“Thank God, I sat him down and asked about his retirement plans. Who wants to marry someone who plans to start saving when they turn 40?” jokes Swati Sharma, 29, as she talks about a prospective partner she met in a match arranged by her parents. What strikes me more than her comic nonchalance is the ease with which she talks about having such a conversation.
As a 23-year-old woman, I find myself constantly running away from money talks.
Whether it’s at home, discussing home loan payments with my father, or while making a transaction through my partner’s account, I’ve always found myself dodging conversations involving money.
My father, who has told me since childhood that worrying about money is something that shouldn’t even cross my mind understands my predicament on the subject. My partner, on the other hand, constantly tries to sneak information about his investments and savings into our evening chitchat. It’s important to have the money talk, he says.
Why do we need the money talk?
In most families, including mine, women have been kept on the far end of money. If they’re not earning, they’re the money-keepers; not involved in matters of saving or investing, only spending. If they do earn, their money is not accounted for as a real contribution; it’s an extra income, one that doesn’t come close to supplementing the ‘main income’ of the house. My aversion to indulging in conversations about money comes from the same. Why do I need to talk about it now?
If Sakshi Batra, 28 had to answer my question in just one sentence (and she did), she’d say, “Have that chat clear because money fights are really really ugly.”
And I hear her. Money fights might be ugly, and here’s why.
What if you’re saving half of your salary every month (like that’s possible!) to invest in some crypto, while your partner ends up splurging on overpriced beer and weekend getaways every month? Who would cash in when Elon Musk tweets and your crypto skyrockets?
You and your partner can have different expectations in terms of lifestyle. You might have different spending styles, your saving and retirement plans might be poles apart, and your financial goals might be out of sync.
Your partner is not supposed to be your twin when it comes to money, but they should at least be a close cousin (creepy, but ok).
Additionally, when you talk to your partner about money, it also becomes clear what expectations you have of each other. It’s not uncommon that women looking to get married are told by prospective grooms that they have the option of not working, for they can take care of the entire family. Women are rarely considered breadwinners. But with more of us leaning forward to pick the check, we also need to kick up conversations that allow us to become a part of the finance talks.
Things to talk about when you talk money with your partner
The salary soiree
If you’re not sure where to begin, start from the start.
Talk salaries. It’s often said that you should never ask a man how much money he makes. I say, ask ahead. It’s imperative to be aware of your partner’s salary as it allows you to gauge if you and your partner are financially compatible and whether you will be conducive to each other’s financial goals. It also allows you to understand how you can split the expenses, and how to save for your future.
Sakshi, who is getting married soon, remarks: “I had a ballpark figure of my partner’s salary and was aware of his expenses. Every couple should talk about salaries because that allows you to understand how they spend; you don’t want to end up with someone who will hold you back from living the lifestyle you want.”
Among couples, the male partner is usually the higher-earning member (thanks to better opportunities, pay gap, sexist work environments, I can keep going but you get the gist).
So, a salary-centric discussion can bring a level of balance to your mutual spending habits. While some couples might go for a proportionate way of spending, Trishna Datta, 28, says, “When we decided to move in, we agreed to split everything equally, and he is the higher-earning member between the two of us so he does take care of some frill spends but only after all our fixed expenses and investments are taken care of.”
Seeing eye to eye on expenses, loans, and liabilities
Being aware of your partner’s salary while missing out on their expenses is like eating a mango without accounting for the seed. When planning to get married, it’s as important to be aware of your partner’s monthly expenses, long-term loans, and liabilities, as they must be of yours. If you’re planning to pay off your student loans for the next ten years, your partner must be made aware, for he might be planning to buy a house.
As a part of this conversation, “discuss what cuts you are okay with making in your budget, and how much you are willing to contribute to their liabilities to establish clear boundaries”, says Sakshi.
If you’re habitual to spending and saving money for yourself, you will find yourself out of place in an environment where your partner’s money belongs to others.
“My parents never interfered in my monetary decisions, but my in-laws are gravely involved in the process. I wish I were a little more clear about their involvement before I got married” mentions Swati Sharma.
Seeing I to I on investments
For a lot of people, getting married is when they start to save and invest seriously. Whether you’ve been keen on investments before marriage or are looking to dabble into the same afresh, you need to have an open dialogue with your partner. This is to ensure that both of you balance each other out in terms of risks involved.
According to Shivnandini Tyagi, 34, for instance, “I am a risk-averse and medium risk investor, and I definitely wanted to be sure that my partner was not a high-risk investor. We discussed our assets.”
Trishna, who recently got bit by the mutual fund's bug says, “I think I spoke so much about investments and mutual funds and the importance of emergency funds and the 50:15:35 ratio, that he probably had it at the back of his mind and ended up starting the MF journey. Between us, I started investing in MF's first and he built an emergency corpus if we ever find ourselves in a situation where we require a large chunk of money instantly.”
On account of accounts
When I was younger, I found it startling that while my dadu had a personal bank account, dadi had one she shared with him. Why did she not have a personal account?
Women are hardly perceived to be well-versed in handling finances.
Society finds it needful to keep an eye on how women use their money, lest they use it to become independent!
A lot of married women don’t find themselves comfortable sharing a bank account with their partners. Even when they do, they keep a separate savings account dedicated to themselves. This ensures they have a safety net, lest things go south with their partner.
On this, Shivnandini says, “While joint accounts and savings are a good idea, you must always have a certain percentage of savings that only belong to you and only you have access to.”
Trishna, who finds the concept of having a joint account a little old-school, says: “I don't know the practicality of this idea, but given a chance I would love to try it out, and I also have no married friends whom I have discussed this with it or know who have a joint account.”
Swati, on the other hand, says that while she and her husband possess their individual accounts, the joint account serves as a common saving point for both of them.
Take a call on calling the shots
A lot of married women are unaware of the investments and savings their partners make.
It’s often misconstrued that men are more intellectually sound when it comes to making investment decisions.
Be honest with your partner about the sort of freedom you require in making such decisions. Also, be cognisant of your individual shortcomings when it comes to investing.
On making the shots on savings, Shivnandini says, “We have over time realised that I am good at saving and he is good at taking well-researched decisions on big assets like property, hence I take care of the savings and investments mostly.”
Swati, who is very fluent in trading up at the stock market says, “My husband and I sit down and talk about how much money we want to keep fluid in a certain month, so our heads are above the water even in case of a loss.”
The new-age adage
Getting married or moving in with your partner can be a life-altering decision. Since women and money are hardly called out in the same breath, it can become very easy to sidestep cash conversations.
Even if you’re someone who doesn’t want to work after marriage, and will be dependent on your partner for your financial needs, ensure that it is out there.
Where do they see themselves five, ten, and twenty years down the line? Do they have a retirement plan in place? What are their thoughts on investing in real estate? Do they have a contingency fund, lest something go wrong? These are some questions to ask.
While you’re testing out financial compatibility with your partner, you also need to evaluate your position beforehand. Analyse your expectations, what you expect to spend, how much you expect your partner to contribute, and how feasible your long-term goals are to yourself.
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