Do we need to talk about money?

All couples benefit from talking about finances, whether they have just met, are in a long-­‐term committed relationship, experiencing financial stress, or are financially happy. 

Whilst money conversations are not the sexiest conversations in a relationship, they are necessary. 

There is no perfect time to have a financial conversation, and all relationships are different, money discussions are necessary for many reasons throughout a relationship. 

It is very common to hear people say, “We should have had money conversations sooner.” 

With that in mind, starting financial conversations early in the relationship is most beneficial as it will set up a system of money communication right from the beginning.

As well as specific changes in your relationship, such as moving in together, having children or retirement – there are other situations stated below that would benefit from a financial conversation.

Some examples of when it’s a good time to talk about money:

  • You’re feeling uncomfortable about the other person’s financial habits or decisions
  • You are thinking about the structure of your banking, want to develop a budget, have some disposable income for spending, etc.
  • You are about to make a big decision, such as a holiday, studying or other large purchase, which will impact the family’s income
  • You’re personally holding off financial plans because of your partner
You’re feeling uneasy about the other person’s financial habits or decisions
You are thinking about the structure of your banking, want to develop a budget, have some disposable income for spending, etc.
You are about to make a big decision, such as a holiday, studying or other large purchase, which will impact the family’s income
You’re personally holding off financial plans because of your partner
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Feeling uncomfortable

Addressing feelings of discomfort is another time when financial conversations are necessary.

It is time to talk with your partner if you are feeling uncomfortable or experiencing any of the situations below:

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Guilt
When one person earns less they can experience guilt. Making purchases when you are not the one who earned the money can also lead to feelings of guilt. For straight men, this may be a particular challenge due to viewing themselves as the provider regardless of how their relationship is structured.
Resentment
The higher earning partner may resent the partner who earns less if they buy goods that aren't considered essential. The partner earning more may feel taken advantage of, or that the household budget is unbalanced. Staying at home to raise children can also lead to feelings of resentment, particularly if this was not planned, and leaving their job felt forced.
Power Struggle
Money equates to power, and often control. Sometimes the primary income earner believes or positions themselves to have power to make the majority of decisions about how money is spent and/or managed – which can be a slippery slope to financial and economic harm, impacting all elements of the family dynamics.
Lying or withholding
There are many reasons couples may lie or withhold information about money – overspending, embarrassment, issues of control, discomfort, etc. Whether intentional or not, these behaviours have the potential to damage trust and respect in the relationship.
Hiding Money
Hiding money is another issue – it may be put aside as an exit plan if things don’t go well, or a secret stash for spending. For a relationship to be and remain healthy, financial decisions need to be discussed so both people know what’s going on. If however, the relationship doesn’t feel safe for these conversations it may be useful to seek additional support.
Unequal asset ownership
If the family’s assets (typically property) are only in one partner’s name, this can lead to issues relating to security, commitment, and a person’s sense of equality within the relationship.
Guilt
When one person earns less they can experience guilt. Making purchases when you are not the one who earned the money can also lead to feelings of guilt. For straight men, this may be a particular challenge due to viewing themselves as the provider regardless of how their relationship is structured.
Resentment
The higher earning partner may resent the partner who earns less if they buy goods that aren't considered essential. The partner earning more may feel taken advantage of, or that the household budget is unbalanced. Staying at home to raise children can also lead to feelings of resentment, particularly if this was not planned, and leaving their job felt forced.
Power Struggle
Money equates to power, and often control. Sometimes the primary income earner believes or positions themselves to have power to make the majority of decisions about how money is spent and/or managed – which can be a slippery slope to financial and economic harm, impacting all elements of the family dynamics.
Lying or withholding
There are many reasons couples may lie or withhold information about money – overspending, embarrassment, issues of control, discomfort, etc. Whether intentional or not, these behaviours have the potential to damage trust and respect in the relationship.
Hiding Money
Hiding money is another issue – it may be put aside as an exit plan if things don’t go well, or a secret stash for spending. For a relationship to be and remain healthy, financial decisions need to be discussed so both people know what’s going on. If however, the relationship doesn’t feel safe for these conversations it may be useful to seek additional support.
Unequal asset ownership
If the family’s assets (typically property) are only in one partner’s name, this can lead to issues relating to security, commitment, and a person’s sense of equality within the relationship.

If any of these behaviours above feel particularly controlling, you may be experiencing economic harm.

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© Good Shepherd NZ and AUT, 2021

Good Shepherd NZ has built this toolkit in collaboration with Dr Ayesha Scott of AUT’s Finance Department.