Partner of a privileged environment. I’m not. Is it a dealbreaker?
- Kristin Wong has written about money, careers, and human behavior for The New York Times, The Cut, Glamor magazine, Refinery29, and more. Since 2012, she has written about personal finance and the behavior behind it.
- Wong is also the author of “Earn Money: Live the life you want, not just the one you can afford.”
- For To forge Per Medium, Wong answers money questions weekly in the Joint Accounts column.
- In this column, Wong advises someone who grew up working class with “financially irresponsible” parents and has no savings. Their partner “grew up with significant privilege” and doesn’t need to work.
- The author of the letter fears that the difference in situation will become a decisive factor.
- Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.
Dear joint accounts,
My partner and I come from very different backgrounds. He grew up with a lot of privileges, and on our first date he told me he didn’t need to work because his parents, who passed away, left him enough money to cover her children’s studies and invest the rest in a passive life. Income. For my part, I grew up in a working-class family with extremely financially irresponsible parents. They have food stamps and I send them money every month for basic expenses.
I’m in better financial shape than them, but I still have no savings, a fact I’m too embarrassed to share with my partner. Is the difference between our financial situations a deciding factor? How can I make sure it doesn’t drive a wedge between us?
Dear Shameful Financier:
Good news: you are far from alone. It is almost impossible to find a couple where both people have the same financial status and background. We all have different experiences with money growing up, and the way we handle money as adults – emotionally and practically – reflects those experiences.
Your financial differences are not necessarily a deciding factor, especially because you already (intelligently) anticipate potential conflicts. The sooner you understand the financial difficulties in your relationship, the better equipped you will be to deal with them if and when they occur.
As a first step, you and your partner should consider discussing your money scripts. A concept developed by psychologist and financial planner Brad Klontz, money scripts are the “unconscious beliefs about money that are ingrained in our childhood and ultimately shape our financial health,” in Klontz’s words. It’s a remarkably constructive tool for revealing your own thoughts, habits, opinions, and money-related issues.
There are four basic money scripts: financial vigilance, money avoidance, money worship, and financial status. You and your partner can learn more about each to find out which script(s) you are following. Your childhood is where your money script usually takes shape, so try to recall some of your earliest money memories and how they helped shape your attitudes about it now. Did your parents often fight over money? This could influence your avoidance of money. If funds were limited growing up, you might be a money worshiper as an adult.
Once you’ve figured out which scripts apply to you, talk about how they might play out in ways that are causing strain in your relationship, or how they are already doing so. If, for example, your partner’s lack of need to think too much about money caused him to avoid money, and your need to constantly think about it made you watchful of money , you could discuss how your strict savings goals collide with his reluctance to budget, and how to resolve this conflict in a way that works for both of you.
Once you can be open with your spouse about your feelings about money, it will also be easier to be open about your numbers. Assuming the relationship is serious — meaning you may merge accounts or split expenses at some point — full financial transparency should be a goal. I have written about what it means in detail beforebut the bottom line is that by the time you get to this point, you and your partner should know everything about each other financially, from your credit scores to your salary to your bank accounts.
It’s only fair that you feel some anxiety about being so open, but if you’re worried your differences will drive a wedge, transparency is the way to make sure it won’t. It helps you understand why your partner makes the financial choices they do, and vice versa. Let’s say, for example, that your spouse likes to take a lavish vacation, but you can’t really afford it. You might agree to pay a certain amount for a great vacation each year depending on what you can afford, but beyond that your partner may want to be the one to splurge when planning a vacation. municipalities. It’s a solution to a specific example, but you get the idea: knowing more about each other’s mindsets and situations means less potential for judgment and conflict.
Honestly, at some point you’ll probably have a money battle you didn’t see coming. But with a little effort and understanding, money doesn’t have to be a deciding factor.
Kristin Wong is the author of Earn Money: Live the life you want, not just the one you can afford. She writes Joint Accounts, a column at To forge by means. You can follow her on Twitter and send her your questions about relationships and money here.