Making big decisions together
Just like the rain or picking a side of the bed, making major financial decisions with a long-term partner is inevitable.
But unlike going on holiday or adopting a pet, these decisions could have the capacity to alter the shape of your entire life. We're talking about quitting your job to go back to school, or taking out a loan for a house. Here’s how you and your partner can navigate these conversations.
What to expect
Big life changes start with roadmaps.
Lots of planning
Before bringing up a major financial change to your partner, it's important to develop a roadmap for how this choice/change will unfold.
That means knowing the what's, why’s, when's, how's and how long's of the decision you're pitching, and what your litany of answers will mean for the two of you.
... and a bit of a turbulent patch
Rome wasn't built in a day, or in good weather. Your change won't be so lucky, either.
In the coming days, weeks and months, be prepared to have your lifestyle shaken up. It may be that you reduce how often you eat out, so you can save up towards a goal. You may also experience some emotional turbulence of your own, especially if your change puts you in the red.
While it's very possible that your plan'll take off without a hitch, it's best to be prepared.
What's good to do
Forgive us for repeating, but d*mn! It’s good to be prepared.
Know your what's, why's and how's
(This might sound familiar.)
Before talking to your partner or committing to a plan, it's worth knowing exactly what your proposed change means for the two of you, why you want to commit to it and how you’ll achieve it.
Let's say, for example, you want to quit the part-time job that's giving you grief to open a small business instead. You know the why: you're unhappy with your work. Now you need to know the how of opening this small business and what exactly this small business will be.
Knowing the answers to questions like these – and where you're willing to compromise – means that even if your partner isn’t 100% on board with the change you're proposing just yet, they’ll have a clear understanding of your vision, which they can either agree to or help you modify so it works for you both.
Build a roadmap. Include key goals, actions and dates.
Once you’ve both committed to your major financial decision, it’s time to put it in action. Creating a roadmap on how you'll implement it will help you see where you need to go —and also keep the two of you accountable.
Let's say for example, the small business you're thinking of opening is a bakery. Your roadmap might include a date to raise enough funding money by, so you can go ahead and quit that job.
You'll need to talk to your partner about what kind of dates or milestones to aim for, and which are crucial to hit for your own emotional and financial wellbeing. Keep in mind: it’s better to set realistic goals with plenty of buffer time to achieve them, than keep to a rigorous but punishing plan.
Assign responsibilities fairly.
Before making a major financial change, it’s important to know to whom the financial decision 'belongs'. This will inform whose job it is to drive conversation around or provide updates on the change.
For example, let's say you decide to go back to school full-time to study zoology. As the person responsible for the change, it should fall to you to ensure your monthly budgets are adjusted. Making your partner responsible, by comparison, will make them feel unfairly burdened.
Not all decisions can be attributed to one partner or another. Often, they're made jointly. If that's the case, it's helpful to assign each other complementary responsibilities that play to your strengths.
The end-goal, as always, is to reduce any potential frustration or stress and ensure you're working together happily. What are relationships but a prolonged exercise in teamwork?
Have your emergency gear ready.
A pilot wouldn’t fly without crash landing gear. Nor should you embark on a major financial change without having a safety net in place.
A key aspect of your safety plan should be knowing the line at which the change will stop, in order to keep you and your partner financially healthy. (Your general money management goals or values can assist you in figuring out what this line should be.)
Let's take the small business-slash-bakery example one more time. If it happens that no-one's really in the mood for artisanal danishes, your business hasn't achieved lift-off, and it's causing the two of you more stress than you had planned?
It might be time to rejig your plan.
Let's put it all together.
Have you ...
Discussed how you'll finance your major change in a way that won't impact you or your partner too significantly?
Determined how your change will affect your current finances?
Had a discussion with a trusted independent financial adviser?
Developed an emergency plan for if your financial decision goes wrong?
Links & resources
This budget planner helps you work out how much you're spending and how to save for certain goals.
This savings goals calculator lets you project how long it'll take to save up for a certain goal.
Information on borrowing money to invest in property or business.
Information on protecting yourself when loaning money to family or friends.
Let’s take it from the top, and get it straight. What should healthy financial behaviour in a relationship look like?
You're willing to talk about your money
The good, the bad, and the under-the-bed cash stash: when it comes to talking about money, you're willing to bare it all. While some topics might make you squirm or others leave you searching Google for answers, you ultimately recognise that money's far too important a topic to remain silent about.
You share or understand each other's financial values
While you don't need to see eye-to-eye on every little detail, sharing or respecting each other's financial values is important. It means you'll understand each other's financial habits and how they fit into the broader picture.
You make and manage financial decisions together
Good relationships are founded on equality. That means you should have an equal say on all things, no matter whether it's where you go for dinner or when you leave, but especially when it comes to how the two of you manage your finances.
Sometimes, what looks like a fair or normal way of dealing with money together might just be the opposite. Here are three major red flags - but be warned: they're often subtler than you'd think.
Your partner shuts down every money conversation
Communication is the lifeblood of relationships. If your partner's not willing to talk to you about debts, savings or income flow, even when you're splitting the rent, it's not a positive sign.
They make you feel like a fool
No-one likes being made to feel incompetent, especially about something as important as money. If your partner makes you doubt your financial ability - or worse, openly mocks it - it could be a sign they're trying to make you rely on their support.
Money responsibilities feel unfair
While we all want to support our partners, taking on too much financial responsibility can be a burden, both logistically and emotionally speaking. Moreover, it could negatively impact your own savings and financial future.