Couples discuss many personal things, but the details of what they make and how much they spend is often not included. Here’s how to change that.

Reporter/Byline: Adam Mayer, Personal Finance Editor

Why talking about money is so hard to do

Talking about money is an intimate thing and while many couples can discuss much more personal things, the nitty-gritty of what they make and how they spend is the last taboo.

But having that discussion is important according to an Environics poll for TD Canada Trust. The study found that one in five couples are not always honest with each other about their spending and saving habits.

“Opening up about finances can be hard, especially at the start of a new relationship, but it is vital couples have honest conversations in order to build a solid financial future together,” said John Tracy, a senior vice president at the bank.

Young adults may not know how to go about it, says Calgary author Leslie Scorgie, who wrote a five-part series on couples and money for The Star. She said most have a limited financial education, and rely on their parents and friends for advice. Where to start?

“Without team work and clear financial boundaries, sharing and planning your future with someone can be challenging,” said Scorgie, the author of Rich by Forty: A Young Couple’s Guide To Building Net Worth.

The conversation is also difficult because we each have different relationships with money, says Diane McCurdy, a Vancouver financial planner. She says that relationship is difficult to change, but if couples do not align their money values, their romantic partnership will come under pressure.

McCurdy, the author of recently published How much is Enough? Balancing Today’s Needs with Tomorrow’s Retirement Goals, says it’s best to acknowledge the differences and find ways to make them fit.

She says there are four basic ways we look at money. Spenders love to buy now because you only live once. Builders see money as a tool to help shape their dreams. Givers are always volunteering, donating and spending a bundle on others. Savers like to live well, but accumulate something along the way.

Most of us are a combination of one or two of these things, McCurdy said, adding that we often find it hard to share the financial aspects of our lives because of guilt.

“If you make more money than a friend, you may feel guilty,” she says.

“People don’t want to jeopardize friendships by being seen to be bragging or boasting,” McCurdy says.

As more people marry later and come into relationships with investments and property, the conversation is pushed further into the background.

“If you are used to financial independence and managing your affairs alone and you get together with someone, initially your focus isn’t about money,” McCurdy says. “It’s about getting to know them. Sometimes the money part doesn’t come up until the wedding.”

She offers some of tips to make sure you’re on the right page:

  1. Understand differences: You can’t change your partner’s attitude, but you can work with it.
  2. Look at the patterns: How do your attitudes compare? How can they be better aligned?
  3. Set joint priorities: These priorities should include day-to-day household expenses as well as bigger things like trips, renovations and big purchases. No big purchases without joint consent.
  4. Keep a record: Are you sticking to the plan? McCurdy thinks many couples don’t set things down on paper for fear of failure, but fear not. Keep it simple and remember: Writing it down makes it real.
  5. Don’t forget to save: A good goal is 10 per cent of your income. Payroll deduction is an easy way to do it.

McCurdy says not to worry about creating a perfect plan. Just get started. At the end of the day, what you want is financial well-being.

“If you do 80 per cent of the stuff right, you’ll do just fine,” she says.


4 reasons your budget failed
How to raise a financially fit family

Achieve the homeownership dream sooner