How to Create a Financially Equal Relationship | Legacy BlueStar | Sanlam Financial Planners Bellville, Cape Town

Financial Planning

How to create a financially equal relationship

Very few couples earn roughly equal salaries. Among a myriad of issues, most women tend to earn less than men due to the gender pay gap, and they may take time off work to raise children. This can create a power imbalance.

We find out what a financially equal relationship looks like, and how you can achieve it.


What is financial equality?

We may think that a financially equal relationship is one in which expenses are split 50/50, but this is not necessarily the case, says Farzana Botha, Segment Manager at Sanlam Savings.

“Equality is about being able to contribute as much as you can to the wellness and financial stability of a relationship,” she points out. What this looks like may vary from couple to couple.

Importantly, says Botha, equality is about how much each person knows about the other’s financial position, and what information they choose to share. For example, you should be upfront about any debts or family responsibilities you have, as these may affect your joint goals and finances.

Just because one partner earns more doesn’t mean they should own more.

An example of a financially unequal relationship is when the breadwinner assumes control by putting the house and investments in his or her name, or where one partner is over-indebted and hides it from their partner, to the detriment of the relationship and their financial wellness.

Just because one partner earns more doesn’t mean they should own more, or have the bigger say.

Couples should make all financial decisions together – and this includes when to take on good credit for wealth-building assets like a house. Equality is of the utmost importance so that each person’s interest is respected.

It’s a good idea to meet with a financial planner as a couple.

This is a good way to tackle the issue head on. It’s better to say we pay for school fees than you pay for school fees, for example. It creates a feeling of unity.

It is recommended that couples open a joint bank account for family expenses, with each contributing a proportionate amount of their earnings. For instance, you may decide it costs R40,000 to run the household. The breadwinner could put in R30,000 and the secondary earner R10,000, for example, and whatever remains of the couple’s earnings could be spent as they choose. This is better than asking your partner to pay for electricity, then being offended when they constantly ask you to switch the lights off.

Sharing joint expenses is fair and minimises resentment in a relationship. However, you’re not responsible for your partner’s debt, unless you’re married in community of property.

If your spouse has run up credit card debt, there is no legal or contractual requirement for you to bail them out; however, we advise that it would be good to encourage them to settle the debt.

Why good communication matters

According to experts, a financially unequal relationship can make people uncomfortable. The partner earning less can feel anxious or ashamed, trying to keep up with the lifestyle of their significant other. The higher earner may feel their money is being abused, or they are pressured to be the breadwinner.

It’s important to find ways to put the union on equal footing, even if that means one partner contributes financially while the other performs household tasks or runs errands. The pandemic has shown that this need not be gender-specific – job losses have led to people playing different supportive roles, from taking care of the children to working on a side hustle while doing the laundry.

Couples need to sit down and discuss their goals and contributions. Set weekly or monthly money ‘dates’, run the numbers, and see if they work for both of you. Ultimately, each partner must feel valued by the other, whatever their contribution.

A financial adviser can provide couples with the budgeting tools and plans they need to work out how to use money more fairly and efficiently.

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