Money can be one of the most contentious issues in a relationship. Yet often couples don’t think about where they agree about financial matters and where they don’t.

Understanding your partner’s money values and how they align with your own should be as much a part of building a relationship as anything else. If you are able to do that from the start, you will definitely reduce the chances of issues arising later on.

"You can’t buy love, but you can pay heavily for it." (Henry Youngman)

When describing their ideal partner, most people would probably say they are looking for someone who shares their values. The things that are important to them, should also be important to the person with whom they choose to spend most of their time.

Yet there is an aspect to this that is often overlooked.

While people are likely to concentrate on things like shared political or moral views, what doesn’t get as much attention is whether your partner shares your values when it comes to money.

This is unfortunate, because finances are often one of the biggest points of contention in a relationship. A study from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, published in 2019 found that even in happy, long-lasting marriages, money is one of the most serious issues partners argue about.

Examine your priorities

Often, these disagreements come about because of contradictions in people’s values. The two partners don’t share the same ideas about what is most important to do with their money, and that leads to conflict.

This is usually because the topic has never been properly discussed or examined. While it can be quite obvious what someone’s moral code looks like by the way they act and behave around other people, their attitudes towards investing or financial planning or supporting their wider families, don’t necessarily play out in public.

Which is why, as uncomfortable as it might sound, couples should make a deliberate effort to understand each other’s money values. This is not something that you should want to find out about only when it becomes an issue.

There are three useful approaches to doing this.

1. Make a list

The first is for each partner to independently write down their five priorities when it comes to money. Rank them from one to five, and then compare your lists.

Do you put long-term savings above everything else, or do you believe the most important thing is to spend your money on life experiences? Do you see providing for your wider family as imperative, or do you put saving for your own emergency fund first?

This simple exercise will tell you a lot about each other. If you have similar lists, then you can see that you have shared values. And that is a strength you can build on by having common goals.

But if your lists don’t match at all, that also doesn’t necessarily mean that you are incompatible. Sometimes relationships work because there is a balance. The problems arise when you don’t understand and acknowledge these differences and discuss how to satisfy them both.

2. Think through the “what ifs”

The second exercise is to talk through what you would do in certain “what if” scenarios. Again, write down your answers independently and then compare them so that you aren’t influenced by your partner’s response.

For example, what would you do if you won R100 000? Would you save some of it, give some of it to your family, or perhaps spend it all on a holiday?

Or how would you respond if one of your siblings came to you and asked for a big loan? Would you respond in the same way if it was a cousin?

3. Name your non-negotiables

Finally, write down what you think of as the most important things to spend your money on. Month to month, what are your biggest expenses? How often do you eat out, for example, or how regularly do you buy new clothes?

Understanding these dynamics early in a relationship can prevent a lot of unhappiness and disagreement later on. Because if you know what your partner’s values are, you will have a lot more understanding about the way they behave, and you won’t be caught unawares down the line.

To discuss how to build a shared financial plan with your partner, speak to us.

Disclaimer – *The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.
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