Family Finances

On 8th of June, the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary in Kenya delivered the country’s annual budget and as usual there were ‘losers’ and ‘winners’. Teachers will be smiling all the way to the bank in the next few weeks as their much awaited salary increment finally seems a reality by the allocation made towards that. Meanwhile beauty just became more expensive. Cosmetics cost is due to go up, together with beer and cigarettes. I am pained. Perhaps we needed a lady CS. She would understand. Do they know how already expensive good (Read: Not made in China) make up costs? I am still recovering from that shocker….. that cosmetics and beer and cigarettes all seemed similar to this esteemed team of economists. Anyway, the budget reading got me thinking about how as couples we manage our own finances in our homes.

Research shows that money matters is the leading cause of divorce and marital dissatisfaction in Kenya, preceding even infidelity. Money symbolizes different things to different people and for most of us it provides a sense of security and stability. Money is an emotive subject in homes.

So as a couple is there such a thing like ‘my money’ and ‘our money’ and are joint accounts the way to go? In our African culture, a number of women are usually called ‘keheri’ (aside) by their mom or an aunt and in whispers told that a wise woman needs to always have their own secret stash of cash tucked away, as a Plan B “just incase”. The men are also called ‘kiama’ (delegation) by the wazee and also told that as a man, he should not let his wife in on everything, that a woman should not NEVER know him too well; a wife needs to know things just on a need to know basis. What a recipe for disaster! If madam keheri and mister kiama met and marry, it doesn’t take a genius to foresee the trouble the pair will have concerning their finances…… with all the secrecy.

First of all, it is difficult for such a couple to synergize on ideas for family investments as the seed of mistrust was already planted in their minds and it is very likely that finance conversations are few and far between and are mainly regarding the day to day expenses. With no transparency on both sides, or even from one spouse, then it snowballs into bigger problems that affect the other areas of the relationship.

Jackie Dunagan, a licensed associate marriage and family therapist in the US insists upon open communication as the key to avoiding money conflicts and suggests the following tips:

  • Recognize from the onset that the topic of money is often very emotional and has deep meanings. What money symbolizes to you might be very different to them. For example, to your spouse money might mean security and thus is to be saved, while to you it might symbolize freedom and so it is to be spent.
  •  Be intentional about not judging your spouse when listening to them. Our way is usually not the only way, or the only ‘right’ way.
  • You do not need to agree with the other perspective to listen to it, but it is important to try to understand.
  • Make a list of things that you both agree on. Couples often magnify their differences and tend to ignore their commonalities.
  •  If you find yourself getting emotionally flooded by the conversation, take a break and do something to clear your mind – take a walk, read a magazine, finish a puzzle. Conversations dissolve into arguments when we get flooded.

It is interesting therefore to note that, when couples fight about money, it is rarely really about the money per se. There is usually another underlying issue. It is often because of the meaning we have learnt to attach to money, either due to our personality differences or through socialization, through our parents or media etc.

It is the meaning we attach to money that makes one partner or a couple prefer to have a joint account while the other prefers autonomy of having separate accounts. One couple may prefer to put all their income on the table and pay all the expenses jointly from the pool while another couple agrees to assign different bills to each partner depending on their income. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong method as long as there is transparency on both sides and both partners are in agreement on which way to go. Joint accounts are definitely convenient for family expenses and investments however are hardly the marriage-success yardstick to use as there are couples with joint accounts who still maintain other secret accounts, while there are those couples who do not operate joint accounts and have healthy marriages. The important thing is total openness. The advantage of a joint account is that it makes transparency easier as there is accountability. The sudden urges to splash money on unnecessary items usually reduces.

What deeper meaning does money have in your life? Why do you think you act the way you do when it comes with money?


PS: This Article was originally posted on Arusi Guru Blog Page

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