Why it’s so hard for Kiwi couples to talk about money and what’s being done about it

A research project aimed at helping couples feek more comfortable about talking about money is looking for candidates to take part in its pilot.

Ayesha Scott, a finance professor at AUT University, has teamed up with Good Shepherd and secured around $25k in funding to begin a pilot study testing a toolkit it has designed to help people build healthy financial relationships.

Scott, whose research has involved money and financial abuse in relationships, said it was looking for both individuals and couples to take part and test out the programme.

“We know that New Zealanders don’t talk about money. The Commission for Financial Capability has done some fairly terrifying work around how many of us as New Zealanders don’t actually talk about money with our partners.”

She said this could range from not telling a partner how much they earn or debt infidelity, where individuals keep secret how much debt they have racked up.

“What we want to do is give New Zealanders the tools to start these conversations with their partners but also have more constructive conversations, because we all know that money can lead to conflict in relationships.”

Scott said conflict over finances was often cited as a leading cause of divorce.

“And we know that during this time of the pandemic a lot of these issues are cropping up for couples. Financial distress is stressful enough without having to worry about having an argument with your partner about money.”

So, why don't we talk about money?

Scott says we have a lot of emotion attached to our personal relationship with money that then makes it very difficult for us to approach the topic with our partner because they might be coming at it from a completely different point of view.

“The whole conversation can break down and get a little bit blame-ridden pretty quickly.”

She said the online toolkit was set up in a modular format, so if someone needed to start a conversation about a topic like debt they could get ideas on how to start the conversation.

“It allows individuals to do a little bit of the pre-work that helps them become comfortable about approaching their partner about money and then hopefully it is going to lead to a more constructive conversation.”

Scott hopes that by shifting the attitudes among the general population it will also help those in financial abusive relationships.

“To solve that problem, which is a big complex social problem that New Zealand faces with family violence, we need to get all New Zealanders who aren’t living in violent relationships having healthier relationships. That is going to hopefully shift how we collectively view money.”

Scott hopes to get enough people involved in the pilot to be able to release the toolkit to the public by September.

“We are hoping to get service providers on board – debt solution providers, big banks – and government to refer through to the toolkit and put it in front of as many eyes as possible. I think this is a big gap and it is hard to build financial capability across our population if we are not chatting to each other about these matters. If we are talking to our partners it is causing stress and conflict, which it doesn’t need to be.”

The toolkit will be free to the public to use.

Top tips on talking about money

Scott says part of making it easier to talk about money is realising everyone has their own individual relationship with it.

“Just being a bit self-aware when going into conversations that the person opposite you might have a different base.”

She says an example of this is someone asking if it is okay to spend money on something.

“That person is not asking permission to spend that money that person is wanting to let the other one know – hey I want to spend this amount of money, can we fit that into this week’s budget is there anything I’m not aware of that is coming up?

Scott says addressing any concerns early is also key rather than letting concern build up about an issue like debt.

“Addressing things early is always going to lead to a better outcome than waiting until after the fact.”

Those starting a new relationship should also feel ok to talk about money.

“We need to normalise talking about money early on – there is no reason why we have to be signing up to commit to someone before you have some of these difficult conversations.

“I think checking you are on the same page with debt and spending is really important as early as possible. There is no reason to be walking down the aisle and finding out the person you are with has a student loan you didn’t know about.”

She says the key is to be open and honest about your finances and for your partner to do the same.

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