WRITTEN BY Felicia Kashevaroff

Money Strains and Love Pains: How Do We Navigate Financial Stress Together?

Money is one of the most contentious topics that couples navigate together. We each come into our relationships with our own stories about money, including philosophies for spending and saving. We live in a time where inflation is growing, and wages are not, making it extraordinarily difficult to manage our finances. As I was considering how to write about the topic of financial stress in couples, I immediately thought about my good friend, Tawnya Schultz

Tawnya is a personal finance coach who helps people overcome their fears about money and work toward financial freedom. She came to her work in the same way I came to mine, through personal experience. In her 30s, Tawnya found herself in debt and in a toxic relationship. She knew she needed to get control of her finances so that she could leave the relationship, so she did everything she could to educate herself about financial health and stability. Once she became clear on her goals and her strategy, she was able to pay off $28,000 worth of debt in 6 months’ time, giving her the freedom she needed to move forward in her life.

Now Tawnya helps others to do the same. She and I got together to talk about strategies for couples to manage their financial stress more effectively. Below is an excerpt of our conversation. You can watch the full video here.

Felicia: Where do you see couples struggle the most? What do you think the biggest challenge is in a partnership as it relates to finances?

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: I work with a lot of couples and women or men in a relationship, but they don’t work together with their partner. So I definitely see one person who kind of manages the finances. One person is assigned as the manager of the bills, and then the other person is a little bit left in the dark. 

There’s a gap in that communication. Obviously, as we know, money is still one of the number one causes of divorce. So yeah, I definitely still see that consistently, that one person, either the man or woman, you know, is taking ownership. And then I still see a separation of finances even though they’re married. Still, a lot of people still really think they need to have separate finances. And, like, this is my debt. And this is his debt. And there are huge issues with that.

They’re feeling guilt and shame about spending money over here, not having aligned goals. Which just trickles into like so many things.

Financial Stress in Couples
Picture Credits: Pexels.com

Felicia: Yeah, yeah, no, that’s huge. Those are both really big topics. Let’s dig into both of them. Because that manager kind of employee dynamic is something that I talk about all the time in couples and how they manage their household. And I think it’s really problematic. So can you tell me a little bit more about what the pitfalls are of having only one person in the relationship really aware of what’s happening financially?

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: So say, you know, the man’s managing finances and the woman is taking a backseat, or whatever some women, and then some men, too, just don’t wanna deal with it. They have stuff from their past that says money’s hard. They don’t wanna look at it. So they don’t mind that the other person is managing it because they don’t want to do it, anyway.

But then there’s this thing that happens because it’s like, Well, how much money can I spend? Where’s our money going? So there’s this kind of back and forth that, like, there’s not an alignment with the budget.

The number one thing that I work with people on is knowing their overhead so that they can work together whether they have debt, payoff goals, or they want to save to buy a house, or they’re going on vacation, or whatever it is. 

And then there are other people who like they want to be better on the same page, but they don’t exactly know how to navigate that. So sometimes, that’s why people want to have a coach or a therapist. They want someone to help them to talk through things realistically because money is very emotional. So what happens when you’re doing this is, it’s like finger-pointing. You know what I mean like you did this? And why’d you spend this, and what happened here?

It’s great if you start doing this just to take control of it on your own initially, but then you really need to bring in your partner so that they know what’s going on at least, like a weekly quick 5 min check-in.

Let’s take 5 min a week to chat through this real quick so it’s not overwhelming. The amount of stress and anxiety that disappears when you have these uncomfortable conversations. It just makes your relationship like that much better on so many levels.

Felicia: Are there any other tips that you see couples use successfully to navigate these conversations more?

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: I feel like the best thing people can do is get clear with that vision of our money together. 

So you need to get an alignment on me major goals that you’re working towards together. Why are you telling me not to spend money over here? What’s the point? I think you can approach it from not such an emotional point and be like, okay, let’s look at the numbers and figure out our bull, you know, reverse engineering our goal of where we want to be.

Felicia: That’s so true. Sometimes people think they’re aligned with their goals, but they just haven’t spoken them out loud, and they’re not aligned with them. So like you said, it’s really important, and this is a perfect segue into kind of the second part of what you brought up, which is this idea that we need to keep our finances separate.

I’d love to hear more about the pitfalls that you see people fall into when they are not aligned on their vision for the future together. 

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: The first thing is, they should be having all these conversations before they even get married in the first place, right? Like all the financial conversations and understanding your general mindset around money and your shared goals, those should all be happening before you even decide or tie them together.

Everything’s eventually going to be exposed, you know, even if you try to hide it. So I feel like not knowing what your partner feels about debt, how much debt they have, their investing strategy like, you know, basics, but a lot of things that people feel uncomfortable talking about.

I think it’s a scarcity mindset for people who don’t want to share a bank account. It’s like, what’s the fear? There’s a fear of a sense of like you. They don’t trust you.

You know what I mean? I don’t trust you, and I don’t maybe don’t trust myself, and I don’t trust this relationship

You need to explore why, that is, or if you feel built-in shame because I have debt, and I want to pay off my debt.

Felicia: That’s not a super great way to live. That sounds like it’s gonna occupy a lot of mind space that could be used towards building a better life together.

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: That’s why a lot of people look to a coach. 

Felicia: Yeah, for sure. These are really sticky conversations to have. And there’s a lot of judgment and defensiveness that comes up between partners when talking about money or sex, or any of the big, you know, taboo topics. And so having a neutral third party to guide you through can be unbelievably helpful to break through some of those barriers and get to the other side.

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: Yeah, yeah, what do you see with partnerships like on your end? Does money get brought up?

Felicia: Yes, money is is is a huge issue of contention. How money is spent, how money is earned, how money is saved. As you know, my focus is really on helping couples to build overall balanced relationships. And one of the things that we see systemically is that, you know, women end up earning less than their male partners for a variety of reasons, but most often when they become parents, because there’s this assumption that they are going to be better caregivers and that they are the ones who are responsible for everything that goes on in the home, and that has implications for your ability to succeed professionally. And so you know, when I guide my clients toward a shared vision, it includes that financial component. Because you have to not just think about how you’re saving money, or how you’re paying off debts, or how you’re paying your bills, but how you are earning money. So even if women take just a short break from the workforce for caregiving responsibilities, that has cumulative effects on their earning potential, their retirement savings, on their social security benefits. So we have to be really careful about how we are prioritizing our professional pursuits, and if either partner is choosing to step away from the workforce that they’re that you’re really aligned about how that’s gonna look moving forward and how you’re gonna retransition back if you’re gonna retransition back.

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: Yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, adding kids into the mixture adds a whole new dynamic. There’s pressure on the woman, like you said to do everything, plus, or now earn $100,000 a year. And now it’s not really equal cause now the woman is still doing like the majority of stuff.

Felicia: Your mutual vision for parenting and finances is just so critical. And a lot of people need help. We have all of these hangups about money, but we don’t don’t necessarily understand that we also have all these hangups about gender. We think we’re on the other side of it, we think. Oh, well, women can be in the workforce, and women can do it all well. We actually can’t because nobody can do it all. It’s unsustainable. And that is one of the joys of being in a partnership is being able to carry that load together and choose how you want to live your life.

You know you, you brought up such a good point that, like, really, you should be having these conversations before you get married. What do you recommend to couples that they do before they tie the knot and merge their financial lives?

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: I’m a big proponent of pre-marital counseling. Let’s like, talk about all this, and get this on the table and have a neutral party to talk through all these things. Now, before we say I do so. I think that’s key to having those agreements. Okay, are you gonna manage the budget? Or should we manage it together? 

People avoid these conversations from a place of fear. I’ve become much more open with being like, What do you think about debt? How much debt do you have? I don’t even care if it’s a first date! That’s my personal values, like that’s really important to me. 

Something I have in my course is understanding your personal finance personality types. Because one person is naturally going to be the spender. One person is going to be more of a saver. Who’s who? But how do you have a balance that, instead of complaining that this person’s overspending and being annoyed that this person wants to save all this money, how can you find more of a healthy balance with money?

I think, the best thing you can do, no matter what, if you’re in a relationship or not, is knowing your own personal finances and having your own monthly budget and clear financial goals. And then, when you have a partner, it makes it easier to talk about cause you already feel in control, and you feel empowered with your money. 

Felicia: I always tell my clients that conflict is an opportunity for learning and curiosity about your partner. So if you learn that your partner has a really different money personality than you that gives you the opportunity to open conversations, where did you get those ideas? What about your family of origin, or cultural conditioning led you to those money beliefs?

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: Yeah. That’s a good way to approach it. Ask them questions about their past, and then you can easily go into kinda where they are today. You know what I mean. So you don’t have to be as direct as maybe I am to be, you know, be like.

Felicia: But what I’m really hearing you say is that the best thing that you can do to be successful in partnership is to be clear yourself. And so, having a good solid system in place that works, then you can come to your partner, and you can say, Hey, I’ve been using this system. This works for me. How are we gonna utilize this together successfully? 

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: When you’re approaching somebody with your budget or a plan, you can’t say, here’s the budget. And here’s what we’re gonna do. Instead, you want to say, I put some numbers together like, does this make? Does this look right to you, or what would you do to adjust? You asked them for their feedback instead of telling your partner we only have a budget for this. Let’s have an open dialogue.

For example, you might see one partner saying they want to get a massage every month, then the other partner asking, why are you spending money on massage? This is my entertainment money. This is your entertainment budget. You might go golfing. You’ve got to find ways to compromise.

Felicia: You just said something about like the idea of your entertainment budget and people’s partners sometimes being critical of how the other person spends their time and money. I think that’s a really interesting idea. One of the things that I work with my clients on is, you know, kind of this notion of like a balanced household and how oftentimes we try to create this like tit for tat fairness factor where it’s like, okay, well, we’re each doing 50% of the work around the house, which is not necessarily achievable for most couples. A good way of approaching that conversation is, do we have equal leisure time? So maybe you’re spending more time at work, and I’m doing more of the household work. And maybe that’s okay. You figured out that balance. But we don’t both have equal leisure time. And I like how that could potentially also be applied to your financial health. Okay? Well, we have these big overall goals. But we also are individual people, and we wanna be able to, you know, pursue our hobbies and take care of our bodies and all the things that we do as humans.

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: You know most budgets don’t work, just like most diets, because you’re restricting your life too much. So how do you have that balance? I’m all about helping people pay off debt faster, but you can do that and still have a life by budgeting for entertainment, or whatever

You know, we, as Americans, become workaholics. We work so much just to get to retirement or to get to buy a house and then become a slave to that thing, right? When you have more, better control over your money. Money should give you freedom.

Felicia: So I heard a lot of good advice for managing financial stress in couples’ lives. I heard you say that couples should create a kind of a shared vision of their financial future together, that they should be checking in with each other frequently, even if it’s only 5 min a week, and they should understand the differences between their money approach and how that is gonna affect the way that they manage their money.

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach:  I think that basically covered it. Money is very emotional. So I think understanding the emotions around it and just working on yourself is the best way to start.

Felicia: This was a great conversation, Tawnya. Is there anything else that we missed that you wanna touch on before we wrap up?

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: I don’t think so. We touched on a lot of things, and hopefully we’ve given people a lot to think about and digest so they can take action, and even a tiny way.

Felicia: How can people find you if they want to learn more about the work that you do?

Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: At my website, themoneylifecoach.com. That’s where you’ll find I have free budgeting resources and tools, plus you can schedule an intro call with me. 

I have an online course there as well, and then I have a lot on social media under my name, Tawnya Schultz, or if you look up @tawnyaschultz on social media, I have lots of free content that I’m always posting that helps you focus on having a healthy relationship with money.

Felicia: Thanks, Tawnya, this was fun. Take care!
Tawnya – The Money Life Coach: Bye!

I hope you enjoyed this transcript post on financial stress in couples. If you’re interested in reading more, please navigate to our Reading Journal section