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Splitting The Bill

19 January 2024

How many times has a client told you that they’re financially independent of their partner?

And how many times have you subsequently found out that they’re not?

They would like to think they are. But they’re not.

Or they’re confusing financially ‘private’ with financially ‘separate’ or ‘financially independent’.

These are three very different things.

As a Financial Planner, it’s our job to sniff this out early in the process because all the pain is going to be ours when the penny finally drops.

Let’s walk it through.

Your client says that they don’t want to involve their partner in their financial plan because they are ‘financially independent’.

‘OK,’ you say and off you trot with your coaching, discovery, and planning work.

A little further down the line (after you’ve done a shed load of work and analysis), you start noticing that things are missing…

The mortgage payment is covered but there doesn’t seem to be any utility bills?

‘Ah, my partner pays those because I pay the mortgage’ your client says.

There are costs for holiday flights and accommodation, but no spending money allocated?

‘Ah, my partner covers the spending money when we’re away,’ your client admits.

And so on, until it turns out that you have built a financial plan for half a life.

A plan that only works if it is subsidised by their partner. And if that subsidy is removed, either the plan does not work financially, or it would be so diluted that it no longer reflects the reality of their desired human outcomes.

What to do now?

Well, what you should have done from the start!

A few simple probing questions at the outset could have established what your client really means when they say they are ‘financially independent’.

  • Financially PrivateI don’t want my partner to know what I earn or what money I have. Common in people who are in later-life second relationships and have been burnt during a prior relationship breakdown or divorce.
  • Financially SeparateAlthough we both know what each other earns and what each other has, we like to contribute separately to the household running costs. Common in younger people co-habiting for the first time or early in a relationship.
  • Financially IndependentAlthough my partner and I may share some costs, I can maintain my current lifestyle from my own earnings and assets if the relationship ends. Truly financially independent.

Whichever of the three it is, you should always be encouraging their partner to attend and create a joint financial plan from the very start. After all, they’re enjoying a joint life together with joint objectives so it only makes sense they should have a joint plan! They don’t need to merge their money to have a joint plan.

Secondly, if they are not really financially independent but are instead either financially private or financially separate and insist on not including their partner, then you can create a false ‘income’ in your cashflow models – equivalent to the amount that their partner contributes in whatever form that contribution takes.

Then, at least it is always front and centre that the lifestyle is dependent on that false ‘income’. And if the relationship ends, and with it the false income, then it is easier to see the impact that will have on their lifestyle.

It also prevents them (and you) from kidding themselves that they’re financially independent when they’re not.

And isn’t that what financial planning is all about?

We’re not there to nod our heads and reinforce false beliefs. We’re there to probe and challenge and help clients see things for what they really are.

Whether that is now, when it’s easy to fix, or further down the line when it’s not, is up to you! – Software, Training & Business Services for Financial Planners


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