Some people are “all wrong” about money. They think, for example, that if they pay out $500 for some unexpected expense, and it turns out to be unnecessary and they get the money back, then they’ve profited by $500. Therefore they can go ahead and blow it on something fun.
Economists would likely see this as a flawed way of thinking, but it happens nevertheless. Charles Dickens, in Bleak House, paints an illustrative portrait of this mental trap in the character of Richard Carstone, who very generously rescues a man from prison by paying off his ten pound debt. Soon afterward, Richard is unexpectedly reimbursed. This triggers erroneous financial thinking: he begins to make “thoughtless expenditures,” which he justifies by the recovery of his money.
“I made ten pounds clear,” he declares.
“How was that?” his friend asks.
“Why, I got rid of ten pounds which I was quite content to get rid of and never expected to see any more. You don’t deny that?”
“Very well! Then I came into possession of ten pounds…”
“The same ten pounds,” his friend hints.
“That has nothing to do with it!” returns Richard. “I have got ten pounds more than I expected to have, and consequently I can afford to spend it without being particular.”
Don’t be like Richard. At least, not if you want to stay married. According to a recent article on the TD Canada Trust website most couples, at some point, will face tough financial problems which test their relationship. The article starts off by describing one couple whose eventual divorce seems to have been triggered by money issues. The husband came home one day with $500 worth of vintage motorcycle parts — a project which would eventually balloon to $1,500 — without telling his wife. Plus, he often spent significant sums on things like spontaneous vacations with his buddies, without consulting her. They had two kids to support, and she was none too pleased.
The article goes on to quote Gary Direnfeld, social worker, marriage counsellor, and author of the book Marriage Rescue: Overcoming Ten Deadly Sins in Failing Relationships, who says it doesn’t matter how much money you have, everyone – the rich and not so rich – can have conflicts about it. Direnfeld recommends trying to see your partner’s point of view which, although in opposition to yours, may still be valid.
“One of the easiest ways to start the conversation,” says Direnfeld, “is with this line: ‘I think we have different approaches to handling money and what we think money is for. Can we talk about our differences? I notice you don’t like to spend, and you notice that I do like to spend. That creates a lot of tension between us. I just want to understand our differences.’ ” For example, one partner might want to put a tax refund into an RSP, while the other wants to go on vacation. Both choices might be valid, and should at least be acknowledged, and respected.
Treva Newton, VP, Tax and Estate Planner, TD Wealth, is also quoted in the article. She says there have been occasions in her office when a client asks about a financial idea that is “obviously a complete surprise to their partner.” Nevertheless, says Newton, trust can be built. She recommends doing financial planning together, budgeting together, and agreeing on amounts that can be spent on each other’s interests. Partners can create a financial line in the sand – for example, spending anything above a certain amount would require discussion and agreement. She adds that if couples have trouble agreeing, meeting with a financial advisor can help clarify the issue and help make a plan of action that’s good for both people.
For advice on family law issues and fertility law issues, contact Shirley Levitan