May starts a relationship challenge

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A year ago today, a guy called Freddo sent me a message on the online dating site RSVP.  His real name is Neil, and we are getting married in September.  A large part of why we feel so blessed and happy is that we share similar values, including about money.

Values.  And money.  As I have written previously, the importance of values is a lesson that I learnt the hard way.  Managing money successfully is not actually the dollars and cents (or should I say sense), but rather the values we place around money.

This is because we come to a new relationship with different money conversations that we grew up with. In my household, my mother was a successful businesswoman.  She loves residential property and at home we talked about buying and selling property all the time.  I did not grow up expecting a knight in shining armour to take care of me, and consequently, I did not look for that in my relationships.   Nor did I plan to take a lot of time off to be with my children when they were young.  To be honest, at the time I didn’t even consider it because I had never experienced that traditional role of having a mum as a homemaker. Instead, I have a powerful mentor who made me believe that I could achieve anything I wanted to as a woman.

Neil’s parents had four children at a very young age.  They didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but they made do.  His Dad was serving in the navy during the Vietnam war when he and his sisters were young, so his mum did much of the work of raising them when they were little.  She had friends and family nearby.  They didn’t have a lot of ‘stuff’ as they couldn’t afford a lot, but they did have a lot of love.  His parents retired in a modest but comfortable fashion, with no mortgage, no debt, and defined benefit superannuation and a veteran’s pension that allows them to go on cruises at least once a year.  Neil also started a family he was young.  His conversation about money is more conservative than mine, but we are similar in that we both value family and financial security over flashy toys and ‘stuff’.

One of the things that I found attractive is that he shares my frugal values.  We share the same tea bag when making each other a cup of tea in the morning.  We happily go on dates where we use Entertainment Book specials, or we stay at home and have karaoke Fridays with a homecooked Fridge Friday leftover meal and a bottle of $5 award-winning rose from ALDI.  He comes op shopping with me.  We talk openly about our retirement plans (he has convinced me to retire early with him), and we have started investing together.

Money is one of the biggest sources of friction in many relationships, especially in affluent countries such as Australia.  Yes, money seems to create more tensions when you have it than when you don’t, at least it does with relationships.  I think this is because the more money you have, the more expectations there are that it should be spent pursuing a certain lifestyle.  When you have children, there is also tension about what to spend on the children, and also whether a parent should stay at home and if so, for how long.

This graph comes from Greater Australia Bank’s report into Australian Attitudes towards Money and Relationships.  They conducted a review earlier this year into what Australians think about money.

Would you date someone who earnt less than you?  This is an interesting question for me to ponder as in my previous marriage I earnt more than my husband, and yes, that caused friction.  According to the results of the survey, 1 in 8 Australians would not date someone who earnt less than them.  But money isn’t everything: three-quarters of respondents would prefer a partner who was poor but attractive, versus rich but unattractive. I guess having a Sugar Daddy isn’t everything.

According to the survey, one in 20 Australians feels uncomfortable talking about finances with their partner.  This does not surprise me (I thought the rate might be higher), but still, I find it shocking.  The fact that you can be in a relationship with someone and share so much – have children together and even buy a house – yet not feel comfortable talking about money is scary.  This is especially the case when you consider that the same report identified that nearly 1 in 5 Australians (19% ) have experienced a relationship breakdown due to money.  This can easily lead to a phenomena known as sexually transmitted debt.

Discussions about money and investing tend to assume rational behaviour.  Financial plans chart off into the distance based on assumptions that we will continue to invest in logical and consistent ways. But when we are in relationships, especially relationships where our money values are not in sync, we tend to act in illogical ways.  Maybe we avoid talking about money, or assume the other party is providing for us, or blame the other party for spending too much (even as we go shopping ourselves), or let the other person make the decisions so as not to rock the boat. Or we spend too much trying to make the other person happy, or we don’t make savings or investment decisions that we think we should because we worry the other side might not agree.  We buy that caravan the other person wanted (or we think they wanted), or we spend up big at Christmas to try to impress the in-laws.  Or we go guarantor for a loved partner in a business because we really want to support them and for them to succeed, never thinking that our own future could suffer if things go bad.

So many aspects of relationships are peppered with marketers telling us we need to pay money to buy happiness.  Whether it is online dating sites, expensive dates, long stem roses, diamond engagement rings, big weddings, or romantic holidays, the marketing world tells us that money does buy you love and you need to spend, spend, spend if you want to be loved. Is it any wonder that sitting down and doing a budget together to cost out how much this all costs can be scary.  Deep down many of us are scared that we might not be loved if we do not have enough money.

For me, I much prefer that cup of tea with the shared tea bag every morning and the joy of building a simple but loving life together. It is the small things to me that make a relationship – the shared laughs, meals together, ability to negotiate differences so they don’t turn into conflict, and crucially, showing an interest in the things that are important to the other person.  Research on what makes a successful relationship by the Gottman Institute shows how showing interest in the other party (turning towards instead of away) is crucial to a happy and longlasting relationship.  A happy relationship has nothing at all to do with how many carats are in a diamond ring, and the positive goodwill engendered by treating your other half well will last long after long-stemmed red roses have faded and died.  And best of all, it costs very little.

What money values do you bring to your relationship?  Do you have similar money values to your partner? If you don’t have a partner, what money values are important to you?

4 comments

  1. Financial compatibility I think is a crucial and much understated part of a successful relationship. I have for much of my career made less than my wife (although recently this has changed) but it never was a problem for me, as we had similar financial goals and we both respected each other’s contribution to the relationship. In our household we regularly discuss finances and include the kids in the discussion so they understand about money, and the importance of living below your means (we save about 50% of our salary). And it’s so true that happiness doesn’t come from spending money, but from spending time with family and friends having a good time, although a cheeky bottle of red on occasion is nice too!

    1. Cheers to an occasional bottle of red, enjoyed with good company. My dad makes his own Shiraz; we call it the truth juice, it brings us all together (in moderation).

      I think a crucial thing you say here is ‘appreciation’. People contribute to relationships in many ways, and not all of it is monetary. Childcare is grossly undervalued, as are household chores. When you are working together for common goals that is much more rewarding than competing with each other to earn the most. It’s considered impolite to talk about money on dates. I could get away with it a bit as I am a money blogger:)

  2. When my hubby and I first met we were in party mode I had spent all of my younger yrs from 14and a half with a partner, we bought 2 houses but it always seemed to be me doing the hard work. I worked 3 jobs at one stage just so I could keep riding etc and having some soft of life I had dressage horses. I really feel robbed now he was all about the money and I grew up in a household of massive arguments over money. I went into business with my father also and all he did was whinge that he had no money. I am of the belief that if you think like that well that is what you will get. So like I said I came out of a 16yr relationship and money well it’s job then was to supply me a good time and so it did. I walked out of my house and left so much behind as I did not want arguments or animosity. I left behind things from my grandmother who had only Just passed away the Week we broke up I had coffee machines and Darcy Doil paintings all gone I got $40 000 payout on a 250 000 dollar house that after a few weeks had sky rocketed in price as that was on 2001 we are on tge Good Coast and the house was in Currumbin Waters it was one of the last properly builder built houses and the young couple we bought it off get father had built it. The house was massive with a huge yard. So guess what I am saying is when I git a payout I was looking at investments and at that stage a 1bedder in surfers could be picked up for$90000 I looked at it and looked at the fellow I was dating and could tell he was in no hurry to finish his lifestyle that was him worked hard partied harder. However it did get us in a bit of strife early on in our marriage but we have never ever argued about money until recently!! He would always say to me you either got it or you don’t. I tend to disagree I have never pushed my beliefs on him and it is now he can See what I mean and wants to invest etc. I also believe parents have a lot to do with it teaching children to be responsible but not overboard like my ex his father was ridiculous. Up till just recently like I said but I put this down to me being unwell with breast cancer and him giving up work to help me, I still refuse to argue and take the positive stance and he thinks I’ve got my head in the clouds, no I just know we will be ok yes it’s been hard sometimes but we were talking one day and this is when I knew he understood and had got it without me saying anything. He turned around and said my god how much money have I wasted by my partying I says yeah be not good to try to add it up, I said also that the amount of money I had spent on my horses I could Have bought outright 2 houses!!! See I think the thing is you need to talk about money from the start of a relationship don’t be pushy and force your views as much as you might want to. Because unfortunately some people just haven’t been taught the value of it. T

    1. Hi there, thank you for your comment. It seems like you have been through a lot. My sister also lives on property in the Gold Coast hinterlands, and they also have fur babies. Don’t they cost a lot? I try not to tease her about it too much.

      You can be very wealthy and still have no joy. But if you just party in excess you don’t have anything left to show for it. The trick is to get that balance right – to enjoy each and every moment, but to still have goals. Going to bed at night knowing you are in a stable financial position is also a type of joy, and to my mind is much more fun than being the Disco Queen. I don’t think you have to hang up your dancing shoes though:)

      Best wishes and glad you are talking about money now.

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