Ask Allison: My partner's penny-pinching is making our lives joyless
Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships
M y partner's attitude to money is bothering me.
For the last four years we were saving for a house deposit, and were finally about to buy a home last year. We had to be very frugal for a long time, and of course we'll still have to watch the pennies, but it seems as if my partner has become obsessed with money, in what seems to me to be an unhealthy way.
Every purchase I make is queried, he says that things like takeaways and cinema trips are just a waste of money and even though we could have theoretically booked a holiday this year, he didn't want to go on one.
We are not on the breadline, we have some savings and are both employed. While I respected his budgeting abilities when we were saving for a goal, this penny-pinching is making our lives feel quite joyless, but I don't know how to change this.
Answer: The first relationship that needs some air time is the one you both have with money. I suggest doing this separately and then together. Many couples discuss the big future contenders like marriage, where to live, whether to have children or not, with finances not getting a look in until it causes a huge wedge between them. This is such a common problem, from minor 'oh eh, I have this ages' to financial abuse used as a means to control and dominate in relationships of domestic violence.
The first thing I propose is to write down what comes to mind when I say the word 'money.' Don't think about this, just answer.
Language and words can hold old familial narratives that form often unconscious attitudes, values and behaviour surrounding money. Try these words for size and see do you hold differing views or feelings on words such as budgeting, saving and spending.
The concept surrounding the word 'budgeting' can make some feel organised, in control and comfortable. For others the word can feel similar to the idea of dieting with an immediate feeling of deprivation, loss and pushing back against being 'told' what to do. Words hold meaning.
To have a progressive conversation that facilitates change around money, it needs to be seen as not just a monetary investment but an emotional one within your relationship.
Money elicits strong emotions. The goal is to be curious and to explore your beliefs and behaviours surrounding money more like a detective and less like an interrogation officer.
How to get curious about money:
1. What does money mean to you?
2. What beliefs did your parents hold about money?
3. Did your parents fight/argue about money, if so, what about?
4. Are you a spender or saver?
5. Do you like how finances are dealt with within the relationship?
6. Are there any gender issues, such as, does one manage the day-to-day expenditure and one manage the big financial decisions? Or is one fully in charge of the finances?
7. Is this working in your relationship?
8. Where do you and your partner differ in terms of money?
9. How, or, can you work together on this?
10. Have you ever received any financial advice?
What brings you joy? Is it the ability to have discretionary expenditure such as a takeaway so that you don't have to make dinner that night or to decide to go to the cinema off the cuff? Two words you might explore when asking yourself what money means to you, may be 'freedom' and 'spontaneity'.
Do you think your partner views money differently, perhaps in a more utilitarian goal-oriented way than you do? It will be interesting to learn what money means to your partner and then to see how you can create a future financial plan that works for the two of you.
Sometimes money can mean security and safety for one and the other may view money as freedom to live as you would like to. There's no frivolity in that. It may feel that spending can balance or justify working hard for the means in the first place. Fear around money can leave people with a scarcity mindset, one of 'there isn't enough'.
The saving worked for you when you had a joint goal. What you need to build in is emotional capital. You do this by being generous in understanding where each person is coming from; to build a respect for any existing scarcity mindsets and to have a sense of supporting each other emotionally first, and then to come to a financial consensus together.
Caveat - this will be uncomfortable and you may not completely agree with each other, it's just about moving more towards each other.
Swapping the word 'budget' to a 'spending plan' may help tick both boxes as you save and spend. Building in financial freedom, aka discretionary spending, can be balanced by showing that the utilities will be paid and both are happy with the amount in savings.
Adding in quality of life and what that means to both of you would be important in your spending plan as a holiday can provide a much needed mental, physical and emotional relief from working hard.
Financial balance, living a life of meaning, purpose and joy and being supportive to each other will hopefully increase some wiggle room. Like a diet that is too restrictive, your willpower, which is finite, will run out. Ultimately, you could both bring out the best in each others' financial yin/yang. Stop, pause, listen and see each others' financial strengths as you combine to work towards a mutual financial goal.
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