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You might not think of money as an emotional issue, but most people have really strong emotional attachments to money, even if they don’t realise it.

Money and emotions

How do you feel when your bank account is running low, or you card is declined? Embarrassed or anxious? How do you feel when you make a big purchase for yourself? Guilty? Fear, shame, anxiety and guilt are common emotional reactions to money problems, while payday might bring excitement and happiness.

Once you start to think about it there are heaps of emotions that come up when you start thinking or talking about money. Everyone’s emotional responses to money are different, so the way you react to a certain situation might be completely different to how your partner feels in the same situation.

Upbringing and attitudes

Most people’s attitude towards money is shaped by their family background and upbringing. This might affect how you manage your money and your emotional connection to money. This might also affect how your partner thinks about money so it might be a good idea to consider where each of you are coming from.

Here are some questions to help you get started thinking about the way you manage your money.

Growing up

  • How were finances handled in your family when you were growing up?

  • Were the financial expectations different for men and women in your family? If so, what were those differences?

  • Did your parents treat all of you the same way when money was involved?

  • Did anyone influence your money story in a positive way?

Beliefs

  • Do you believe money to be good or bad? Do you think it’s an evil necessity?

  • Do you think money should be spent or saved?

  • What would you consider a luxury purchase?

  • Do you think money is hard to obtain or easy to obtain?

  • Do you think money should be your responsibility, your partner’s responsibility or a joint responsibility?

Current situation

  • How would you describe your current financial situation?

  • Are you happy with your financial situation?

  • Do you know how much money and assets you have?

  • Do you know where that money is and how it is invested?

  • Do you know how much debt you have?

  • Are you happy with the amount of money you contribute to the household finances?

  • Are you happy with the amount of input you have in financial decisions?

Emotions

  • Is your partner making more money than you? How do you feel about that?

  • Are you making more money than your partner? How does that make you feel?

  • Are you the sole money earner? How do you feel about that?

  • Do you feel empowered to make financial decisions about your household?

  • Do you feel like you have equal access to shared money? If not, why?

  • Do you feel like you have to ask permission to spend money? How does that make you feel?

  • Are you afraid to have conversations with your partner about money? How does that affect you? Has it impacted on your self-esteem?

By starting to think about these things you might get a better idea of how and why you manage your money the way you do. It might give you a bit of insight into how your partner thinks about money too. You might find it easier to start talking about money now that you have a better understanding of your own money story and your emotional connection to money.

Talking money & emotions

A good starting point for discussing money with your partner is to have a conversation about your feelings about money, so that you can share an understanding of what money means to each of you personally. Think about your relationship with money and how it makes you feel.

Share your emotional relationship with money with your partner, including the messages about money that you recall from your childhood. You don’t need to address all the following points, but some may provide some useful guidance:

  • This is how my parents handled money…

  • Here are some of my specific childhood financial memories...

  • From my family, I think I received the message that money…

  • I have reacted to these messages in the following ways…

Once you have shared your stories, give your partner an opportunity to share their stories and history.

Your money and your personality

The next step will be to discuss your understandings of your own money personality. Each person will bring their own financial style to a relationship. Sometimes these styles will align, but often they will be different.

Each person will bring their own financial style to a relationship.

For example, do you pay bills as soon as they are received, but your partner pays them right before the deadline? Do you regularly check your bank balance, but your partner only has a rough approximation of what they think is in their account? Do you contribute the minimum to superannuation, whereas your partner takes full advantage of their employer's matching plan?

Open up the discussion

Here are some starters to get a sense of your partner’s money style. Try to use open ended questions that won’t make your partner feel scrutinised like:

  • "Would you say you’re more of a saver or spender?" instead of "How much do you have in savings?"

  • "When did you first get a credit card?" instead of "What’s your credit rating?"

  • "I really hate having credit card debt, how do you feel about it?" instead of "How much debt do you have?"

Opposites attract

Within relationships, it is not uncommon for couples to develop into opposite modes of behaviour; like one partner being more introverted and one being more extroverted. Similarly, couples sometimes unconsciously display opposite behaviours around money, especially if they have merged some or all of their money.

For instance, even if two spenders come together, over time one will sometimes become the orderly budgeter who hesitates to make unplanned purchases, while the other becomes the impulsive spender, unwilling to control their spending habits.

Being caught in opposite roles can feel very difficult, and can put a lot of pressure on your relationship. Discussing each other’s money styles is a really good first step in unpacking some of the emotional power that money has over you, and within your relationship.

Appreciate each other

Set aside time to tell each other anything you appreciate, no matter how small, about your partner's behaviour around money. For instance, savers often secretly admire spender's spontaneity, but they fear that any praise at all will be mistaken as permission to spend wildly.

In reality when each partner begins to appreciate the other's strengths and skills, the power struggle is interrupted. Remember, try to be respectful of differences. The ways in which people handle money are very different.

Do not criticise one another for how each one of you wants to handle your money. One person’s way is not the only way.  For example, a “spender” is usually someone who is in favour of quality of life today. A “saver” is someone who is in favour of a quality of life in the future. It is the same thing, just viewed in a different way. The key is to learn to accept and negotiate your differences.

Quiz

Which emotion do you associate most with money?

  • 49 0 Stress
  • 13 0 Guilt
  • 12 0 Excitement
  • 13 0 Happiness
  • 23 0 Anxiety

Note:

Most of us don’t think of money as an emotional issue but in reality it is. Take a look at our talking about money section to find how to discuss money and emotions with your partner.

Next topic:

Dealing with negative responses