Your love life and your money are both hot button topics. Where the two intersect can make or break your romantic relationships. According to The New York Times, money fights can predict divorce rates. A Utah State University study that examines a couple’s financial issues and divorce reveals that couples who disagree about money challenges once a week are over 30% more likely to get divorced than those who disagree about finances a few times a month.
Personal finance expert Kara Stevens has much to say on the subject. She is the founder of The Frugal Feminista, an online safe space committed to helping women of color radically transform our lives through financial empowerment and personal development. As a coach and speaker, she considers herself to be a money mentor and a financial therapist just for us!
Kara, as a financial expert, why do you feel that money is still a leading cause of breakups?
When we talk about money, we really talking about ourselves. It’s kind of like James Baldwin’s discussion about “Black English.” To paraphrase, he says that Black English tells the secrets of the speaker: where they are from, their level of education, what their parents do, etc. In linking that with money, money reveals (with and without our permission), some of our greatest insecurities, desires, wishes.
Money serves as a proxy for so many things: status, love, power, security, and importance. So when in a relationship and you are fighting about money, you are really fighting with the person’s core self, making it hard to reconcile when things are said or actions are taken go too far. I believe people will do their best to protect their most vulnerable places, which leads to very ugly arguments if both parties aren’t aware of what money means for them and for their partner.
African American women are the most educated group in America, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This means that no matter who we date, there is a great possibility that we may outearn our partners. How do we handle that when many men (whether spoken or unspoken) may have a problem with this?
I really don’t think the onus should be on the woman to “handle” anything. More resources in a relationship means more options for the couple. But because of the messages that we’ve been taught by society about men and their worth being linked to their assets, and especially in the case of black men, who’ve historically being locked out of opportunities to be the breadwinner,I believe the best place to begin is to focus on changing that narrative through discussion.
Both members of the relationship have to think of ways to redefine worth and value in their relationship besides how much money they bring to the table. In practical terms that means celebrating other aspects of his manhood while not diminishing your financial contribution to the relationship. It may mean having a discussion about returning to school for him either to build new skills or change careers (since we all have access to greater earning power, it’s just not a black girl thing), if her outearning really bothers him.
I think it’s also important to understand that different industries pay different salaries. A husband who is a teacher and a wife who is a marketing executive have to understand the salary trends in their respective industries and be okay with that.
I think some of the fear around this topic is that some men are afraid that in the heat of the moment, the woman may throw his lack of earnings in his face, using it as a weapon to hurt him or she will leave him for a ‘balla’. Women can be mindful in how they use their words with respect to the first challenge, but can only do but so much to assuage any insecurities about infidelity or abandonment.
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When do you recommend a prenup?
Prenups are drafted when people enter with disparities in assets, both have large amounts of wealth when they enter, have been burned in previous relationships, or have great earning potential while married. All of these are legitimate reasons for a prenup. In instances where the window for prenups closes, couples also have the option of post-nups.
Awesome! Let’s talk about financial intimacy. At what stage in a relationship do you recommend that couples reveal things like debt, FICO scores, credit cards, mortgages, loans, savings and bankruptcy?
When you start itching to talk about co-habitation or engagement, I think it’s fair to begin conversations like this. What I’ve found is that you can gauge things like student loan debt early in the relationship, since it’s less of a taboo and everyone seems to have at least 5-figure student loan debt.
Having a gentle “bedside” manner is sooo important when talking about financial disclosure. Depending on the shape of your partner’s finances, they can feel extremely exposed and possibly embarrassed. When my then boyfriend and I started talking about marriage, I bought a book The Hard Questions: 100 Questions to Ask Before You Say “ I Do.” and we both agreed to set a date and time to go through the financial questions. If that level of structure seems too inorganic, than consider spacing out the conversation and beginning casually by asking about their short-term and long-term goals. This is an easy entry since we all have certain milestones that we want to reach, all of which have a price tag. Angling discussions about the “how” (i.e how will you get to that milestone and what obstacles will you have navigate to do so) will inevitably usher in a discussion about money.
How do couples know if they are financially compatible? Does it matter if one person is a spender and the other is a saver?
Kara: Generally speaking, you can probably tell that you’re financially compatible with someone by gauging how you feel about their spending habits and behaviors. Do their habits make you feel financially safe and comfortable? The typical belief is that financial compatibility means financial wellness, which is not true. Two misers may both love to hoard money together, so technically they are compatible; likewise for compulsive spenders.
In the case of financial opposites, there are some couples that make it work with their financial opposites because they create systems and routines like budgeting and automation that speak to the direction and purpose of the money instead of the owner of the money.
Do you recommend joint accounts or separate accounts for married and committed couples?
I recommend both. I believe you keep what you bring into the relationship and build together financially once in a relationship. It creates a healthy balance of independence and interdependence. You don’t want to live like you’re single or that you’re just roommates sharing expenses. On the flip side, you want to be able to reestablish your financial footing in the event of a breakup, a divorce, or death.
Thank you, Kara. I know that your financial intimacy advice will help many women. How can a couple start to increase their financial intimacy?
Download my free 32-page ebook The 5-Day Financial Reset Plan for you and your partner at TheFrugalFeminista.com. This resource jumpstarts intense financial reflection on what money means to you and gives you practical, step-by-step support on how to create a debt elimination plan, how to calculate your net worth, how to budget, and so many other financial to-do’s in an easy-to-understand way. I highly recommend that each partner do their 5-Day Financial Reset Plan separately, share their responses, and begin a dialogue as their next steps together as a couple.
Abiola Abrams is the author of the award-winning Sacred Bombshell Handbook of Self-Love, Manifest Your Miracles meditation album and African Goddess Affirmation Cards.
The popular lifestyle guru is also the founder of the Sacred Bombshell Self-Care Kits, blog, web TV show, and online academy at SacredBombshell.com. Follow her on Instagram @abiolatv to continue the discussion about this week's hot topic, and then email her your burning questions now. Anything you send will be posted anonymously, promise.