Love and money: Tips you you and your partner cannot afford to ignore

Talk about money now...or break up later!

Love conquers a lot, but it won't pay off your student debt or save for your retirement.

And according to a 2016 CIBC poll, only 35 per cent of partners who planned to marry or live common law in the next two years said they have serious conversations about money. This is bad news, say relationship and finance experts, who warn ignoring money issues could be your ticket to splitsville.  

"Sometimes this is a make or break," warns Michael Haggstrom, a psychotherapist based in Calgary, about financial issues plague around half his clients. He goes so far as to say that regardless of how much a couple loves each other, if they are financially incompatible, they should accept that there will always be conflict...or maybe even move on.

The alternative is to face the rough waters that may be ahead. Haggstrom says your relationship can survive money fights if you confront issues head on.

To get the best advice on how to maintain a healthy relationship despite financial woes, we asked Haggstrom and two personal finance bloggers to give us their best tips on balancing love and money.

Start talking, and observing, early on

If you're sensing this person might be the one, or the one for the foreseeable future, you should have the money talk.

"I personally believe that the money talk should happen as soon as you're in a serious relationship," said Krystal Yee of Give Me Back My Five Bucks. "(It) doesn't have to be on your third date, but you shouldn't wait until you decide to get married either."

Yee said you can usually tell a lot about a person's financial compatibility with you early on in a relationship. For instance, if your partner complains about being broke, yet continues to dine out regularly, it might be a sign they're not great at saving money.

Don't avoid the toughest talks

This advice is especially for you, if your partner's spending is out of control, but you can't bring yourself to talk about money.

"Most couples avoid the conversation entirely," said Haggstrom. "They live life unconsciously without a clear plan, and then that resentment goes on inside. Many couples will end their relationship for some other reason, when behind the scenes it's actually because, financially, it hasn't been working."

If the talk is too daunting to take on alone, enlist the help of a financial advisor, said Haggstrom.

Give each other...allowances

It may sound patronizing, but some couples who've merged their money swear by it.

"While we are lucky to share a similar financial philosophy, we are but mere mortals," said Daniel Teo, who runs the Urban Departures blog with his wife, Emily. "Disagreements tend to be about what the other is buying or how much the other is spending. To address this, we use 'personal allowances' to give us the flexibility to buy whatever we want."

Each month the Teos set aside a fixed amount for each to spend, no strings attached. Emily spends her share on shoes, plants and art supplies. Daniel spends his on gadgets.

Be curious, not judgemental

Get curious about how and why your partner spends the way they do, without judgement, said Haggstrom.

"Speak in a dialogue rather than shaming the other person or telling them that they're wrong," he said. "Try and understand your partner without seeing them as faulty."

Haggstrom suggests starting by owning your own spending pitfalls – maybe you buy shoes or overpriced coffee when you're upset – and go from there.

Dream and plan together

Once you've worked out where, how and why each of you spend money, move on to a conversation about goals.

This might include anything from saving for a flat-screen TV to buying a home together, said Yee. These talks, she said, will help you sort out what you and your partner value in life, allowing you to plan for the future as a unified team.


Katrina Clarke is a Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. You can find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.