Is Your Relationship Financially Inclusive?

 In Financial Literacy and Education, Gender equality

Is Your Relationship Financially Inclusive?

Financial Inclusion in Relationships

We often talk about problems women face regarding financial skills and access when it comes to major life crises, relationship breakdown, financial abuse or death of a partner. However it is important to recognise that financial inequality in relationships has implications long-before crises start to occur. Even in the most progressive and equal relationships partners tend to specialise tasks. I’m the only one who knows how to change the filters on the vacuum cleaner, my partner is the only one who knows how to adjust the time on the central heating. We may not share the intellectual load right down the middle on all the household management tasks, but for the most part we are OK with that. [Discussions on household and emotional labour are for another day]. In a similar way partners tend to specialise when it comes to finances. Someone usually pays the bills, someone takes over the majority of the banking, someone liaises with the accountant, someone keeps track of the grocery shopping. Now specialisation can be efficient, but it can get to the extent when one member of the partnership becomes excluded from information, access and decision making.

Sometimes this is a deliberate action, a method by which one partner aims to control the other person; sometimes however this power imbalance and exclusion occurs unintentionally, gradually, and is impacted by preferences or life circumstances. While it may not be deliberate, the implications for a couple can be quite significant.

Why Is Financial Inclusion So Important?

Imagine going on a mountain climbing expedition with a friend. Mountain climbing can be fun, but there are risks involved. You are tied together so what happens to one of you impacts you both. Now imagine that one of you is blindfolded and has one arm tied behind their back. Sure it may still be possible to climb that mountain, but its going to be harder going, take much more time and be a lot riskier. Even when the more experience mountaineer can see clearly, the journey will be safer when both members can have a basic appreciation of their circumstances and are not hindered.

It’s like that with finances. One member of the couple may feel more confident and have a greater interest in managing the finances, that’s fine. But it is still important that the other member of the couple has sufficient knowledge, understanding and input to make a valuable contribution to the decisions being made – the big lifechanging decisions and the small day-to-day decisions.

Relationships and habits often change gradually in a couple, so it can be hard to recognise when things have shifted. Here is a checklist to alert you to some warning flags to economic inclusion and empowerment within your relationship, allowing you the opportunity to start a discussion at home.

Checklist For Financial Inclusion In Your Relationship

ACCESS:

If your partner needed to get hold of $5,000 cash tomorrow, is he or she confident that they would know where and how to get that money without needed to get guidance or permission from you?
How about you?
Partner Y/N Me Y/N

AWARENESS:

Could your partner competently describe (or draw) the overall way your finances are arranged? Eg we have a mortgage, we have a savings account for our holidays and our pay goes into our transaction account, the bills are paid by credit card and then paid off at the end of each month.
How about you?
Partner Y/N Me Y/N

KNOWLEDGE:

Could your partner roughly approximate the current balances of your mortgage (within about $10,000), your credit card balances (within about $2,000), the amount in your savings accounts (within $5,000)? Would your partner be able to approximate the amount of income into the house and the level of expenses each month? Would they be able to describe whether they have changed much over the last year?
How about you?
Partner Y/N Me Y/N

CONFIDENCE:

Does your partner have the confidence to go and seek help regarding a financial matter? Would they know who to ask? EG if they know who your accountant or financial planner is, would they feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking a technical question and getting more clarity on a area of their finances they don’t understand (without needing you to be involved).
Partner Y/N Me Y/N

These are key questions to ask yourself and your partner. They can provide a starting point to discussing your finances and promote greater economic inclusion and empowerment for your both. In addition to improving economic involvement in our intimate relationships, we all also have a role in supporting women’s financial inclusion within our social networks. Here are a few ideas for what you can do to shift financial inclusion at a grass roots level amongst your friends, family and community.

Supporting Financial Inclusion Your Social Network

What you can do to support broader financial inclusion.
1. Talk to girls about finances. Resist the temptation to tell them what they should be doing with their money, instead talk about how it works: Mortgages, credit cards, lay-by, after-pay. By having good quality conversations about money and finance early, we set up good habits in girls. They internalise the idea that they can understand these concepts (which they definitely can) and that it is normal and not shameful to talk about money.
2. When you hear or observe old tropes about women not being involved in the financial decisions or access to information, call it out. Talk about the risks that this poses to both members of the couple (our mountaineering example) and suggest that it is quite normal and healthy to start to address this imbalance.
3. Support women in your social circles to get assistance with these important topics. There are a range of educational materials and professional services that can help women become more comfortable with their overall finances.

It can be easy to get disheartened about achieving financial equality: pay rates, workplace discrimination, unpaid work, structural inequality. Those things are very important and we need to agitate for change, in the meantime taking a few key steps in our own relationships and the conversations we have with our social networks can make a real difference to financial inclusion and empowerment and results in a better outcome for men and women alike.

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