Thursday, 27 December 2012

Your finances as a Couple

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A lot of this post is deeply personal, but I've decided to share my feelings for a couple of reasons.
1. When you and your partner are pulling in different directions financially, it causes huge problems in your relationship.
2. All the other posts I have read on couples and money have been from a reasonable point of view.
So what happens, or what should you do, if your partner doesn't respond to reason?

First of all, let me start off by explaining some things. I often refer to my wife as my partner, not because we're a same sex couple (we're not, we're a conventional man and woman), but because that's how I view marriage - as a partnership, both working together.
Secondly, there have been times when friends have said to me, why don't you just divorce her? Yes, it would be soooooo much easier to go down that route, but I guess it depends on what's important to you. Writing a personal finance blog, you would think that the value of money is something very important to me. Well it is, up to a point. Money is a resource and nothing more. It's a renewable resource if you have enough passive income, or simply by going to work if you don't have that.
My feeling is that relationships are worth more than money. My wife is a remarkably unique woman, and therefore irreplaceable. However, she causes me an unbelievable amount of financial trouble, and the result of that is a lot of relationship pain.
It's all very well sitting down together and calmly discussing the family finances like adults - she sees the sense of it all and agrees with me on just about everything, but away from that situation things change.
An example of this is my son's nursery.
As we were struggling so much with our finances my wife had to get a part time job, but as soon as she had landed one, she started looking at nursery places. She chose a particular one, signed us up, and then justified the £220/month extra it would cost, which amounts to half of the wage she is now bringing in.
I feel very angry at this because she has deliberately railroaded me into this. My son does need to go to a nursery because he does need to start socialising with other children, and there isn't any reasonable argument that I can put forward without seeming overly churlish to say the least. I'm sure there are other alternatives, but it was all buttoned up and arranged beforehand leaving me with no choice.
Obviously she did this with the best of intentions. She wants the best for our son, and she knows what I'm like. She knew very well, I would want to look at alternatives and would question things, and possibly refuse outright, so she circumvented all that.

Of course, she's also done far worse, but I'm not going to detail any of that here.
Then again, she's not the only one who's been a tad devious.
In order to deal with our debt problem, I needed a full picture of our finances. I'm acutely aware my other half is sometimes embarrassed and ashamed of her credit card debts, and so I completely understand when she's not particularly forthcoming with details.
On top of this, when we were really in the mire, some years ago, she went through a phase where she basically stopped functioning. With regard to some of her debt from that time period, she genuinely has no memory of any details such as, which collection agency was dealing with what, and how much the balance was, so there are some "missing" debts floating around somewhere.
So I decided to do some credit checks and other related searches on her.
Now strictly speaking, a credit search can only be done by consent. I did tell her I was going to do one and used our joint account card to pay for it, (you see when you order a credit check, your card details are checked not only for the statutory charge, but also as a form of ID, hence the use of the joint account card).
Stupidly, I pressed the wrong button and ordered the report to be delivered through the post, and "mysteriously" it never arrived!
"Has that credit report turned up yet dear?"
"Err, no, I haven't seen it?!" 
Now some of you may be thinking there's a deeper problem here. They've got issues of trust, they should be more honest and open with each other. Well, real life very often just isn't that simple.

The fact is, I DO trust my wife, and she DOES trust me with other very significant aspects of our lives together. If that weren't the case, I can assure you we wouldn't still be together 14 years later. There have been hard times, and there have been some very hard times in our relationship, but at the end of it all, we have sorted our personal issues out.

The money problem is different though.

Mainly because it doesn't go away easily. With most other problems, you kiss and make up, and attempt to move forward. Often there's some stumbling involved, but generally one finds that acknowledging a problem is halfway to a solution, and sticking at it means you get over the hurdle and on you go. Debt however, doesn't just disappear because you talk about it. Getting free from the shackles of a significant amount of debt is a long and arduous road and requires constant encouragement. To add to this, money management is a difficult skill, which some people never manage to learn.

If you've followed this blog for a while, you may have read my first "Accountability" post. In it I reveal the amount of non mortgage debt we are dealing with. What I didn't mention, is that this is actually the 3rd time I've had to do this. Yes, you read that right, I've paid a large amount of debt off twice before now.

The first time, I came into a large amount of cash after I was injured very badly and nearly killed by a careless motorist. The second time, we used the equity in our house to consolidate a lot of debt. And this time, well I'm not sure most of this debt is actually new. Much of it may well have been floating about before, I'm just aware of it now.

This is something that has come to a head a few times, but on reflection there's a few things I have learnt, and they are these:

You can't change other people. Sometimes you can point them in the right direction and they'll pick up the path and find their own way there, but other times, you have to resign yourself to the fact that it's not going to happen. We've talked and talked and talked about our joint finances, but I'm now resigned to thinking my partner in life is never going to be good with money, so I'm just going to have to accept that, live with it.

When it comes to money, you have to have forgiveness. I read a brilliant article about this recently in the Guardian newspaper here: Marriage Arguments

My wife still can't bring herself to be straight with me about money, and I am partly to blame for that. After all, her mistakes were big, and they've multiplied, so I understand why she doesn't want to tell me. It's OK being honest, but when it's thrown back in your face again and again, with a few well chosen barbs thrown in for good measure, it doesn't seem so appealing anymore, so I'm not going to pressure her about it, or continue to bash her over the head with it (metaphorically!), as I have done in the past.

I just have to accept responsibility entirely for this issue and take it out of her hands completely. This also means that if she continually screws up, (which I think she will), I have to find ways to limit the damage she can do, and more importantly, continue to forgive her.

What I've done about it.

As gently as I can, I have basically taken complete control of our finances. How I sold it to her was that I would sort all her debts and keep them off her back so she wouldn't have to worry.

One thing though. Even though her job is part time, and I am the main wage earner, I still insist she contributes an uncomfortable amount to her debt payments. I do not want this to be easy for her, as I want some form of deterrant to prevent a re-occurance of bad money management in the future, and we are slowly making progress.

To cheer myself up, I have a "net worth" spreadsheet set up, so every month, although only a little goes off every balance, I can see a positive effect occuring, and although it's a very long tunnel at the moment, I can now see the light at the end of it.

Anyway, if you find yourself in a similar situation with your partner, then I have the deepest of sympathy for you. Living with someone who does not share the same outlook on finance as yourself can very easily turn into a nightmare and it takes a great deal of persistance and patience to ensure your relationship doesn't suffer. But then what do people get married for?

For richer, for poorer - we're there to support each other.

Here are a number of posts on other personal finance blogs from around the 'net that I have read. They all say something slightly different, so if my post doesn't help, perhaps one of these will give you your light bulb moment.

8 Step Plan to Resolve Financial Conflict

Marriage Problems - Fighting Over Money

How to Make your Spouse Love Frugality

Financial Compatibility

Get Financially Naked

Money and Relationships

Why We Have Separate Finances (Sort of)

Relationships and Money

A little info about the BF and how we handle the cash money

Couple Money

Tie the Money Knot - there's quite a few couples/joint finance posts on this blog

What Happens When A Spendthrift Marries A Tightwad - this blog also has a lot to say on finance and marriage

Getting Married? So Is Your Money - you may also want to check out related posts on this post too: We are married and don’t discuss money!


  1. Congrats on so many years of marriage. Wow, your friends have actually advised you to file for divorce (0_0) I don't know how I would feel about that if I had a wife. Relationships are tough, especially when it comes to money. What gets me really excited about responsible spending and savings is I look at examples of successful planning. Like if you took just £1 and doubled it every day for just a month, you'll have over £5,000,000 on the 30th day! I get really motivated to stay fiscally disciplined by reading other people's success stories as well. I hope to share these examples with my future partner and hopefully she'll have a similar mindset about money. Financially speaking marriage just means what's mine is yours, but you can still play different roles managing the balance sheet. That's good that you've pretty much taken over your family finances now. Hope this marks a turning point for the better :D

    1. Yes, she is worth it in many other ways. I know I'm very austere at the moment, but she'll thank me for it when we have a comfortable future. The best trick I have yet to pull though, and that is sorting out some passive income for the future (might not be just pensions) so we can retire comfortably when the time comes.
      I like the idea of doubling your money, although I don;t think that's quite realistic with out some form of betting skill perhaps? It prompted me to think about putting £1 or 2 in a jar everyday though, pocket change you won;t miss.

  2. Thanks for being so honest and personal in your post. It's unfortunate that she is not at a point where she can own up and make better financial choices but you're right in just trying to limit her handle of the family cash if she is not in a proper mindset and may mess them up further. Best of luck!

    1. Thanks for the comment.
      We're lucky in one respect. Money troubles have put us under a lot of pressure and we've managed to come out the other side. Other people ocasionally aren't so lucky and suffer breakdowns or worse, which is another reason I've had to take a look at how I treat my Mrs and try to be more gentle with her.

  3. Wow, I'm impressed with how open you've been in this post. While Mr. PoP and I are on the same page much of the time, we both have family members that are much like your wife, though luckily our finances are not tied to them in the same way that yours are to your wife's. Well... at least for now. Sometimes I worry about expectations that others have of our future obligations to irresponsible (or irrational) family members, and how they will likely contradict our vision of those obligations.

  4. That's tough. If it's any consolation though, it took my husband almost 10 years to really 'get it'. He would get frustrated with me and our budget, I would try and explain but it just never seemed to work. Finally, he came home frustrated one day by the lack of money in our bank account, the words '' you don't understand, I need your help with this!'' came out of my mouth for what seemed like the millionth time before he sat down with me and spent like four hours working through it and we haven't looked back since. Yes I'm still primarily in control of the money and make sure the bills get paid etc etc but he is very much in the know. Your wife will not change unless she TOTALLY understands the budget, you guys really need to work out a budget together rather than you telling her how it has to be. Not because you're bullying her but because she won't understand until she sees the numbers herself. If you can, maybe make a money chat date (baby free for a few hours) and really try your best to have her understand where the money goes. Good Luck Matt!

  5. RJ @ Simple Moolah29 December 2012 at 16:57

    I love how open and honest you are in your post. There is nothing more difficult than dealing with a partner who is not on the same page as you financially. It is almost like being in a row boat with someone who is rowing opposite to you. You end up going no where.

    I think you hit it right on the head when you said "YOU CAN'T CHANGE OTHER PEOPLE" This is sooooo true. People will only change when they are ready to. The thing that sucks about this when you're in a marriage is, you have to now develop the patience to wait until they are ready. This is what you do when you love someone. You are doing the right thing by taking control of the finances, but you will also have to teach her about the finances. Sit down with her and show her the numbers and go through it with her until she understands. Take it slowly and go step by step. This way, she doesn't feel like you are "preaching" to her, but now she feels like she is playing an important role in your family situation.

    Ask her questions about what she wants in the future for your family? Paint a picture of what the future will look like if you continue down this debt path, and ask her if she wants to be x-amount of dollars in debt(whatever you calculate that number to be in future dollars) x-amount of years from now. If you paint the picture of what your future will look like if you don't change anything now in the present, she may be able to see for herself how bad it will be for your family and then she may be willing to start to change for the better.

    I wish you all the best and continue taking the steps to erase your debt. You are definitely on the right path. Keep taking one step at a time and you'll eventually cross the finish line.

  6. Hi Matt,

    just found your blog today and am having a gander through various posts.

    Thought this link may be of some use. It's one of two I've ever starred in greader (I'm a bit discerning ;))

    Hope it helps.


    1. Thanks for stopping by Dom, I read it and it makes a lot of sense, thanks again


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