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Managing Financial Situations With Your Partner

Laura’s* partner and children call her “iced tea,” the “bottomless” source of emergency money. She grew up a thoughtful saver with sixteen siblings. Now she shares a dental practice with a partner who comes from a much smaller household. “He used to spend money on nice shoes, an entirely new concept in my money vocabulary,” she says. “I am such a saver that sometimes he pep-talks me into buying shoes I need.”

In spite of different money styles and lean months in business, they have managed to send five children to good private schools, keep a clinic, and survive a costly heart surgery. “You have to see beyond your differences and talk decisions over to avoid blame,” Laura says.

Our experts: 

Aiza Caparas-Tabayoyong, relationship and family coach at AMD Love Consultants, tells couples not to “leave sensitive issues to assumption, including how each one handles finances.” Myrna Joyce Sanchez, PhD, marital counselor at Center for Family Ministries, says security comes from “being able to talk freely with the spouse.”

DILEMMA #1 “My partner stays home while I earn.”

Five years ago, Lucas*, a senior executive, was laid off from the top-tier firm he worked for. This rattled him and wife Fiona* because they had no proper savings. They had high rent, househelp, and tuition costs. “It took Lucas a year to find a full-time position, during which I worked and he stayed home in place of a babysitter,” shares Fiona. “It was a tense time for both of us.”

Expert advice: Mutually decide on your roles. Tension starts when one does not accept the role circumstance imposes, such as needing to stay home to reduce all-around cost. “The out-of-norm arrangement of a stay-at-home dad is easier if he has his wife’s clear support and a healthy self-esteem to handle judgment from others,” says Tabayoyong.

DILEMMA#2: “I have mine; you have yours.”

In their first five years, chefs Rick* and Elsa* kept separate accounts and casually divided expenses. “We kept this independent set-up until we decided to buy a house,” Elsa says. “Then Rick totaled his five years’ worth of contributions to cop out of giving his share for the house.”

Expert advice: Set up a joint savings and give each other allowances or “freedom money.” An “ours” mindset is more consistent with the legal aspect of marriage. Income, dividends, and properties are conjugal, and so are money decisions. “Each one’s personal needs may be kept distinct, but both need to agree on family expenses, savings, and investments,” explains Tabayoyong.  

DILEMMA #3: “My partner makes secret purchases.”

In her morning haste, Lea* dropped office documents on the ground and saw a strange glint from the family sedan. “I had been so busy I didn’t notice my husband got tire mags and a bunch of car accessories,” she says. “They cost about half of our son’s tuition fee, money we could barely afford.”

Expert advice: Agree on an allowance to fund your partner’s needs and wants.

Tabayoyong says major purchases should always be disclosed. She suggests having a fixed allowance to fund your partner’s daily needs and occasional wants. This makes spending more transparent and allows the couple “to spend as they wish without having to “report small purchases.”

Remember, adds Sanchez, “Energy is required to maintain financial deception, so it undermines the most important aspect of a good relationship—trust.”

DILEMMA#4: “We lose track of where the money goes.”

Every month, twenty-something couple Nora* and Ton* hunch over receipts, taken aback by how little they have left for the bills. They end up fighting over who spends more.

Expert advice: Record your expenses on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. “This way, everything is transparent to both spouses,” advises Tabayoyong. “They may want to use an envelope system for each expense, such as electricity, rent, groceries, and tuition fees.”

DILEMMA#5: “Aside from the bills, we have debt to pay.”

Denise* and Ronald* swiped their way to building their home. “We thought our corporate salaries could handle the credit card debt, but we went overboard,” Denise recalls. “We ended up resentful of each other and the new house.”

Expert advice: Focus on finding a practical solution. “Debt leads to tension if the partners blame each other for the debt,” Sanchez says. What to do if the debt has already piled up? Tabayoyong advises couples to set aside blame and be more solution-oriented.