In a survey conducted by American Express over a decade ago, ‘one-third of couples reported finances to be the most stressful facet of their relationship.’ A bit shocking right? Sadly, this fact hasn’t changed much with the passing of time. One would think the subject of children, intimacy and other issues would top the list. But various surveys and research show us otherwise. A major bone of contention is usually around navigating this new space called marriage. Personal finance is hard enough when you’re alone but now that you are sharing your life with someone else, it becomes even more critical. You probably know how to plan your income and expenses as a single person but now that you are married, how should you and your partner split your finances?
In this article, we will talk about the relationship between personal finance and marriage, how marriage can either alter or aid your wealth-building journey and how to navigate your finances when you have a partner.
The connection between marriage and finance.
Before marriage, you are most likely doing things on your own. You make your own money and choose how to spend it. You draw up your own budget based on your own wants and needs. You decide how much to save in your emergency fund based on your living expenses. You decide how much to invest. You decide what kind of investments you want. Is it Naira mutual funds? Is it Dollar mutual funds? You decide what kind of house you want to live in. You are literally the sole determinant of a lot of things in your life. That changes with marriage.
Now you have to think of joint responsibilities such as electricity bills, other utilities, children [if you choose to have some], rent, and many other expenses. Things that were otherwise plain black and white are now a bit skewed. It is impossible to go on with life as you used to before. Now you have to make new rules that guide your finances based on the new relationship you are in: marriage.
The first key is financial compatibility.
Whether you are married or not, it is never too late or too early to learn what financial compatibility means and how this affects your finances. While it is important to consider heavy subjects such as love as you approach marriage, financial compatibility is another important factor to consider. Does your partner think like you when it comes to finance? Are you both working towards the same goal? In this article on financial compatibility, we explained that being financially compatible with your spouse is not just about how much money you both have. It is about the money standards your partner upholds and how these will affect the dynamics of your marriage and your own personal finance.
Interrogating how your partner views money issues like debt, financial responsibility, financial fraud, generational wealth, and so on will help you know if you both are financially compatible. If you discover that you are not, it is not too late to correct the issue. As we explained here, through proper financial education, you and your partner can work towards getting on the same page even if you started on different pages. Once that is settled, you can then address how you both should split your finances. Below are five key points to direct you in your decision-making.
1. Let the numbers decide
A common advice to couples about splitting their finances is to let both of them share the burden equally. While this may seem like good advice, it’s not. It does not put a lot of other things into consideration. In a marriage where a partner earns five times more than what the other person earns, splitting financial responsibilities equally not only seems unfair but would put a huge strain on the partner earning less.
What marriage affords you is the ability to share your financial burdens with someone else. This is a benefit that single people do not have. So instead of paying for your house rent and utility bills alone, you get to share that with someone. But if you have to share financial responsibilities equally always, the person earning less may feel burdened. Bills should be split proportionally to your income. This allows you both to pay your bills without one party feeling unnecessarily cheated or punished for earning more or less. This is what Natalie Morris, a columnist at MetroUK calls equitable sharing of bills where she advises: ‘Choosing equitability over equality may help couples to foster a better sense of fairness between them, and limit resentments in the long-term.’
2. Have both joint accounts and personal accounts
The subject of joint accounts has always been a bone of contention in marriages. This is especially true when one party in the marriage does not trust the other wholeheartedly. Instead of choosing an either/or approach to joint accounts, here is a better way to approach things: have both joint savings accounts and individual accounts.
The joint savings account will help you build wealth and make family purchases together. However, it is important that each partner retains their individual account at the same time. Apart from the psychological feeling of losing oneself that may come with completely losing your personal account, having a separate account also allows you to be financially responsible for yourself as an individual separate from your spouse. It allows you to also make personal plans and build wealth at your own pace.
When it comes to the issue of joint and personal accounts, trust is essential. If this will work, there has to be complete trust between the spouses.
We once held a Clubhouse event with Pastor Emmanuel Iren, Blessing Abeng and Fu’ad Lawal on how to build financial intimacy with your partner. During the event, a tip Emmanuel Iren hammered on was this: ‘Ideally, there should be total trust with someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. Details like how much you earn, your properties and where they are, should not be secrets. Transparency is different from control so know who your partner is and work through the process of financial intimacy with them.’
If the subject of trust is settled, having a joint account while retaining your personal account will be an act of unity and financial responsibility not a cause for quarrel. You can start your joint account here on Cowrywise.
3. Learning financial education together
One of the ways we advise that couples achieve financial compatibility is by learning how money works together. Doing life with someone who does not hold the same money values as you do can be quite tiring. While you are trying to budget, they are squandering. While you are saving for emergencies, they are activating a ‘what will be, will be’ mode. It’s exhausting and eventually will lead to quarrels. An easy way to solve this is to learn together.
Confronting your partner on their knowledge gaps can be embarrassing for them. A good way to approach this is by learning together. Here on the Cowrywise blog, we have an article on every money topic you can think of. You can start from here. You can also recommend Youtube videos that you find useful to them. All these can be good conversation starters to address their knowledge gaps without them feeling attacked or embarrassed.
Here is a list of recommended articles you should read together with your partner:
- How to Build Financial Intimacy In Your Relationship
- On Financial Compatibility: Should You Marry Someone Poorer Than You?
- Simplified by Cowrywise: Money Management for Couples
- Saving and Investing with a Partner: The Pros & Cons
- How to Discuss Money in Relationships
4. Have joint goals
When couples talk about their finances, there’s always a lot of talk about things like joint accounts, splitting bills, etc. However, there are more important foundational subjects that will allow you and your partner to always be on the same page when it comes to finance. One of these is having financial goals. What are your goals as a couple and a family?
Before you got married, you probably had goals. To retire at 45. To build your own house by 30. To go into real estate. To own a chain of business. To build generational wealth. These were the goals you were working with while you were single and unmarried. They pushed you and determined how you managed your finances. That should not change now that you are married.
Have a sit down with your partner and discuss your money goals. Hear theirs out and see how you both can come up with a list of financial goals that work for both of you. Doing this together will help you both to always remember why you are saving up, while you are investing, and while you are not buying every single thing that comes up on your Instagram. If you have your goals and your partner is not aware, they may not understand why you do the things you do, like practice austerity or buy properties. But if you both are on the same page, each one of you will serve as a motivation for the other and a source of encouragement.
5. Practice accountability
Now that you are married, you are in a better position to achieve your financial goals if you know how to work things out. Before marriage, you were probably chasing your financial goals alone or with friends. Maybe you even had accountability partners or you had to make use of our accountability tools such as locked savings plans and Badges to keep yourself in check.
But now, you and your partner can practice financial responsibility together. Be accountable to each other. Make plans together, execute them together, and give account to one another. This can help you achieve your goals a lot faster than when you were doing it all alone.
Handling finances in marriage can be dicey. However, with the right information and trust between both parties, you can lead a more responsible and productive financial life as couples. Start here.