Valentine’s Day trigger a money moment?

Laura du Preez | 15 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 in a long-standing relationship and money is a source of tension, it is time to re-ignite some intimacy that extends to your financial life.

Tension about money is a lot more common than people think, Daryl Coker, advisory partner and wealth management specialist at Citadel, says.

It can ebb and flow with the availability of money and as people go through different stages in how they view money – particularly in families before kids, with kids and after kids, he says.

For many couples, Covid has resulted in less money being available and so, as a couple, it may be time to revisit your views on money and your future goals.

Keep conversations calm

Feziwe Mntambo, wealth manager at Inkunzi Wealth Group, says you should start with a conversation and agree to set your expectations together.

When you talk about money, try not to be confrontational as money is an emotional issue, Coker suggests.

Put yourself in your partners shoes – consider how they have been moulded and how money is important to them, Coker suggests.

Be mindful of changes to your earning capacities that may have occurred if one of you took time off work or a lesser role to spend more time raising your children, while the other has moved up and on, he says. Don’t forget the contribution that sacrifice has made to your household.

Once you appreciate each other’s situations, set joint goals.  If, for example, you realise you can no longer afford to go overseas every year, but travelling is important for one or both of you, you could budget to go every three years, he says.

Setting small goals that you both buy into, is also a way to try to regain harmony on financial matters. Coker says these goals are more realistic and once you have achieved a small goal, you should celebrate it and set a higher one.

The partner who earns more should recognise that the other partner also has financial goals – the lower earner should save for these but the higher earner could contribute at a higher rate to make it achievable, Coker says.

Mntambo says if money is your flashpoint, it may help you to run a joint account and share control of your household finances.

Some people are better when someone is watching, she says.

Karabo Ramookho, Old Mutual’s Strategic Marketing Manager who is also a certified life coach, is not in favour of joint bank accounts, as they will be frozen if one partner dies, employers may refuse to pay your salary into a joint account and your credit score is determined at an individual level.

A joint savings account is feasible as long as you both get the notifications about transactions on the account, she says.

Get a coach

Ramookho says if you have a problem, such as putting on weight, you would approach a professional, like a personal exercise coach or a dietician, who knows what they are doing and get help.

Similarly, if as a couple you are struggling with money issues, you should get professional help - a money coach or financial adviser - to help you identify and address your problems.

A coach can teach you how to budget, help you identify triggers that lead you to overspend and the bad habits you each have, she says.

If you do not have a budget, you need to put one together, Ramookho says. Don’t treat your budget as a suggestion on what do with your money - rather the document should give your money direction, Ramookho says.

Budgetting should also help you find money in your money – where you have debit orders for things you should no longer be paying for, or where you could save by changing a spending habit, she says.

Also focus on your bank statements – don’t leave the email that contains them unread – question every transaction and be sure it is necessary, Ramookho says.

Then ask your partner what excites them and where they want to go financially. Set goals together so that you can commit to them, she suggests.

A week after pay day, have an intimate budget night and consider all aspects of your finances, Ramookho says.

Mntambo agrees a money coach may help as money is an emotional issue for many and you or your partner may try to defend your spending, but a counsellor will not have any feelings and will just stick to the figures in your budget.

With some help you can rectify any financial mistake, she says.

Blind spots

Couples typically have some blindspots when it comes their money.

Mntambo says children are one of them.  

If you have children, don’t let them run the show.  If they are demanding things like a R5 000 Playstation game that was not budgeted for, it will not be easy for mum to slip out and buy it when both partners are watching the account, she says.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been another one – as when one person in a couple has lost a job it means their income may be cut by half and their finances need a rejig, Mntambo says.

Ramookho says the comparison trap – or trying to live like the Khumalos – is a blind spot for many couples. 

Another blind spot is the convenience that comes with online shopping, especially since Covid – we just order and order, she says.

Culture can also be a blind spot – it is easy to say this is how we do it or this is what my family expects. However, couples need to do a deep dive and ask if this is the way it works, what does that mean for us and how do we prepare for that, she says. 

Coker says a lack of honesty is a blind spot for many couples – people hide accounts and debts.

Communication is also an issue – you cannot be recluse about money when you are in a relationship – you need to share it.

Having a chat about your finances is as important as talking about the children or your next holiday, he says.

Financial dependants are another blind spot for many South African families. You set yourselves up as couple but later in life you have to support one partner’s parents or a sibling and this can be create tension, Coker says.

Even older couples disagree about inheritances if they have been supporting one adult and not the others – should the others inherit more or not.