Be my Valentine, and ask me anything about my budget

Laura du Preez | 14 February 2022

Laura du Preez has been writing about personal finance topics for more than 20 years, including eight years as personal finance editor for two leading media houses. 

If you are just vibing, it’s fine to be a little less open about your finances, but if Valentine’s Day leads to greater intimacy it is time to also get close up and personal about each other’s finances.

Knowing your partner’s financial situation intimately is key to building a lasting relationship that isn’t destroyed by bad habits or divorce.

Disagreeing about money and how you allocate it is one of the top three reasons relationships fail, Karabo Ramookho, Old Mutual’s Strategic Marketing Manager who is also a certified life coach, says.

Feziwe Mntambo, wealth manager at Inkunzi Wealth Group, says financial intimacy is probably the most important pillar in any long-term relationship and to achieve it you need to share private financial information.

Start observing

Sharing information about each other’s financial lives may be hard for some people, as a lot depends on how you were brought up and your personal experiences with money, Daryl Coker, advisory partner and wealth management specialist at Citadel, says.

When two people from different backgrounds get together it can be difficult for them to align those different backgrounds, he says.

When you are dating, however, it is time to take notice of whether money comes and goes easily for your partner – whether they buy expensive things and whether they have financial goals, he says.

Ramookho says you can check your partner out – observe where their money comes from, whether they are spontaneous with money or plan their spending and if there is a point in the month where money runs out.

South Africa’s colourful cultures mean you also need to explore all sorts of questions about beliefs – whether your partner believes a man should pay for everything, for example, she says.

Start talking

Mntambo says it is important when the two of you in your relationship begin to have a chat about your finances and get momentum going, to expand the topic further.

Sharing your goals and aspirations first – an overseas trip, a car or a house – can help you open the conversation, Coker says.

Also ask about your partner’s parents, where they stayed and what job they had, as this can help you to frame the way your date sees money and to start talking about that, he says.

Move in with no secrets

Before you decide to move in together or start planning a wedding, you should be beyond guessing whether your partner earns well – a fancy title does not necessarily mean a big salary, Ramookho says.

You should also know who your partner is supporting and whether they are still paying off a student loan, she says.

Mntambo says if you and your partner are planning to marry, you need to share your expectations about your financial life. It is no good if you expect to be living in a mansion a year after marrying while your partner plans to rent an apartment for two years before deciding where to build your life for the next ten, she says.

Explore your financial needs and goals and, if need be, how you can compromise so that you are financially aligned, she says.

Conversations about money may be uncomfortable because of your backgrounds, but setting a formula for them can make the conversations easier, Mntambo says.

Be frank and honest from the outset - if you are in a relationship you need to trust the other person and that includes trusting them with information about your finances as well, she says.

Talk and learn from your partner and let your partner learn from you, she adds.

“Discuss your debt, discuss children because they are an expense that you need to plan for, where you want to live, what car you drive or want to drive – you need to have those conversations,” Mntambo says.

Managing money together

Coker says there isn’t a perfect way for couples to manage their money together – some run a joint account and some run separate accounts.

It is more important to understand your partner’s needs and what fuels those needs, he says.

Some partners are happy to let the other partner manage their joint finances.  The partner who has that responsibility should at least keep the other informed of what they are doing.

Mntambo says communication and compromise are key.

Ramookho says couples, like individuals, should not try to keep up with the Khumalos, but should rather consider their own unique financial situation and that they need to plan for things.

If you see friends going away, you should know that if you want to do the same, you need to work out what you will spend and what you each need to save to be able to spend that amount, she says.