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How Not to Go Broke Because of Love

You don't need to pay for love—figuratively or literally.
Melissa Browne, author of "Unfuck Your Finances"

When you're in the first bloom of romance, let's face it, you don't want to be thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong with your budding relationship.

Yet at school, in sex education classes and in magazines we're urged to do just that. To protect ourselves from STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). We're encouraged to take off our rose-coloured glasses when it comes to new partners, to get tested and use protection.


Which is incredibly sensible advice and, when it comes to sex, generally we all comply. When it comes to potential partners and our finances, however, it's another story entirely.

Without meaning to we can find ourselves behaving recklessly and exposing ourselves to something that is just as damaging, and certainly as long-lasting, as any physical STD.

Watch: The Riding Club Helping Disadvantaged Teens Aim Higher

We risk catching an STD (sexually transmitted debt). Now, you may be thinking that as you don't have any money you can't possibly receive an STD. Or perhaps you're thinking your partner knows what they're doing when it comes to your finances (and you don't), so you feel safe.

Let me encourage you to think again.

Every month I meet with many men and women who are currently struggling with an STD they received from a once-loving partner.

In one case the partner was a high-flying executive who took a few risks, drained the savings and then fled overseas, leaving his wife liable for the mountain of debts he left behind. In another case the partner was a tradesman and hid from his partner the fact that he hadn't lodged a tax return for almost a decade. When he eventually did, the debt was tens of thousands of dollars and the couple's house had to be sold to pay it. In yet another instance the wife had a secret gambling addiction and didn't pay bills or taxes. She eventually drained the bank accounts and the husband was left with enormous business and personal debts.


In every single one of these real-life examples, one party was left devastated and with a nasty case of STD.

But let's ignore the STD for a moment. Research tells us again and again that money is the number one thing couples fight about. The fighting takes place on average two to three times a month.

Wouldn't it be nice to side-step that argument?

To avoid both the quarrels and the potential STD, how do you start off on the right financial foot in a relationship and avoid being a statistic?

Use protection. Author Clare Booth Luce once said: "A woman's best protection is a little money of her own"- and I believe this is absolutely true in any relationship. For both partners. Sure, you might decide to have joint bank accounts, but retaining independence by always having some money in your own account is simply financially smart. It's also important to protect whatever assets you have, regardless of how small they currently are, including all of your employment income. Protection means not opening joint bank accounts, joint credit cards, co-signing loans, moving in together, signing up to phone plans or other contracts until you've moved through Steps 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Talk about it. Before you get serious - and definitely before you start to share any sort of financial products, including bank accounts, credit cards, phone/internet, rental agreements and more – make sure you have a conversation about money. This includes who owns what, who owes what, what taxes are outstanding and what you hope to achieve with your finances. I'm also a huge advocate of doing the Goals, Values and Money Mindfulness exercises together. Now, I appreciate there is a giant ick factor associated with talking about money, but sometimes you simply have to put on your big-girl/boy pants and have the conversation. This means there should be fewer surprises down the track and, if there are any financial skeletons, you can both make a plan to deal with them early on. I'm not suggesting you won't move forward as a couple just because one of you has credit card debt, but it's important to understand what you're committing to before you take the step of joining your lives together – as well as understanding what your money values are. Misaligned money values are one of the biggest issues in relationships, and I'm a firm believer that if this was talked about earlier you could deal with it together and become closer as a result. Or, if there's enormous misalignment, perhaps choose to end the relationship. The big word here is choice.


Insist on transparency. While talking is a great first step, it's really important to see what's going on with your own eyes. After all, talk can be cheap, right? Make it hard for each other to financially cheat by deciding to share with each other what you have and what you owe. I'm talking eyeballs on bank statements. I don't necessarily advocate knowing each other's passwords and logins, particularly early in a relationship, as that removes some of your safety net. However, I am a fan of having a weekly, fortnightly or monthly chat around how you're going financially, where you either bring up your financial balances on a computer or bring along your bank statements. One way to be financially transparent without any risk is to use a spending tracker (there are some listed at the end of the book) where you can see each other's information, but can't access the funds. Now, this isn't so you can audit each other's spending - God knows, I don't need my husband to understand exactly how much money I spend on shoes! However, what he does need to understand is that I'm not in financial strife because of my spending patterns and I'm not putting what we're working towards at risk.

Understand the risks. The relationship is getting serious and you're talking about moving in together. In your mind, it's a 'try before you buy arrangement' where you're thinking that this could be the one, but you're not quite ready for marriage, kids and a commitment just yet. The problem is, sometimes you've already made the financial commitment of marriage' by moving in together without you being aware of the implications. There are time periods that are important to understand for de facto relationships and it can be worthwhile seeking legal advice if you do have assets of your own before you take the step of moving in. It's the unsexy side of living together, but if you have a business, earn decent money or come into the relationship with assets, then it makes sense to protect what you have.


Always seek professional advice. Before you take the giant step of joining funds, moving in together, applying for loans or signing documents, always seek professional advice. It's so important to understand the worst-case scenario or to be made aware of the implications of what you’re signing. For example, if you and your partner move in together and both your names are on the lease, but your partner leaves and you can't afford to pay, the landlord won't necessarily chase you both for the money. He'll chase the easiest one to locate and the one that is earning an income. The same goes for signing documents. You may be told it's not a big deal to guarantee a loan or become a company director for a business, but the ramifications if your partner can't pay, or the company is late lodging or paying its debts, can be life-changing. And ignorance, or the argument that you were too trusting or didn't understand what you were signing, is simply not an excuse that will get you out of the debt.

Sex, money and relationships. Often we focus entirely on the sexual side of a relationship because it can be the most fun, but it's money issues that can cause the most lasting damage.

By choosing to be purposeful about money, couples can not only avoid STDs but can create strong relationships where money isn't something dirty or awkward, but is just another thing that is talked about.

Unf*ck your finances: your handbook to financial freedom by Melissa Browne is published by Trapeze, and you can purchase a copy here.