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Tue, Feb 23, 2010
The Sunday Times
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Love me, love my money habits
by Lorna Tan

While the soft aspects of a relationship are important, let us not be so caught up in it that we forget that one cannot live on love and fresh air alone.

It is a fact that disagreements and conflicts on money issues rank high among couples, along with in-laws and work stress. It is no wonder that relationship experts advise couples to talk openly about money and iron out any potential money issues even before they get hitched.

Here's a test to find out how healthy your relationship with your partner is when it comes to money:

# Do you find it difficult to talk to your partner about dollars and cents?

# When was the last time you spoke to your partner about finances?

# Do you know your partner's income, his expenses, savings, loans and investments?

# Do you know each other's financial aspirations?

# Are you able to give examples of his money habits?

# Is there an agreement between both of you on who pays for what?

# What happens if there is a change in circumstances like job loss, parenthood or a windfall?

# If you are a newly married couple, were you comfortable with the amount spent on the wedding and/or house renovations?

Did you manage to stick to the pre-determined budget or was it busted?

If you answer 'no' to any of the above questions, then it is an area for you to work on.

Don't be shy about discussing your finances openly and review your situation a few times a year to make sure you are on track with your goals.

Here are some common myths about money between partners:

1. Money equals love

When I was dating my then boyfriend, now husband, I used to equate how much he loved me with the value of his presents or even where we took our meals.

The more expensive the gift was, the more I felt loved. I didn't feel pressured to go dutch during our dates, as he is older and was already working while I was still in school.

Of course, all that changed after we got married and my 'I' attitude was replaced by a 'we' attitude.

Another danger with equating money with love is that it results in couples shying away from money issues in the early stages of a relationship. This is because they fear that if they question how the other views money, it could mean that they are questioning their partner's love. The problem with this is that it makes it harder to discuss finances as time goes by.

2. My hubby will take care of me

Don't count on it. Many widows or divorcees find themselves helpless when they are left suddenly alone to handle their finances for the first time.

Money is not 'a man's thing'. It is better to bite the bullet now, get over your fear of financial jargon and pick up some basic knowledge like budgeting, credit management, getting a basic financial plan, sorting out your insurance needs and planning for your golden years.

Remember that women live longer and usually the family savings are already spent on your children's education and husband's medical bills, with nothing much left after his death. This assumes he is the same age or older than you.

3. My spouse can change after marriage

If he has a gambling habit, is a big spender, loves to show his affections by buying expensive gifts or by giving treats to friends, don't expect his lavish ways and habits to disappear after marriage.

How we were brought up and our childhood experiences have a hand in forming our attitudes towards money. They are deep- seated and it will take a lot of effort for a spendthrift to mend his ways.

4. Opposites attract

It is often said that opposites attract when it comes to love, and it can be a positive thing, especially if the opposing traits complement each other's weaknesses and strengths.

But when it comes to money issues, it may not be the case. If you are a risk-taker and can stomach volatility while your spouse is the exact opposite and is very careful with his or her money to the extent of even being miserly, there are bound to be conflicts. These conflicts can occur when it comes to money management, such as when deciding which investments to go into.

5. Honesty is the best policy

The first step towards understanding each other's money habits is to be honest.

You must find opportunities to acknowledge them, talk about them and work towards a mutual understanding of how money issues are to be handled.

Talk about your needs, fears and dreams. Try to surface them early in the relationship. As much as you can, share responsibilities by understanding who does what best.

While working for the best, it is only prudent to prepare for the worst. This means knowing how to cope financially should there be a separation, be it through a divorce or death.

Only when your house is in order can you enjoy peace of mind. When that happens, you can celebrate Valentine's Day any day.

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This article was first published in The Sunday Times.

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