Money Talks: Is Cash Causing Ructions In Your Relationship?

Is cash really the number one source of discontent in a coupling? Rosemary Mac Cabe finds out.

cute couple

What stresses you out in your relationship? Is it toenails on the coffee table? Is it football? What about odd socks? Wet towels on the bed (grrr)? Well, according to a 2015 US survey by SunTrust Bank, 35 percent of couples reported that money is the number one cause of stress in their life together.

Combine that with the financial strain the recession has so many under, and it’d be fair to assume that a lot of our love lives are dampened by money problems. But what’s going on, on the ground?

We asked three professional 30-something couples how they handle their collective resources. Do they have a joint account? Who pays for what? Do they squabble over the cents? Their answers, in light of the ‘survey says’, results, might come as a bit of a surprise.

Laura, 32, works in PR. She married John, 32, an accountant, last year. They rent an apartment in Dublin 4.

“I earn €42,000 a year and John earns… seventy something,” says Laura. “At the beginning, I paid for everything. I was working and he was studying. He used to get really antsy about it; he didn’t want me paying for everything, but I guess I had selfish reasons, too! I wanted to do these nice things, and he couldn’t afford to… Also, the presumption that men should pay for dates, and women don’t, is bullshit. From my point of view, I was investing in the relationship.

“When he started working, I moved abroad for a few years and the roles switched. He was very generous; when he came to visit, he’d pay for all our dinners out, everything nice we did… And to be honest, it’s been like that ever since he started working. We do some things half and half – if he buys the groceries, I’ll buy the takeout – but the majority of things, he does pay for.

“The rent and bills are divided half and half. Our attitude would be, it’s our money. All of his money is my money, and all of my money is his money… We don’t have a joint account, purely because we’re lazy – it’s on the to-do list.

“If I want to buy something, I’ll buy it, within reason – I wouldn’t go and buy a car without talking to him first! We each have a savings account, for the house we’ll buy eventually – but his savings are considerably more than mine. I do feel bad about it, so I overcompensate with different things – I do most of the housework, and all of the cooking. I’d be more nurturing; I look after him. I look after us.

“We don’t really fight about money, but it’s a kind of funny, child-parent dynamic. When I have no money, or when he’s asking about my saving, I get very defensive, and a row could ensue. But there are never any proper fights.

“It’s not that I think he’s incredible with money; he just earns enough to be able to save more than me. I think that’s the case for a lot of couples, no matter how far we think we’ve come. The man still earns more.”

Claire, 33, works for a charity. She and Luke, 30, an engineer, are getting married later this year. They own their house in Co Dublin.

“I earn €33,500 – Luke earns about €70,000. I actually don’t know the exact figure,” confesses Claire.

“We split everything, 50/50 – mortgage, insurance, bills, groceries. But he pays more into savings. At the moment, we save a lot more than we usually would, because of the wedding. So he saves quite a large percentage of his salary, compared to what I save.

“I’d be happier contributing more to savings, but I’m making my peace with it – but it’s important for me to contribute evenly to household items and bills, and to pay an even share of the mortgage. We’ve had to correct and refine our savings over the past year; we were trying to save too much, and ended up dipping into it each month and getting stressed about it.

“We have two joint accounts – a current account and a savings account. We’re slowly transferring all of our bills through the current so there’s no messing around, transferring money from one to the other. Now all of our bills, the gym and so on, are paid from that. And we have a savings account for the bigger items.

“We don’t really fight about money – I just get frustrated. We’re lucky; our mortgage is manageable and we can live quietly enough while we save. Sometimes we splurge, or plan too many breaks away, but it’s usually a joint thing – so when we’re feeling the pinch, there’s no one to blame!”

Aoife, 29, is a copywriter. Her boyfriend Sean, 26, is an accountant. They rent a house in Dublin 3.

“I earn €35,000 a year – Sean earns €55,000,” says Aoife. “But he gets a lot of perks in his job – they cover his health insurance and pay his pension. I do all of that privately, and that takes me down another €250 a month, so the difference in salaries, I think, is bigger than it seems.”

“We used to go 50/50 on everything, but we sat down and looked at our accounts – I was broke at the end of every month and he was fine. He’d give out to me for not saving anything, but we were spending the same on rent, bills, nights out… No wonder he’d more money left than I did.

“Now, we do maybe a 60:40 ratio, or 65:35. We have a joint account, and we pay a set amount in each month to cover rent, bills, date nights, cinema and so on. He pays more than I do now. I felt a bit weird, asking him about it. My parents have always had one joint account and would always have said that their money was just theirs, so in a way that’d be my attitude.

“But I was worried that he’d resent me; we’ve been together three years, so we’re definitely serious, and it does feel like a big thing – not only to have a joint account, but for me to be ‘demanding’ that he pay more into it than I do. But he was fine about it; as soon as I tentatively suggested it, he saw the logic in it and kind of went, ‘oh yeah, that makes sense’.

“He’s a lot better with money than I am, which is why I thought he might be reluctant; I’d spend every cent I earn, and then borrow another fiver.

“We don’t have a hugely fiery relationship, but if we ever fight, it’s about money – I feel like he babies me, or scolds me for having no money. And don’t even get him started on those bank referral fees…

“In an ideal world, we’d be earning equal amounts – but I just don’t see that happening in the careers we’ve chosen. So I guess I’m really lucky that he’s happy to kind of support us both, but I wish I didn’t have to feel guilty about it.”

This article first appeared in the May issue of the mag. STELLAR’s September issue is on shelves now! 

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