1 Create a financial plan

A financial plan defines your longterm financial goals and practical strategies for achieving them. If you’re in it with your partner for the long haul, put one together.

Financial plans are never perfect, because you are not a wizard and you can’t see the future. But the process of sitting down with your partner and working on a financial plan can be very helpful. It forces you to talk about your values, discuss how you’ll handle emergencie­s before they happen, and have fun fantasisin­g about your future.

Even if you’re a ‘keep your finances separate’ kind of couple, this planning exercise is worthwhile because of the conversati­ons it will force you to have.

It can help to have a profession­al guide you through this process, to help you with the maths, ask pointed questions and keep the conversati­on on track (especially if money’s already a source of tension). Any registered fee-based financial planner can help you – a company called Lifecheq is a good place to start.

• If either of our parents became sick or couldn’t look after themselves any more, how much would we support them?

• What is the maximum we could spend independen­tly without consulting each other first?

• Do you hope to start a business, study further or take a long sabbatical one day? How could we fund this?

• What emotions come up for you when we talk about money?

• What did you like about the way your family handled money growing up? What didn’t you like?

• What are the ways you think I’m better with money than you are?

2 Approach money fights with curiosity

It might be impossible never to argue about money. The goal is to argue better, which means approachin­g disagreeme­nts in a spirit of curiosity rather than hostility.

All of us have ideas about money that underlie our financial behaviour, ideas like, ‘Rich people are greedy,’ ‘Money is how people control you’ or ‘People won’t respect me unless I flaunt my wealth.’ Money fights are seldom just about money; they’re also about feelings, power and autonomy – feeling valued or feeling vulnerable.

It might seem crazy to you that your partner wants to buy the R300 bottle of wine or a third insurance policy, or send money to their sister (again). But instead of trying to convince them that you’re right and they’re wrong, ask questions to try to understand the deeper reasons these things matter to your partner – what hopes, fears and beliefs are motivating their choices. Unless you understand each other’s money beliefs, you’ll never understand what your financial disagreeme­nts are really about.

Choose a time when you’re both relaxed, and try talking when you’re side by side (go for a walk, or chat in the car) rather than face to face.

3 Make it visible

Some couples pool all their cash; others keep a ‘yours, mine, ours’ approach, and some keep their cash separate but trade off different expenses (for instance, one partner pays the home loan and the other pays all the smaller bills). There’s no one right or wrong approach that fits all couples. But every person in the relationsh­ip needs to feel that it’s fair. It might help to make things more visible.

If you have a shared bank account, install an app like 22seven to track your spending and show you where your money’s really going. Or simply make a spreadshee­t.

A word of caution here: There are many ways that people contribute to a relationsh­ip that aren’t financial, and if one partner is feeling resentful, try making that visible, too. Who does most of the housework and childcare? Who does the job of rememberin­g family birthdays and doctor’s check-ups? Can you agree on a more equitable split of those tasks?

And, let’s be clear, owning a task also includes the planning and rememberin­g of that task.

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