I always wonder why it is so difficult to talk about money even with your spouse. You are comfortable talking about almost anything under the sun, but discussing money seems petty and crass. To my surprise some women refuse to do it even when a gun is held to their heads!
Case in point is a young and newly married (for a couple of years) full-of-life woman who came for a consultation session. She was at ease and had an air of confidence that is very rarely seen. A few minutes into the conversation, I realised that she had a very contrived way of handling her personal expenses.
After spending some time with her, I understood what was bothering her. She had known her spouse for a few years before tying the knot. They had clearly agreed that she would pursue her dream and set up a new business, while he would provide the stability with a job and regular income. Things were fine, finances were in place, and while he handled the money, she did not have much of a say in investment decisions. As a couple, they had a good income to lead a good lifestyle, but she was constantly cutting down on her lifestyle.
Since she had just started her business, her cashflows were meagre and could barely take care of her official expenses, leaving her without much leg room for her personal indulgences. She was very clear that her husband was a very nice guy and would have absolutely no hassles in providing for all of her small personal needs were she to ask. The problem was, she was not willing to ask; her point of view being, “I have always been given, never had to ask, why should I do that now?”
Despite a lot of counselling on having a one-time conversation with him about allocating towards her personal expenses on a monthly basis, she was not comfortable doing it. Her solution was to borrow from her parents till she could stabilize her business and to pay back once she is able to get her cashflows in order. What complicated the situation further was her parents’ financial situation, which she thought was very good. But it turned out to be inadequate even to take care of their own retirement. Once she realised the situation, she promised to have the conversation with her spouse.
Have conversations early
Why should you wait to be pushed against the wall to have a conversation? I am also increasingly meeting young women who would like to keep information regarding their current investments to themselves. While this is fine if both spouses think alike, it is not something that someone who believes in joint decisions and open discussions can stomach easily. The amount of emotional distress this can create and troubles it can bring into a marriage should not be underestimated. It is important to understand the money beliefs and experiences, much before marriage.
In another case that I handled, while the girl was in favour of being an open book and planning future finances together, her husband was very secretive about his finances. Initially, she could understand his hesitation. But we later figured out that she came from a very happy and closely-knit family where open discussions about finances were pretty much the way of life and was never looked down upon. But in his case, the parents had gone through a separation and he had been witness to the ugly side of a marriage. He had seen his mother rebuild her life from the scratch and therefore found it difficult to believe happily-ever-after stories. His natural tendency was to hedge his bets for any eventuality. Once they learnt and understood each other’s point of view, they decided to give themselves some time to see if their views change.
Marriages are meant to last a lifetime and it is impossible to traverse this journey without discussing money. Why not make it a ritual to discuss it and let your spouse know what is bothering you?
In the first case that we discussed, if the business takes off and the cashflows become significant, she was very clear that both their lifestyles would go up. That being the case, it was only fair that she let him know that her personal expenses were not being met currently. At some point of time in a relationship, one needs to move from ‘mine’ to ‘ours.’ It is a very important transition which happens automatically to a majority, but a few of them seem to struggle with this. Give a good thought to which category you belong to and make the necessary changes.(The writer is a Certified Financial Planner and Founder of Finwise Personal Finance Solutions)