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To everyone on the outside, Sarah and Steve are a match made in heaven. “We have the same taste in friends, music, food and movies. But when it comes to money, Steve and I are on opposite sides of the universe,” Sarah shares. Steve laughs in agreement, before adding: “Mention the word ‘payday’ to me and I think of a night out, a trip to Paris, new suit – that kind of thing. Say the word to Sarah and she thinks mortgage, clearing credit card debts and paying utility bills.”

Sarah and Steve are not unusual. Maybe you’ve noticed that when you and your spouse or significant other discuss money, sparks fly. Not only do many people have different and conflicting money styles, but money means something different to each of us.

Everyone is different

Maybe you are a great budgeter but your partner is a free spender; maybe you know where every pound goes but your partner is lucky if they can find their chequebook. You feel comfortable with stocks and shares; your partner wants new trainers or CDs. Perhaps you make financial decisions easily, quickly and sometimes impulsively, but your partner has analysis paralysis and can’t make a decision until forced to do so.

When Steve and Sarah sat before me, I could see their struggles. To Sarah a pay cheque symbolised safety, comfort and security; to Steve, it was permission to splash out and to be stimulated by the new and exciting.

The four money motivators

If I ask 20 people about what money means to them, I get 20 different responses: trips to the Caribbean, kid’s college tuition, power, sexiness, tummy tucks, freedom, new car, security – and yes, even happiness.

What I’ve found is that our money personalities or styles are shaped by early experiences and how our parents handled (or didn’t handle) money. When we become adults, our individual quirks, biases and beliefs cluster into primary themes.

There are four primary motivators that influence how we use money:

  • Enjoying freedom: “That bonus? I’m spending it on a trip I’ve wanted to take.”
  • Building security: “I’m looking at some nice safe investments; that’s my nest egg.”
  • Having power: “I work hard. I deserve that new car, and I’m going to get it.”
  • Enhancing relationships: “If I won the lottery? I’d buy gifts for everyone and have a big family reunion and invite people from all over.”

Solutions for couples

Here are five ideas for managing your money together more effectively:

  • Use a financial adviser. Having an adviser you can both trust could help you unify your financial requirements and build for a better future together. Make sure your adviser is aware of your different approaches to finances before you start.
  • Schedule a regular weekly or monthly meeting to discuss finances or update each other. Set a time limit, stay focused on the subject at hand and be objective. When you’ve finished, reward yourselves with dinner out or something fun.
  • Divide financial tasks (check reconciliation, preparing for taxes, gathering information about investments, etc.) so that you are both responsible and ‘in the loop’. If that isn’t possible, schedule regular update meetings for the one handling the task to report to the other.
  • Make decisions together; unilateral decision-making is a real deal killer and makes the other person become entrenched in his or her money style.
  • Understand that you and your partner’s money styles were shaped by an accumulation of experiences. Just because your partner is different from you when it comes to money, doesn’t mean they are wrong. The more you ‘blame’, the more your partner will have to defend their position. When they do that, you’ll find your money styles polarising and your priorities getting even further apart.

Akwasi Duodu, Sterling & Law



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