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File Image: IOL

Finances can make or break your relationship

By Georgina Crouth Time of article published May 27, 2019

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How aligned are your financial goals with your partner’s? Are both of you frugal - or spenders? Or is one a spendthrift with a tendency to create debt, while the other is a long-suffering miser?

If you battle to work together on such an important aspect of your life - finances - that’s likely to cause severe strain on your relationship and your happiness.

This week, a lovely story about a couple who had spent less than R2000 on their wedding sparked debate on social media. With most weddings costing upwards of R70000, many couples (and their families) spend a fortune on their big day and start their married life drowning in debt, having taken on debt to pay for a day’s celebration. It’s never a good footing.

Kabelo and Mukhethwa Khumalo, however, didn’t bow to pressure to impress anyone on their big day. They had met in 2012, and so known each other for a while, and Kabelo had already saved and paid for lobola in 2015. Their families pressed them to have a big wedding, but their aspirations were more intimate.

Kabelo told W24: “It was tough, because we wanted to have our wedding a few months later, but our families were against the kind of wedding we wanted to have.

“We wanted an intimate wedding at Mukhethwa’s home, and she wanted to wear a tutu-skirt as opposed to wearing a traditional wedding dress, and so we didn’t get married as planned, because our families wanted a big wedding.”

So the couple called a marriage officer, who met them at a restaurant, and they signed. They had two of their friends as witnesses. Their marriage was under a gazebo, with 12 friends, their pastor and his wife.

“We bought pizza worth about R800, one 5-litre juice and sparkling wine for about R50. My suit was bought for me by a friend. My wife got her dress for R180 and her shoes cost R130. My ring cost R250 and hers cost R550. We also played music from a cellphone and connected it to a small speaker. We had a great day, even though our families were not there to share it with us,” Kabelo says.

It’s not everyone’s idea of a romantic wedding, but starting off debt-free is in itself a reward. Fights about finances are among the most common kinds of disputes among couples.

Have the conversation

Janet Winterbourne, a relationship counsellor, says if couples don’t discuss how to manage their finances, they’re likely to have clashes over who pays for what.

“When things get serious - like you move in together or get engaged - I suggest discussing financial responsibilities very early on. Despite the intimacy couples have on other levels, they’re often very awkward and uncomfortable when it comes to discussing what they each earn - plus their debts and assets - and how they plan to go forward together financially,” Winterbourne says.

That’s when it can be rewarding to involve a counsellor or financial adviser.

Kenosi Magosha, the head of client solutions savings at Sanlam Personal Finance, says not having financial goals aligned with your partner’s is a sure way to create conflict in a relationship. And it starts by speaking about your attitude to money to see where you’re both at.

“If you don’t speak about where each of you are financially - how much debt you have, your attitudes to saving, etc - that’s a big problem. Couples focus so much on their weddings that they forget what the life in that marriage will entail.”

She says if overspending on a wedding, for example, puts you on the back foot and it is likely to strain relationships in the early days.

Magosha says: “Couples should discuss their lifestyle aspirations - where they see themselves living, how they’ll get there, where their children will hopefully go to school.

“Do a realistic audit to see where you are, about money, debt - and if one of you has significant debt, you might want to see a lawyer to protect each party from the consequences of that. Take stock of your finances and the family you might support.

“Many of us have ‘black tax’ or simply other commitments - but if one is paying R4000 to their family and the other is paying R10000, there should be a discussion.”

She says it’s important to enjoy your life and relationship but budgeting for that needs to happen. “Protect yourself against unexpected events such as disability and dread disease, too. You need a financial cushion and to be able to take care of the legacy of your relationship.”

Plan for the worst

Jeanette Marais, the deputy chief executive of MMI Holdings, says she’s a firm believer in marrying with your heart and your head.

“You’re in love and completely infatuated, but you still need to think about this without emotion,” Marais says. “People think that marriage is forever, but unfortunately for one out of every two people, it’s not the case. Plan for the worst, and this doesn’t only mean for divorce; what if one of your businesses fails, or one of you incurs major debt?

“Learn to talk about money. The road to the pulpit may be short, but the journey with your partner isn’t. Make sure that you start off on the right foot by being honest about money matters, even before the marriage.”

Marais says both parties must be active in money matters. “You’re investing in your future when you talk about it and make decisions together.

“When you talk about your finances it doesn’t mean you don’t trust each other, but rather that you’re a team that talks about everything and can trust each other.”


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