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Personal Finance

Expert: ‘It's never too late to talk about money in a relationship’

Discussing finances with your partner can improve the odds of your relationship surviving. Here’s how to get talking today

It’s no secret money often lies at the root of disagreement for many couples.

“Many enter a committed relationship without understanding their own financial position and more importantly their attitudes, beliefs and values about money, let alone those of their partner,” says Wallace Howick, FCPA and author of CPA Canada’s award-winning book, Love and Money: Conversations to Have Before You Get Married. “This void makes the development of a successful financial plan improbable, even impossible.”

While having open discussions about finances is ideal at the start of a relationship, it’s never too late to act and turn things around. To get started, Howick offers advice on how to set up for successful financial conversations.

CPA Canada: Why did you write this book?

Wallace Howick (WH): Our beliefs and values around money are acquired passively from those around us. These influences are very real and durable; but they operate below the surface and often go unrecognized and therefore unaddressed.

This book is written to help a reader uncover their own attitudes and values around money, understand their partner’s attitudes and values around money and develop productive ways of talking about money.

Through a series of questions, readers will discover and think through their attitudes and values around money. For example: Describe the attitudes toward money in your home, as you were growing up? Was money a family worry? Or, how did you learn the practical aspects of money? Did you have an allowance? Did you pay for part your own education? Or even, do you pay off your credit cards each month?

CPA Canada: The book has a unique structure. Describe why you chose to write it that way.

(WH): Love & Money is about successful money discussions, so it seemed appropriate to craft the book as a series of conversations.

Each chapter is a conversation on topics such as, setting goals, creating a budget, the art of saving, with a hypothetical couple named Mark and Michelle. The reader is invited along to learn from those conversations—their struggles, their insights. At the end of each conversation, a couple can apply what they learned in the “Now It’s Your Turn” section at the end of each conversation.

In effect, the structure of the book is a metaphor for its message—a pathway to successful money conversations.

CPA Canada: When should couples have the money conversation?

(WH): As soon as possible. There are no “rules” here.

Most couples seem to find their way into some sort of a money conversation when they talk about living together. The real issue is the calibre of that conversation and hence the book.

And its never too late. We know couples in long established relationships who found the book quite helpful.

CPA Canada: How should couples handle their money? Just pool everything? Divvy up the monthly expenses?

(WH): Some couples adopt the full pool method. Income goes into a shared chequing account from which all monthly and annual expenses are paid. Contributions to savings and investment plans are made in an agreed tax appropriate fashion.

Other couples will keep separate accounts for their earnings and then make transfers to a common chequing account to fund the household expenses; or each will pay specifically agreed monthly expenses—one partner may take the car payment, the other the utilities, cable and phones.

In the second case, the question of what is fair arises. There is no universal definition of fairness. Our sense of fairness is shaped by our values and experiences. On the road to what’s fair how we arrive at fair (“procedural fairness”) is ever bit as important as the outcome (“substantive fairness”).

CPA Canada: What tips from the book can you share about how to have successful money conversations?

(WH): First, its important to create “space” in both time and place. Friday night after work in a public restaurant is just not going to cut it; in fact, it’s a recipe for disaster. And wherever, whenever no cellphones in the room!

I urge connective listening, which is a series of behaviours, mostly verbal, that engages your partner… and you.

Conversations need be guided by the principle of reciprocity. If you want respect, be respectful.  And I offer ways to frame questions—as questions not veiled attacks.

Reduce the room for misunderstanding. Check-in with your partner to make sure you have heard correctly, that is you have “received” what was “sent”. For e.g. “I hear you saying…”

Check in on your own behaviour: Are you listening to understand or are you listening to respond and rebut?

Also, agree to check in as a couple periodically, perhaps quarterly, to see how you are doing, the amount of progress made, what has changed and what needs to change. Remember, conversations around money are not “one and done”.


For more financial insights, pick up a copy of Love and money: Conversations to have before you get married, which won the 2021 Excellence in Financial Literacy Education - Book of the Year Award by the US-based Institute for Financial Literacy. Plus, check out our free webinar, Love and money: How to discuss money with your partner.

Photo caption: Conversations about money need to be guided by the principle of reciprocity, writes FCPA Wallace Howick (Getty Images)