Marie-Andrée Maurice – Marketing Manager at stnce – talks about the difficulties of opening up the financial conversation in a partnership.
stnce is a platform that believes confidence is the key to taking financial ownership. This is the first in a new series we call, “Not at the Table!” where we ask people to address the elephant in the room – the taboos of personal finance.
Having everything split 50/50 sounds great because it sounds equal. And that’s generally a good thing in a relationship, but if someone doesn’t make the same amount of money, then it’s hard for them to keep up with the lifestyle imposed by one of the partners. I think household budgeting should be done in proportion to each partner’s income. Meaning both of them should be able to save and allow for luxury spending. In French, it’s called équité and égalité (equity vs. equality). Equity being an equal percentage and equality, an equal amount. In my case, because I make less, I’m not able to save as much. But having that conversation and changing the way things are done can be tricky because it feels like I’m trying to rock the boat. Really. How does one say “pro-rata” casually? Would it be something like, Hey! I’d like to review the way our finances are divided because I think I’m paying way too much.
It started from the fact that when we met, I was still a student. I either didn’t have any income or I had very small one. The only area I could cover was rent and day-to-day expenses. When we decided to move in together, the hydro and other monthly bills were under my name. Naturally, we’ve continued to split our financial responsibilities that way and I cover a lot of the fixed expenses like daycare, groceries, and clothing while he takes care of the mortgage, insurance, and big repairs. Even though it seems fair, I’m at the stage in my life where I’m in a position to invest. I’ve paid off my student loans and bought a house. I’m starting to learn more about retirement planning. I’ve signed up for work benefits and looked into an RRSP. But because of the way we’ve divided up the financial responsibilities, I’m not sure how much I can realistically save and how much more ahead he is compared to me. And then there’s the year of maternity leave. I spent a considerable amount of my personal savings keeping up with the division of bills we had set up and trying to maintain the lifestyle we had. I thought I might seem irresponsible if I asked him to take care of my share. And I still wanted to be able to say yes to renting the cottage and going away for the weekend. I didn’t want to make this incredibly happy moment in our lives bittersweet. But now, every time a big purchase comes up, I haven’t made it normal to have a conversation about budgeting and now I’m finding it awkward to start.
I thought I might seem irresponsible if I asked him to take care of my share. And I still wanted to be able to say yes to renting the cottage and going away for the weekend. I didn’t want to make this incredibly happy moment in our lives bittersweet.
Growing up, it was very important to be debt-free. It was all about making sure I could save as much as I could so that I wouldn’t have to apply for big loans and pay more interest than was necessary. I was one of those kids who started saving for university the moment they got their first job in high school. Because of this mentality, I never opened a credit card. I thought it was for luxury purchases, not day-today living. On top of that, I got my bachelor’s degree in Europe where it was very difficult to obtain a credit card as a foreigner. So, when I moved back to Canada, I didn’t have a credit history to show for when I wanted to apply for a mortgage, even though I had the necessary funds to do so. The mortgage ended up being in my husband’s name and looking back, I think it was a lost opportunity for me to be more involved. Had I known, when I was younger, about the importance of credit, maybe my husband and I would have split the mortgage responsibility differently.
However, that’s not to say nothing can be done. I do want to open the financial conversation with him and figure out a plan so that I can start to build my own personal nest egg. I’d like to think that when I retire, I can rely on myself and have a certain amount of independence. I think I’m literate enough to know that it makes sense to participate in programs like an employee stock purchase plan but not enough to know what’s best for me. I know my mortgage broker. I know my rate. I know the terms. I know my capital balance. I know my payments and their frequency. What I don’t know is how to invest. And I also don’t know what my husband has invested his money in. He’s definitely more of an expert than I am and I trust his judgement, which is why I’ve never challenged his decisions so far. But I’d like to be more involved with the research and figuring out what’s best for the both of us. I know I’m at a critical moment in my life to really set myself up for the long term in terms of planning and investing. I can’t think about how I should have or could have done it earlier. Now’s the time to act and talk about it.