Sharing things with your partner is good, but it's crucial to understanding if you share enough values around money to build a strong relationship. Picture: 123RF/IKO
Sharing things with your partner is good, but it's crucial to understanding if you share enough values around money to build a strong relationship. Picture: 123RF/IKO

Couples are much more coy about sharing information about their debts and investments than swopping their medical histories, waiting up to nine months into the relationship to even mention what they earn.

A survey by US-based personal finance website Motley Fool shows that it takes 10 months for couples to share what they owe and 11 months to share what they have saved. This despite these issues being crucial to understanding if you share enough values around money to build a strong relationship. 

This compares to them usually having their first kiss and sleepover within the first month of meeting, typically saying I love you and sharing medical information within seven months, and meeting their Valentine’s parents within nine months.

Mduduzi Luthuli, independent financial adviser with Luthuli Capital, says for many South Africans talking about money is taboo and it is rude to bring it up. In addition, money has become a painful subject for many couples because most simply either don’t have enough or are living way beyond their means to portray a fake “Instagram” life. He says that many of us struggle to have meaningful conversations about money, but if you understand how someone approaches spending, you’ll better understand their money story.

Our financial life is based on our spending behaviour, so rather than asking your Valentine what they earn and if they can budget, you should ask how they spend money and what guides their decisions on how to spend, Luthuli says. 

Karabo Ramookho, marketing manager at Old Mutual Personal Finance, says many SA men and women still believe that the man should provide and the woman should run the home, but when something goes wrong in the home, instead of discussing the financial implications and how to deal with it, women are often expected to fix things and this may lead them to take on debt.

Luthuli says it is time for men to redefine their role in relationships beyond being “a provider”. It has become common for women to earn more then their male counterparts and thus are no longer willing to “submit” to a partner who demands that their actions and decisions are never questioned. “Women are changing their role and seizing more power in relationships. They want to be partners and be treated as such,” he says. 

Don’t hide financial commitments

Ramookho says women should not let men deal with the finances without understanding what is happening to their financial position, especially if you are married in community of property as are many who marry under customary law. Partners married in community of property may find themselves responsible for each other's debt.

Even if you are married out of community of property to a wealthy partner, you should know what is happening financially in case something such as divorce happens. 

Ramookho also suggests you be very careful about taking on debt for your spouse or partner without understanding how they manage their finances — if they are already defaulting on debt, chances are they will default on repaying you as well.

Nelisiwe Ndlovu, a financial planner at Alexander Forbes, says there is never a good time to discuss finances with your partner, married or unmarried, but you need to have an honest discussion about your individual money management and financial commitments before deciding to merge or co-manage your household finances.

Before you expect your partner to merge their finances with yours, you should be able to manage your own, she says.

You will each need a budget that details all your income, expenses, and financial commitments before you can merge them. Don’t hide any commitments because it will become tricky to disclose them later. 

Being married or living together does not mean necessarily that you need to have one joint account, she says. You can just open one joint account where you each deposit money to pay just your monthly household expenses, but this doesn’t mean you should hide your spending from each other. 

She suggests you both agree on how much you will each spend without consulting one another first.