Love and money can be a toxic mix — here's how to take the conflict out of the conversation

What works best for couples: sharing all accounts or just sharing bills? Different approaches to sharing finances can each have their own challenges, but there are ways couples can keep money from costing them their relationship.

Finances can be a stumbling block in a relationship, but it doesn't have to be that way

Money issues are one of the leading causes of strife among couples. (Shutterstock)

Love might not cost a thing, but money can certainly cost a person a relationship.

Money troubles regularly factor into the top 10 reasons why marriages or relationships break up, and a certified financial planner in Saskatoon says it's clear how explosive the topic can be. 

"The most common thing is that between the partners you would have one who is more of a spender and one who's more of a saver," said Caval Olson-Lepage, explaining this conflict came up in her own relationship, with her husband wanting to save more.

"I thought, 'Hey, why aren't we spending some of this money,' sort of thing, so it can create conflict in that sort of conversation," she said.

Money is a subject people avoid talking about honestly, Olson-Lepage says.

Money and finances can become a source of conflict between couples, which is why one certified financial planner says talking about money and money goals is a critical conversation in relationships. (Getty Images)

"Growing up, we're told that it's rude to talk about money in public," she said, explaining that people internalize the message that they shouldn't discuss how much they earn or owe.

"We've been given this perception that you really need to kind of hold it close, in your pocket."

When couples get together, they often fail to have conversations about money, whether how to share expenses or how to save, thinking of money as a tool rather than an end goal.

First things first — have the conversation

"The first step really is communication," said Olson-Lepage. "It's typically what we come across as financial planners — that it's at the point where the two partners aren't talking to each other about money. They don't know where the money goes."

Typically, one partner takes a more dominant role in the finances, which can lead to future problems if the relationship breaks down or one person dies. 

"Now that person who maybe wasn't as predominant with the finances now is struggling because they don't have that awareness of how everything was run and how the accounts were run before," she said.

Saskatoon financial planner Caval Olson-Lepage has people come to her for advice on how to deal with money matters. (Rosalie Woloskie/CBC)

One size does not fit all

It once may have been typical for couples to share accounts and debts, but Olson-Lepage says increasingly people are sharing one account for bills and separate accounts for their own expenses.

That's how Regina couple Rachel Chapman and Derek Wheatley handle money, and they say it works for them, particularly as they are both nurses and have similar salaries. 

"We do have an app on each of our phones that ... track where you're spending that money, and it's more or less to keep ourselves accountable for what we're spending on coffee or that sort of thing," explained Chapman. 

"We just have never thought of getting a joint account because it's never caused an issue doing it this way," Wheatley added.

While splitting expenses 50/50 may work for some, Olson-Lepage notes it's not typical for couples to have the same income. If one person is earning more and yet expects the other to contribute the same amount for bills or toward vacations, it can breed resentment, she said.

When she was on maternity leave, she and her husband used a system where he contributed more to bills, based on his earnings.

"We had to go to that proportional splitting because if we did it completely 50/50, I had no money left over. I couldn't even buy myself a cup of coffee. And the last thing I wanted to do was be, 'Hey honey, can I borrow five dollars?'"

Get advice if you need it

Before approaches to money can boil into resentment, anger or divorce, Olson-Lepage suggests people get advice from a professional financial planner.

"They have the guidance and the expertise to potentially put forward a solution that you yourself may not be aware of or that you haven't tried yet," she said. 

"And they are also really great at taking the emotions out of talking about money."

Listen to tips from a certified financial planner who offers advice to couples on dealing with finances:


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