Money is the leading cause of divorce and separation according to many relationship counselors. It tends to be a touchy subject because of so many reasons. It can be different belief systems because of upbringing or expectations that have not been verbalized. Whilst we know that communication is key, we may not know what to communicate, how to do it and which guidelines to use. Many couples have been through our program and as I hear their stories there seems to be similarity on what areas need a consensus in a marriage. These areas are; What is mine and/or yours, and what is ours.
What is ours? Belinda and Daniel got married two years ago. Daniel grew up understanding that a man’s role was to completely provide for the family. He, therefore, told Belinda that her money was hers to do with as she pleases and his money was theirs. Of course, this was said in the honeymoon period and pertinent things like limits were not discussed. Daniel assumed Belinda should instinctively know what an appropriate spend is. So even though Belinda did the house shopping, the credit or debit card that would be used to pay the bill was Daniels. At first, there was no problem. Then the bill started rising steadily. Daniel never complained so Belinda went on. One element to this was general food prices rising. Since Daniel would never set foot in the supermarket, he had absolutely no idea what the prices were. The other side to this was just a general creep. More things or more exotic brands being bought. Truth is, it is easy to spend money when you have been given the illusion that there is a never ending bank account. So small fights started because of this and underlying resentment built up. There was simply no clear definition of what ‘ours’ practically meant. In this case, they should have sat down and agreed what the spend was. They also had not set concrete financial goals that they were working on. Even if you have separate income streams it is very important to be working on something together. If that existed as well as a clear savings plan, Belinda would also have been more conscious about the spending.
What is yours or mine? The other problem is that Daniel would see Belinda spending her money on her own things like clothes, shoes, outing while he felt bogged down with the bills of the house. For a long time, ego would not let him talk about this properly so it was covered up by nitpicking on other things that didn’t address the issue. It doesn’t mean that Belinda should never buy things for herself but there was just simply a financial imbalance. They resolved this by sharing bills. Daniel still wanted to take care of the major bills but Belinda now chipped in by paying the domestic help, electricity, and water. This meant she naturally became more disciplined. In addition, they both now contribute an amount every month to their joint savings. Daniel is extremely organized and detailed. He is one of those people who keeps all receipts and can account for every shilling. Belinda is not and therefore it was important to her to still have money that she doesn’t have to be accountable to him for. She did not want every pair of shoe she bought audited. Some couples that have completely merged their money and it works for them. There are some that still need a degree of independence even if they pursue joint financial agenda’s.
Of course, life also happens. One of the things we advise couples in our classes is to at least have an annual meeting to review money. One person may have moved jobs, lost income or earning more money. Imagine if today, Belinda’s income became double that of Daniel’s. The dynamic would shift and this needs to be addressed. The money conversation is never a one-off. This article could in no way have captured the uncomfortable conversations and feelings that Belinda and Daniel needed to endure to even reach this point. It is usually scary for both parties to talk about it and many times money is simply a symptom. It reveals problems e.g. if there is a fundamental issue of trust, it will show up in the money behaviors. So many of us just avoid and that is what catches up in some way. The money conversation in relationships is a journey, not a destination. Just keep at it.
Waceke runs a course on Personal Finance. Get in touch with her on email@example.com|Facebook/WacekeNduati| Twitter@cekenduati