Having a partner who is bad with money can be extremely stressful in a relationship and money issues are actually one of the leading causes of divorce or relationships breaking down.
If your partner is bad with money, you need to communicate with them clearly and non-judgementally about the issue and work together to create a plan that works for both of you. It’s important not to downplay this issue to your partner as this can lead to resentment and the breaking down of trust.
So if you have or suspect that your partner isn’t responsible with money, read on below for some of the steps you might take to ensure this issue doesn’t get out of hand and cause the relationship to break down.
What to do if your partner is bad with money?
If your partner is bad with money or generally irresponsible with finances, it can be very stressful, particularly if you are married or have joint financial obligations like a mortgage.
These behaviours are likely due to the example set by your partner’s family as a child or they may just be down to your partner’s personality – for example, people higher in the personality trait ‘conscientiousness’ tend to be better managers of their finances.
Despite this, all is not lost. There are some simple steps that can be taken that can help a partner who is bad with money.
The first step is to open communication in an open and non-judgmental way. It’s important you tell your significant other clearly how their attitudes to money are difficult for you and something that needs to be addressed whilst also making it clear that this doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, or worse than you and that we all just have different strengths and weaknesses.
Once the dialogue has been opened, it’s important to set aside a time with your partner when finances can be discussed in depth. Ideally, this is a recurring conversation on a weekly or monthly basis, but a one-off conversation can be a good place to start.
This may not seem very romantic, but money issues are one of the leading courses of divorce and relationship breakdown and these things aren’t particularly romantic either.
This time set aside needs to be long enough to talk through the issues and make a plan and you should be sure you’ll have your partner’s undivided attention (I.e don’t schedule at the end of a busy work day).
The next step will be to prepare for this conversation thoroughly, and ask yourself the following:
1) what are the current issues that bother/worry me the most?
2) what can I realistically get out of this conversation?
2) what’s a reasonable plan my partner could stick to address my concerns?
During the conversation, it’s crucial you don’t let things get overly emotional, either by provoking your partner or letting your own emotions run wild. It’s better to stay supportive but passive.
Start the conversation by reassuring your partner and telling them you’re invested in the relationship but that some money issues worry you and you want to discuss them so they don’t become bigger issues in the future.
Lay out your concerns identified above using the PREP framework:
P: point – make the key point you want to get across
R: Reason – explain the impact this is having
E: Evidence – give an example of the impact
P: point – restate the point for clarity
Depending on the significance of the issues involved, usually clear communication and a plan for going forward that both of you agree to will help immeasurably.
What are common money mistakes in a relationship?
Any individual can make a bad choice when it comes to their finances, but recurring money issues in relationships usually fall into one of the following categories; debt, overspending, no consideration of the future or lack of communication.
The first item, debt, can be the most crippling and is unfortunately a trap many people fall into. Money is spent on credit and the exorbitant interest rates leave people with bills they can not pay back.
My advice for most is to avoid consumer debt (credit cards, financing) as much as possible.
If you find yourself in a difficult debt situation, I would advise reading Dave Ramsey’s books which have helped a lot of people.
The second and third items, overspending and not giving any consideration to your future are linked.
Many people live paycheck to paycheck, spending without thought on events, experiences and products. This can be difficult in a relationship when one-half of the couple wants to save money for a wedding, house or future financial security.
As I’ve alluded to in other posts, everyone should be taking advantage of their employer’s pension scheme but this is the type of thing many forego having the cash in hand to spend.
It’s very difficult to form a relationship with someone without any future planning and this can be difficult to imagine financially when your partner gives little thought to their future finances.
Finally, lack of communication can be a big issue and affects many who think they manage their finances effectively.
You could be someone with no debt, who doesn’t overspend and who is actively planning their finances into the future, but if you don’t communicate well on money issues, you can still have significant profiles with your partner.
For example, if you buy a new car without your partner’s knowledge, this may erode trust in a relationship, particularly if you combine your finances or are otherwise financially tied.
Should I end a relationship over money issues?
Ending a relationship over money issues may seem dramatic, but there’s a reason it is one of the leading causes of divorce.
It’s very hard for a responsible partner to plan for a life with someone reckless with their money as people value stability.
Clearly ending a relationship doesn’t need to be the first course of action. Having reasonable, non-judgemental conversations is a good first step and young people who have made financial mistakes should be allowed time to mature.
However, it is perfectly reasonable to end a relationship if your partner is reckless with money and takes no notice of your concerns after you raise them.
Clearly, this is more difficult once married and the rules around marriage will often involve you splitting your assets between each party to the relationship.
If you’ve diligently been saving whilst your partner has been spending without abandon, this can be very unfair during a divorce.
A pre-nuptial agreement can protect against this to an extent but it’s important to note that this only protects assets accumulated pre-marriage and not assets accumulated during the marriage.
How to ask your partner to spend less money
A common issue many people face in their relationship is convincing their partner to spend less and give greater priority to long-term saving for a home deposit, an emergency fund or even for retirement.
As mentioned above, it’s crucial you explain to your partner your concerns and an outcome that would be agreeable for both parties.
One suggestion may be that each partner pays a certain amount into a joint savings account when they get paid and the rest of their money is free to be spent as each partner desires.
A more serious couple may have a rule that any purchase above say £100 is mentioned to the other. It’s important this rule works both ways and is not one half of the relationship imposing rules on the other.
It may also be a good idea to create a budget which lays out all the key bills, the target amount to save each month and the amount left over. This will help clarify what is and isn’t a reasonable amount to spend each month.
Can I keep my finances separate from my partner after marriage?
legally speaking, once you’re married your finances are legally tied to that of your spouse. That means that if your partner gets into debt, you’re legally liable. Similarly, if the marriage breaks down and you divorce, the marital assets are split, regardless of who earnt them.
However, practically it is possible to keep your finances separate whereby you have your own bank accounts, cards and investments and they have theirs. There is nothing wrong with this and this system works well for many couples whilst other couples may prefer to combine everything and have one member of the relationship manage the finances.
There are benefits to having a more combined approach as if you have £40k to invest in the year, you can max out your own ISA allowance (£20k) and that of your partners. If you preferred to keep your money separate, clearly this wouldn’t be possible.
Click on the link below to read my recent post on your annual ISA allowance and how important this can be for your finances:
However, there are also benefits to separation – for instance, if seeing your partner spend your hard-earned money irresponsibly is difficult for you, it may be better that they don’t have access to it and can only spend the money they earn.
What are the signs that a potential partner is bad with money?
Sometimes it isn’t obvious that a potential partner will be bad with money but there are some telltale signs.
If a prospective partner spends recklessly, talks often about being broke or in debt, displays low financial literacy or takes on a lot of credit card debt, this May all suggest they are not the most secure with their finances.
This factor should be weighed up when considering if the relationship is right as money issues can be a significant problem that’s not easy to overcome for many people
As always, please remember I am an Accountant, but not your Accountant. In this post (and all of my others) I share information and oftentimes give anecdotes about what has worked well for me. However, I do not know your personal financial situation and so do not offer individual financial advice. If you are unsure of a particular financial subject, please hire a qualified financial advisor to guide you.
This article has been written by Luke Girling, ACA – a qualified Accountant and personal finance enthusiast in the UK. Please visit my ‘About‘ page for more information. To verify my ACA credentials – please search for my name at the ICAEW member finder. To get in touch with questions or ideas for future posts, please comment below or contact me here.
Just picking up on a point – in the UK, you are not automatically liable for debts your spouse runs up. That only happens if you co-sign or provide your personal guarantee for the debt.