Financial Dependence and Independence, Part Two: Money Management for Couples

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In part one of this post, I suggested that money can be a harder subject for couples to negotiate than their sex life or even child raising. Part two explores how couples can make money management easier.

In part one of this post, I outlined three reasons why money seems to touch on such primal issues for us. (See “Financial Dependence and Independence, Part One: Primal Issues”.) In this second part, I take a look at what it means for couples.

The field of politics — what we value collectively and the directions we want to head as a society — is often talked of as a subset of economics. It has been a while since I have heard a politician say, “This is what we believe is the right way to go; now, having decided that, let’s figure out how to pay for it”. (Citizens, when asked, say they are happy to pay higher taxes, as long as they can be sure that they will be spent on what they value.)

The essential services and goods we require are increasingly only to be had for money. Suburbia (in the major Western cities) is far less likely to have chook pens or sheds where artisans manufacture their products than in the 1930s (one aspect of life that helped people through the Depression). Food, clothing, education and healthcare are increasingly available for money — and in few other ways.

This means that our livelihood and our ability to shape our lives as we wish are heavily dependent on money. How we make money and how much money we make can have a big effect on how much we can live our values. So, it is not surprising that discussions about money can be difficult for a couple: it can take them straight to the heart of their values and desires.

What is to be done?

There is little that most individuals or couples can do about the social conventions and values around money. Their choices and actions will largely affect their own household.

It is possible, however, to note the diversity of how money can be handled in households. In the Australia I was born into (I’m 50), the male breadwinner model was dominant. Even within this model the way the household income was treated varied all the way from the father giving the wife a little to buy herself ‘something nice’, to the wife administering the budget and the husband being given ‘beer money’. These things can make a difference to the happiness of those involved; we are able to have some meaningful effect at the household level.

I have found, in my own experience and that of others, that it can help if the couple can put the problem beyond their relationship. If they can be united in fighting their society’s insane values to do with money, it is possible they will be happier with each other.

It can be helpful to clarify values around money; we can at least be clear on what the argument is about. This can help on its own. And when the values are clarified it may be that the people don’t disagree about the values but on how they should be implemented. This agreement can mean that the disagreement is less serious. For example, my partner may express disapproval of how much I spent on a piece of clothing. If I know that my partner doesn’t want to condemn me to a life of poverty but only wants to save so that we can have beautiful and enjoyable things in the future, this can make a big difference.

This has been a difficult post to write for me. And I think it can be a difficult topic to handle in our relationships. So, I’d very much like to hear how you handle money in your relationships. I’d like to hear from those who handle everything jointly to those who keep everything separate. I’d like to hear about how you have come to agreements with others about how you handle money and if you’re in a relationship where you have come to a point of ‘agreeing to disagree’. Or perhaps money hasn’t been that big a deal in your relationships; if so, I’d certainly like to hear from you too. Please tell me your experience of money, dependence and independence in the comments to this post. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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