How to Navigate Different Money Habits in a Relationship

Can a relationship work without financial compatibility, or are different approaches to money a dealbreaker?
how to deal with financial differences in a relationship

We all have different attitudes to money, but having polar opposite money habits can often put a strain on your relationship. 

Early on in the relationship money talks might be limited to splitting the bill on date night, or agreeing on a budget for your first trip together. But as you prepare for bigger life goals or relationship milestones — like moving in together, shifting careers, or starting a family — arguments about money are more likely to crop up. Especially if you and your partner have different money habits. 

If one of you is a saver who squirrels away money for a rainy day, while the other likes to splash the cash and never pays their credit card bill on time, it can be challenging to find common ground. This can set the stage for arguments, even more so if you have shared finances, such as a mortgage or joint bank account. 

While financial compatibility can make things easier, it’s not the be-all and end-all for a relationship — it’s how we manage our differences that’s important.

Research by Paired expert and marriage therapist Dr. Terri Orbuch shows that couples who avoid discussions about money and other "difficult" topics are less happy over time.

With that in mind, here are some tips for managing finances as a couple even when your views on money don’t align. 

Talk about money

Many of us grow up with the notion that talking about money is taboo or tacky, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Money is a common source of disagreement in relationships, and compared to other sensitive topics, arguments about money in a relationship tend to be more intense, and more likely to remain unresolved. So finding a way to discuss money is especially important to tackle the problem head-on. 

According to one survey, 78% of couples who talk about money at least once a week are happier in their relationship, compared to 60% of couples who only talk about money every few months. 

Being transparent about your finances — and creating a safe space where both you and your partner are comfortable doing so — can prevent a common source of stress for couples. 

Talking regularly about money can help you understand where your partner is coming from and what's driving their beliefs about money, but it can also ensure your values are aligned and boundaries are being respected.

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Decide how you want to split finances

“Creating a proactive plan for handling the finances — and doing it early — is important,” says Dr. Marisa T. Cohen, a relationship scientist, coach, and expert at Paired. Say one of you has a student loan to pay off, or one of you is a freelancer with a less stable income, planning your finances together is crucial. 

Dr. Cohen explains that the first step is to determine whether or not you want to have a shared account to keep your finances separate. “Either way, the financial decisions each person makes will impact the couple,” she says. 

Everyone’s circumstances and preferences are different, so there’s no one way to manage your finances as a couple. But if you have completely different approaches to money, you should at least find some common ground and have boundaries you’re both happy with. 

“If you find out that one person is more of a saver and the other is a spender, you may want to determine an amount that can be set aside for personal spending (or saving) — which can be kept in separate accounts if you choose. The rest can be designated shared expenses,” explains Dr. Cohen. 

This way, any money needed to pay bills, living expenses, or couple holidays is safe, while also giving each other room to spend your own money as you please without guilt or judgment. 

Set a shared goal

One way to reconcile your money differences is to set a shared goal you can both work towards, however big or small.  

“Of course this requires you to determine a reasonable budget and discuss long-term goals requiring money, such as planning to redo the house, going on an expensive vacation, retiring early,” explains Dr. Cohen. “If possible, you may want to call on an objective third party such as a financial planner to assist in this initial process.”

Focusing on a common goal can help you see eye to eye without worrying too much about your partner’s spending habits — whether it’s putting some money aside for weekly date nights, contributing to a shared retirement fund, or paying off high-interest debt.

It’s also a great way to foster trust in one another, and knowing that you’re both aiming for the same thing is an opportunity to continually show up for one another. 

“Sit down together every month or so to revisit your financial goals, and adjust as necessary,” adds Dr. Cohen. “Remember that your goals and financial situations may change (sometimes unexpectedly), so being able to discuss and adapt as necessary is important.” 

Accept your differences 

Financial incompatibility might be a dealbreaker for some people, but remember that you don’t have to agree about money 100% as long as you understand where your partner is coming from.  

Money can be a loaded subject for many and discussing finances can be difficult because it often underpins feelings of trust, power, security, and self-worth. 

Our attitudes to money can also reveal a lot about our childhood, so it’s important to be mindful that your partner may have had a very different upbringing. 

This isn’t to say that you should blindly accept dangerous financial behavior like fraud or risky investments, rather it’s about accepting that you and your partner are two different people and you won’t always agree on everything. 

The key is to be respectful of your partner’s financial situation and priorities while trusting that you can both compromise and find a compromise that works for both of you. 

Knowing how to navigate differences without wanting to change your partner is vital for a successful relationship, so make sure to keep communication open and respectful. 

Is money talk affecting your relationship? Download the Paired app for more relationship advice and couple exercises designed by experts.

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