Is the money balance tipped in your relationship?

When it comes to money, the dynamics in our relationships come in all shapes and sizes. They can become magnified by the extra challenges that expat lives bring.

Here are a few examples: 

  • Spouses who hide new purchases (loneliness shopping is a real thing… I feel so at home at my IKEA) 
  • A partner that does not allow their spouse to spend money without permission (unfortunately made easier when there are language barriers for transportation or at local shops) 
  • One or both partners expect the lesser earner to do more to contribute to the household in other ways (even when the lesser earner works as many hours)
  • The age old “saver versus spender” dilemma
  • Equal partners who keep the lines of communication open 

Even with the last seemingly ideal setup, the balance can start to tip unintentionally. We usually start a relationship with the intention to be equal partners and then we refine our division of labor as life gets full.

Which type of arrangement do you and your partner engage in when it comes to your finances?

  1. The “Of Course We Know” Partnership
    Read no further, you’ve got this in the bag… right?  Well, we can’t all be on top of everything all the time, but it’s a great goal. This can be as simple as having regular chats about money with your partner. Transparency in accounts is also important. Whether or not to combine finances is a personal decision, but that doesn’t mean there are secrets. And if either of you don’t know where to find the passwords to get into all the financial accounts, it’s time to have a sit down.
  2. The “Just Tell Me When I Need to Know” Arrangement
    This one is pretty common in relationships. Often, couples tend to handle money on a “need to know” basis. One deals with it and the other doesn’t need to worry about it, so they never think about it.  What’s the problem with that? Well, in extreme cases one partner is completely caught off guard. In less severe cases with no ill intent, there are still downsides. When we do something often (like budget money, talk to the financial advisor, research new tools), we become better at it and more knowledgeable. Great, but what about the other partner? The less involved person is losing out on opportunities to learn and grow their skills. It’s a downward cycle as one person learns more, the other gets further and further away from being able to take care of things, leaving them vulnerable. In addition, the person holding more responsibility can get overwhelmed with the burden of being the only person aware of financial issues.
  3. The “I Don’t Really Know, It’s Fine” Method
    Ah, this one pops up quite a bit for expats.  Many of us are fortunate enough to have some expenses covered or are perhaps living in low cost of living areas. When there isn’t a driving need to pay attention, it is easy to settle in if we’re comfortable and not take an interest in how much we are spending or saving because it all works out.  Until it doesn’t.  At the very least, we all know that our current situations will change at some point (it could be a move, a job loss, divorce, repatriation or, sorry to be dark, death) and it’s necessary to be ready when they do. Because no one wants to be caught in the next situation.

  4. The “Oh Crap…  I Don’t Know!” Situation
    This one is the scariest. Yep, scarier than a three-lane roundabout with long trucks, pedestrians, motor bikes and stray dogs. We can find ourselves saying this when tragedy strikes or a relationship ends and we find out that we have no clue about our finances. Being caught off guard, often far from home is truly a gut punch.  So what to do?  

While it often makes sense for one person to take the lead, finances need to be a joint project.  I hear you saying, “But they make the money, they deal with the money.”  [BUZZER] Wrong.  “I’m not good at money.” [BUZZER] I don’t care. “The person who’s home all day should handle everything.” [BUZZER] False again.  How you divide up the heavy lifting of tasks in your relationship is up to you, but financial security is too important to be lopsided.

But how?

  1. Start talking about the fun stuff. What do you want to do in your life together?  This part doesn’t need to be about money, it’s just to get you talking about shared goals.   
  2. Discuss how your goals fit with your current financial habits. Of course we all hope this is a pleasant conversation, though odds are pretty good that there will be points of disagreement.
  3. Decide what you’ll keep doing and what you’ll tweak.
  4. Check in monthly to make sure you both are comfortable with how it’s working out.
  5. Get online access for shared bank accounts and investments. Maybe even the ones that aren’t shared since if something happens you’ll need to know where everything is.
  6. At least know your “happiness number”: This is the amount of money that you need each month to lead a happy life. That number rises to high importance when you are ready to retire and want to know how much money you need to do so.  Basing it solely on income doesn’t take into account expenses that are going to go way up or way down, and the fact that you are no longer needing to use a large part of your salary to save for retirement. 

So what if your partner isn't on board with talking about money?

Start talking with friends about your financial questions and curiosities. Learn more, empower yourself. Read books, join women’s finance Facebook groups, read women’s finance blogs.  Then circle back at some point and try again to talk about the fun stuff.

It’s certainly not the easiest part of a relationship, but finances are one of the most important elements. Keep working at it until the balance feels right to you. It’s “worth” it. See what I did there?

Last Minute Party Cheese Poofs

Julie must like cheese as much as I do. These Gougères are quick to make and are sure to be a hit at any gathering. What I really love about them is that they are adaptable (use whatever cheese is locally available) and can be frozen. Click on image to go to downloads. 

I am thrilled to host fellow global mobility professionals as guest bloggers. Today’s contributor is Julie with a sometimes uncomfortable but very important subject – money.

About the Author

JD headshot_cropped
Ready to get your financial $h!t together? Then you need Julie Duszak on your team. 
As a financial coach and creator of Fund Your Joy, Julie helps women increase their financial know-how, align their money and priorities, and make sense of the things swirling around their heads that affect how they deal with money. Even though as an Accredited Financial Counselor she’s got tons of knowledge to guide her clients toward financial bliss, Julie bans the word “should” from her work and helps her clients actively choose their own future.
When she’s not yelling “camel!” every time she sees one near her home in Abu Dhabi, you can find Julie with a cocktail or cup of tea trying to prevent a cat butt from appearing on video chat. 

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