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Are you a joint bank account sort of couple? Or do you prefer to keep everything separate?

There is a continuum of possibilities for managing money in a relationship, ranging from complete separation of all financial affairs to sharing of income and expenses but not assets or investments, to complete integration where everything is owned and managed jointly.

The way in which money is managed within a relationship reflects how committed the relationship is and how the two people concerned have dealt with their individual differences in their relationship with money. 

Your relationship with money is a reflection of who you are as a person and how you interact with the world. If you are by nature a cautious person, you will probably be very careful with your money.

Likewise, if you are a go-getting risk taker in life, chances are you will take risks with your money. Differences between partners in terms of their relationship with money have an impact on the way in which money is managed.

The factors which are most likely to lead to partners managing money separately are:

  • There is a lack of commitment or trust in the relationship
  • Significant assets have been accumulated prior to the relationship
  • One partner earns significantly more than the other
  • Bad experiences with former partners 
  • Strong desire for financial independence

Some people have a very strong desire for financial independence. This is typically seen in people who have entered into a relationship late in life, or people who have had to struggle for financial survival over a long period of time, for example as a single parent on a low income.

It is hard for financially independent people to share decision-making and trust another person with access to their bank accounts.

Typically, when financial affairs are kept separate, each partner contributes an agreed amount into a joint account for basic living costs.

Assets are owned separately and the family home may be owned by one partner or as tenants in common.

While it is understandable that money is managed separately in the early stages of a relationship, as time goes by and the level of trust and commitment increases, the way in which money is managed should ideally change.

Money can be used much more effectively when it is treated as a combined resource. Financial planning is all about setting goals and using money to achieve them.

In a healthy relationship, there are agreed goals – some combined, and some individual – and both partners support each other in achieving these goals. The higher the level of agreement on goals and integration of money, the easier this process is.

Relationships don't always work out in the long term and it is wise to agree how finances would be separated along with the relationship. This can be done with a legally binding agreement. It is particularly important to do this if significant assets have been accumulated prior to the relationship.

Having a written agreement can also help build trust where one partner has had a previous bad experience or a desire to retain financial independence. The longer the relationship lasts, the less important this issue becomes and it is important to regularly review any agreements made to ensure they remain appropriate.

There is no right and wrong way to deal with financial resources in a relationship. There are, however, some basic principles.

  • Each partner should have access to an agreed amount of money which they can use without reference to the other.
  • Resources should be shared fairly, and should not be used to wield power in the relationship.
  • Priorities for saving towards common goals should be agreed and adhered to.
  • There should be agreement on which financial decisions need to be made jointly and which can be made individually.
  • Each partner should respect the other's views and acknowledge that different attitudes towards money are not right or wrong.

Following these principles should help reduce conflict over financial matters, and ensure the best use of assets and income towards achieving goals.

Written by Liz Koh. Republished with permission of Stuff.co.nz

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