing up.

However, it’s important to address tricky conversations.

If a decision will affect you both financially – you need to make these decisions jointly. The longer you’re with your partner, the more likely this will be true.

Money talk can be incredibly frustrating for both partners. One might think they’re being nagged, while the other might feel like their finances are in danger because of their partner.

You can ease this frustration with these three tips:

  1. Make it easier for your partner – if your partner feels budgeting is too much work or is worried they won’t be able to stick to it, you won’t be able to sell the idea to them. Perhaps come up with a basic budget that covers all the main things, such as your rent or mortgage, bills, and food, etc.  Then have a talk about how you’ll spend the rest of your money. Don’t forget to include some items that both you and your partner can enjoy, such as a night out or money towards a special home-cooked meal. Show your partner that budgeting isn’t about going without everything you enjoy.
  2. Put your discretionary spending money into cash – so when it’s gone, it’s gone, and there’s no nagging involved.
  3. Avoid the blame game  –  instead, try to tell your partner that this conversation isn’t about who’s good and bad with money, but how you can achieve your goals together. This is particularly important if you don’t want your partner to feel judged for their spending habits. Feeling judged can leads to defensiveness, which won’t help you getain the most from the conversation.
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If talking really is difficult, it might help if you or your partner to speak to someone independent first:

  • find the ways we can help you on our Contact us page
  • for help with relationship concerns, you can visit Relate
  • some workplaces provide services and benefits that offer support.

If life has changed and one of you needs to ask the other partner for money

Both of you could be earning money separately for years. Then a change of circumstance can happen that means your personal money has been slashed or stopped altogether. For example, pregnancy or redundancy.

Even though you’ve worked as a partnership, financially, for years, you might need to have a difficult conversation. Especially if one of you is going to have to rely on the other for money.

The person who’s no longer earning money, or suddenly earning less, can end up feeling powerless. Especially if their partner takes control of the finances. They might feel guilty or like they have to justify what they spend. Maybe they feel like they have to avoid going out or doing things that cost money, such as going out with friends.

It’s important to communicate honestly about your financial expectations. A big change in circumstance is the perfect time to sit down and make a new budget together. Perhaps set some mutual financial goals –  and revisit them each month.

When you’ve made a budget and decided on your new goals, you might find you have to cut back on your spending. Make sure you do this as a team, rather than it falling on the shoulders of the person who has taken a cut in salary.

It’s always worth thinking about how you speak to each other about money because everyone can be feeling extra emotional during this period. Avoid arguments by replacing emotions (I think, I hate, I wish) with facts (We have spent… You bought… We have XX left, and so on). 

If you’re having a baby, these guides will be useful:

If you’ve been made redundant, these guides will be useful:

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If you’re hiding debt from your partner

Having a debt problem can be stressful and isolating. Trying to deal with the situation on your own by keeping it secret will probably only make the stress feel worse.

If you have debt that you’re hiding from your partner, tell them about it as soon as you can. The sooner you have the conversation, the easier it will be.

Think about what your partner is going to want to know when you tell them. Get all your paperwork ready so they can see the whole situation – and that you’re taking it seriously. 

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Things your partner might ask you could be:

  • why are you in debt? what went wrong?
  • how much debt are you in? what are the interest rates?
  • who do you owe money to?
  • are you being chased by creditors?
  • what do you plan to do to sort the debt?

Find a time where you have no plans and no distractions. For example, if you’ve got young children, make sure they’re asleep or out. This will give you plenty of time to go through all the details.

You need to be really honest. There’s no point hiding some things – it’s best to get it all over in one conversation.

Hiding your debts can have wider implications. It might not just be affecting you - for example, it could also your partner’s credit rating.

That’s because if you have a joint bank account, mortgage or credit card, for example, banks and other lenders might look at the financial situation of both people before making a decision.

You can check if you’re linked financially by accessing you credit report, which is free to do.

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If you think your partner is hiding debt from you

If you think your partner might be hiding debt from you, it’s important to talk to them about it now.

Read our blog on Spotting the signs of problem debt, which discusses for instance;

  • overspending
  • being anxious, withdrawn or depressed
  • secretive behaviour
  • a change in spending habits.

If you discover that your partner has been hiding debts, you have a right to be cross. In fact, it’s normal and understandable. However, now isn’t the time to release that anger. Instead, you need to be practical. Ask your partner for all the facts and figures and find out the exact situation.

Perhaps ask them to contact a debt advice charity. They’ll be able to give free impartial advice on tackling the debt – you could even do this together.

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If you and your partner earn different amounts

If there’s a big difference in what you and your partner earn, it could cause issues over time as you make financial decisions.

Communicating your needs early and often is a great way to keep frustration, and hurt feelings and pride, to a minimum.

If it’s making it difficult to make decisions, and set financial goals, there are other ways to start talking about money. It’s a good idea to think about:

Which bills are a priority, and who’s responsible for them

For example, if your partner has some high-interest credit – you might want to agree they pay that off first before you consider spending on luxuries. Maybe you can help them by both living cheaply for a few months. At the same time, it might help you build your savings as well.

Short-term and long-term goals

For example, saving for a holiday or retirement. Deciding on goals, making a budget and realistically saying what you will or can do can help you prioritise what’s important.

Managing your money

Talk about whether you should be managing your money jointly or separately. Getting this right can avoid arguments about money.

How you split bills and savings

For example, if one of you wants to share bills 50/50, but one earns a lot less than the other – maybe you need to reduce your outgoings. This could range from eating less expensive food to living somewhere less expensive.

If you’re in a new relationship, you might have existing financial commitments or an ex-partner with whom you shared finances. It’s worth arranging your finances so you can keep any other financial commitments separate from the ones you share with your new partner.

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If you think your partner has a gambling problem

If your partner is secretly gambling, it can have a devastating impact on your finances and relationship.

You might have a feeling that something is wrong but aren’t able to prove that your partner is hiding a gambling addiction. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • is your partner secretive about their finances?
  • is your partner cagey or defensive about money?
  • do they hide bank statements?
  • is there money going out of accounts without explanation?

The reality is that when a partner has a gambling problem, it not only hurts their own finances, but their partner and the wider family too.

Someone with a gambling problem might use savings they or the family have, rack up credit card debts or even re-mortgage the family home.

The first thing to do if you think your partner is a problem gambler is to get help. There is a lot of support out there.

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If your partner is controlling your money

Everyone has the right to financial independence.

It’s financial abuse if your partner is:

  • controlling your money
  • running up debts in your name
  • stopping you from being financially independent or earning your own money.

It’s more common than you might think. According to the charity Refuge, one in five UK adults is a victim of financial abuse in a relationship. And this kind abuse often overlaps with physical or emotional abuse.

If you’re in this situation, talking about money might cause your partner to do or say things that put you at risk of mental or physical harm.

It’s important to know that you don’t need to struggle alone. 

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When to get relationship help

You might find it easier to talk about money problems with someone independent if it is affecting your relationship.

England and Wales

The NHS have a tool on their website that tells you what relationship counselling is available in your area. A lot of it is free advice.

Find out more on the NHS website

You can also get a free 30-minute webchat with a trained counsellor with the charity Relate If you want more sessions, there’s likely to be a cost which this based on your income.

Northern Ireland

Relate in Northern Ireland can put you in touch with counsellors close to where you live. Find out more on the relate ni website

Scotland

You can find a counselling session through the following organisations:

Find out more

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Another option is to use a free app to help get the conversation moving. ‘Toucan’ is one example. It’s designed for couples to work on together, and includes a module on talking about money.

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Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

Continue to website
Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

Continue to website
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