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Love and money: financial advice for couples

Some estimate that approximately 40% of marriages in Canada end in divorce; financial problems are often at the heart of those splits. What financial conversations should you be having with your partner before you get married? 

Our guest on’s Real Money Talk podcast has the answer for you. Tyler and MoneySense Managing Editor Lisa Finnerty sit down with Wallace Howick, author of the book Love and Money: Conversations to Have Before You Get Married. The trio chats about where to start, what to ask, and how to do it. 

How to start the money conversation with your partner

You know that it’s essential to have financial conversations with your partner or spouse, but how do you start them? Howard believes it begins with understanding. Each person in the couple needs to understand their own “attitudes, beliefs, and values” and then work to understand their partners. This might involve asking questions like what was your upbringing like? What were your family’s values about money? How did you learn about the practical aspects of money? 

Wallace also thinks it’s key to seek to understand and listen to your partner while having these conversations. 

“It’s really important when we talk with our spouses or our partners about being curious. Why is that important to you? It’s also inherently respectful… model the behaviour you want to illicit. If you want to be respected, be respectful. If you want to be heard, listen.” 

When it comes down to crafting your financial plan, Wallace says there are four main questions to ask:

  • Where am I? 
  • Where do I want to go? 
  • How do I get from here to there? 
  • And the feedback loop: how am I doing?” 

These questions help make sure that you and your partner have a clear path and can move onto things like budgeting, saving, and planning your big goals.

How should couples split expenses?

It’s difficult in many relationships to decide how to approach everything from splitting the date night cheque to paying a mortgage. Each partner enters a marriage with different financial backgrounds and goals. So, for example, splitting every bill 50-50 might not work for everyone. 

Wallace says you have to begin by accepting, “…there is no universal definition of fair. Fair is a reflection of our value system, and fair is a function of the environment or context into which we insert that value system.” 

Couples need open and honest communication to reach decisions around splitting financial costs. 

In an example from Wallace’s book, one partner makes more money but has a significant amount of student debt. The other partner has no debt as their parents footed the educational bill, but they have a smaller salary. Because of these factors, the couple decides to split their expenses evenly. This fit with their definition of fair and was an agreement they were both happy with. 

Wallace’s last piece of advice is to allow for each partner to have a no-questions, no-strings-attached allowance each month. You should agree on the total of this ‘allowance.’ An allowance policy ensures each person still has financial freedom while maintaining their broader financial goals. 

What about the wedding? 

“Weddings have become, from a cost perspective, a real challenge, to the point where some couples longer-range goals, like debt repayment or saving for a home, become impaired,” says Wallace. He believes that although it’s valuable to have your special day, it shouldn’t come at the cost of other important financial goals. 

Wallace’s chief advice for weddings is to decide what matters most for you as a couple. You shouldn’t favour the opinions of your parents or things that you see at other weddings over your desires and your financial situation. The key is to balance what you want with your available resources. Once you identify the most important things for you, then you begin planning to celebrate your love.

The bottom line 

Wallace’s final takeaway is that although the financial aspects of marriage can be challenging, through his four C’s: communication, choices, compromises, and constructing a plan – and asking his four questions, you will be alright. The key is to have these conversations and “surface issues now, rather than later.”

To hear the full conversation with Wallace, Lisa, and Tyler listen to your trusted Canadian personal finance podcast, Real Money Talk. To hear more from Wallace, check out his website or send him an email at [email protected].