Today, the third Monday of January, has traditionally been known as ‘Blue Monday’, supposedly the most depressing day of the year when the nation heaves a collective sign over the dark nights, bleak days and the arrival of the post-Christmas credit card bills.
It can be a busy time of year for debt support charities like Christians Against Poverty, which has partnered with FamilyLife UK to bring a money module to its popular relationships app, Toucan.
The app offers a series of video-based modules that couples can work through together, exploring areas like communication or conflict.
The new money module is based on the CAP Money course and has been designed to take couples through some of the challenges that arise when managing finances jointly.
In addition to building positive communication between couples, it offers practical tools for money management.
Christine Daniel, co-director of FamilyLife UK, said: “It’s about creating constructive conversation around some of the issues that couples might not otherwise talk about.
“Money is really important. It is the number one external stress on relationships and if it’s not handled properly, it can even lead to couples splitting up and getting divorced. It’s a really important topic to cover, especially at this time of year.”
In a YouGov survey for Relate, Relationships Scotland and Marriage Care, money worries were most commonly identified by couples as something that puts pressure on their relationship, while a recent AIG Life survey found that couples share just £1 in every £5 of their income in joint accounts, with 17% keeping completely separate accounts.
Paula Stringer, UK CEO of Christians Against Poverty, said it was important that couples talk about their finances sooner rather than later.
“Talking freely about finances is one of the biggest challenges couples can face so we’ve been delighted to work with Family Life on this new Money module for the Toucan app,” she said.
“The CAP Money Course referenced in the module has helped tens of thousands of people to budget. Our hope is that it will give people the best excuse for talking about their financial priorities rather than leaving it until a crisis point.”
Mark Daniel, co-director of FamilyLife UK, commented: “Money can place a huge stress on relationships. It’s often a difficult subject to talk about, because couples have different expectations and priorities regarding money.”
Offering support through an app is pertinent to modern living, when many people are time poor.
“One of the reasons for doing Toucan is that some people will engage with something online rather than come to a talk or go into a building,” said Christine.
“With just 10 minutes a day, couples can really talk to each other and work on their relationship.”
Nick and Ruth are one of the couples who feature in the bitesized videos. They speak openly about the areas they’ve struggled with and some of the things they do to keep their relationship strong.
For Nick, those struggles included coming into the marriage with £22,000 of debt. A “big strength” was Ruth accepting the reality of the situation while also helping him to get on top of it.
“From the outset, there has been an openness in our relationship to talk about debt and work on it together, rather than me individually,” he said.
What’s worked well for them is having all of their finances in one account and creating a budget that includes an equal amount of “no questions asked” money for each spouse that they are allowed to spend on whatever they want.
“That means we can use the money as we want to without creating difficult conversations, and at the same time know that it’s accounted for,” said Nick.
And once a month, they get in a takeaway and sit down for a “budget chat” to discuss where they currently are with their finances and what goals or plans they might have that require spending.
“We definitely don’t always agree about what we should spend our money on or how we should structure our finances but having these budget catch ups is really helpful to know where we are,” said Ruth.
She credits budgeting with making it possible to fulfil a dream to go to New Zealand on holiday last year.
“I think if we hadn’t sat down and budgeted for it, we wouldn’t have been able to go because we would have found that we just didn’t have the money for it,” she said.
Ruth is encouraging people to use tools like Toucan to talk to each other about their finances.
“Be open and talk to each other because money is something we can’t avoid,” she said.
“All of us have finances we have to deal with, and in relationships there are always decisions that have to be made. But it’s something that couples can approach in a positive way. People can avoid discussing finances, but really, it’s a good thing to talk about it.”
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