VALENTINE'S day may be behind us but it's worth setting a date to talk with your better half about money matters. It could make a valuable difference to your financial wellbeing and your relationship.
Research by Relationships Australia shows that financial stress ranks high on the list of reasons why relationships suffer. In the US, for instance, couples argue on average three times a month about financial issues. Yet 55% of adults living with a long term partner don't set aside time on a regular basis to discuss financial issues.
There's no doubt money can be a touchy subject. When money is tight it can be very easy to start pointing the finger of blame at our partner's financial habits. But in my experience there aren't too many people that have a perfect track record when it comes to money matters, and there are good reasons to work as a team on household finances.
Relationships Australia says the trick is not to wait until you're under financial pressure to kick off a discussion about money. Instead set a date when you're both relaxed and be prepared to listen to what your better half says.
I freely admit I'm no relationship counsellor however after 30 years in financial planning I have come to recognise that some simple strategies can help couples get back on track with their money.
A good starting point is to talk about your goals - both shared and personal. Discussing things like when you plan to start a family, or what you'd like to do when you retire let you find a common target you can work towards.
Next, take stock of where you are financially right now. The process of writing down your assets (your home, investments and items of value like the family car) can create a shared sense of achievement. Balance this by writing down your liabilities - how much you owe on the mortgage, personal loans or credit cards, to get a clear picture on where you stand financially.
It's also important to discuss each other's approach to money. Our upbringing often plays a key role here so it's unlikely you will have identical views about spending, saving and paying off debt. The main point at this stage is to understand why your partner takes a particular approach to their finances, and to become comfortable discussing money freely and openly.
Sharing your life with someone doesn't have to mean giving up your own financial identity. Some couples choose to use a joint account for some expenses while having their own account for personal spending. Others choose to run their finances almost entirely separately.
There is no right or wrong way of handling money as a couple. It's a question of discovering what works best for you both - something you may never find out if you don't begin talking about your finances.
ASIC's MoneySmart website offers a range of online tools like a savings calculator and retirement planner that couples can use to set and track goals.
If money is driving a serious wedge in your relationship, it could be worth speaking to a Relationships Australia about counselling - the contact number is 1300 364 277.
Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money magazine. Visit www.paulsmoney.com.au for more information.
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