How we handle money is such an integral part of who we are that it’s hardly surprising it can be a major flashpoint in relationships.

It’s one of the biggest causes of conflict in marriages and long-term relationships, and one of the main reasons for divorce. Whether you’re in a new relationship and now have to face making joint financial decisions, or have been with your partner for a while and find money is often a source of friction, help is at hand.

Warren Ingram, executive director of Galileo Capital and author of Become Your Own Financial Advisor, says if you commit to getting to grips with your finances together it can become a great foundation in your relationship. He and other money experts share their tips.

1. Talk about what money means to you

We all have an ingrained attitude towards money and it’s not uncommon for one partner to be more careful with money while the other is more carefree.

This is fertile ground for conflict – conflict that can only be avoided through communication and planning, Ingram says.

He advises broadening your knowledge of money matters so you can have the conversations you need to have.

Talk about how your attitudes differ.  Acknowledge that you need to figure out how you’re going to manage your investments so both of you can sleep soundly at night, he adds. Your approach to money determines how much risk you can tolerate, and it can cause a real problem if one partner is too risk-prone or too risk-averse.

Financial pressure can be a source of massive strain in a relationship, says  Soré Cloete, senior legal adviser at Old Mutual.

This is especially true if couples don’t see eye to eye about their spending habits. Your attitude to money affects so many things – how much debt you choose to get into, how you handle differences in income and how much responsibility you take for extended family.

These are all issues that can cause problems in relationships and can only be addressed once you understand each other’s approach to money.

2. Establish financial goals together

Not working towards the same goals is a recipe for conflict.

“This includes big goals such as buying a house or going on a  holiday,” Ingram says. “You also need to agree on how each of you is going to contribute to these goals in a fair way.”

Life partners should have a joint financial plan, adds Sue Torr, managing director of Crue Invest. “It’s difficult to find the motivation to save if you don’t know what you’re saving for.”

3. Have a monthly budget and a long-term plan

We all know how important it is to have a budget to keep track of bills and expenses – even more so when it comes to joint finances.

A good way to handle this is to have a “personal finance day” once a month, says Ester Ochse of FNB Financial Advisory.

“It’s a day set aside to sort out your finances. This will help you ascertain your budgeting goals, expenses and saving goals for the month ahead.”

You can do this separately or together – whatever works best for you (see point 5 below). It’s also important to have a long-term financial plan you’re both comfortable with, Ingram says, and to see how this links to your monthly budgeting.

“Couples should start with their end goal and work backwards from there.

“Try to agree on when you’d both like to stop working, where you’d like to live and the kind of lifestyle you’re likely to be able to afford at the time.

“Once you have these long-term goals defined you can calculate how much money will be needed to fund these goals – and this will determine how much you should be saving. Once you’ve established this, you’ll know what you can spend on luxuries.”

4. Set an expenditure limit

“Agree on a threshold so neither partner gets upset about purchases,” says Sue Torr of Crue Invest.

“You may, for example, agree that purchases of more than R1 000 should be discussed first. This helps avoid financial surprises and cash-flow problems – and resentment.”

5. Determine who’s responsible for what

Couples need to discuss how they’re going to manage their salaries and bank accounts, says Sue Torr of Crue Invest.

“Decide who’s responsible for paying which bills and whether you’ll have a joint account or credit card. Whichever strategy works for you, the most important things are that you agree on it and maintain full transparency.”

“In my house my wife is responsible for the budget and I manage the investments,” Ingram says.

“However, we’re both well informed about what’s happening with all aspects of our money.”

Some partners are happy to combine their money in joint accounts while others prefer to keep it separate, according to investment managers Prudential.

The third option is to combine both strategies and have a mine/yours/ours approach.

6. Create an emergency fund

Any financial plan must include an emergency fund, insists Sue Torr of Crue Invest. It’s there to help your household recover from setbacks and unexpected expenses such as flight tickets to visit a sick parent or the replacement of expensive car parts.

There are plenty of things that can cripple your financial situation if you don’t have at least a few thousand set aside.

Torr says an emergency fund should ideally be enough to cover three to six months of key expenses.

7. Don’t hide anything from each other

“Couples need to communicate about money constantly,” Ingram says. “Don’t hide your financial troubles from your partner. They’ll come to light eventually and the sooner you can work on the problem together, the better.”

Sue Torr of Crue Invest adds there’s no faster way to destroy trust in a relationship than to hide purchases from your partner.

Other than the obvious damage to your financial situation, it raises other issues that are difficult to overcome. Secretiveness and dishonesty do far more harm to your relationship than any purchase could ever be worth.

8. Start early

Some people realise only halfway through their careers that they won’t have enough money to retire when they’d like to, says Lynette Kloppers, head of FNB Premier Banking.

Couples can’t start saving for retirement early enough, she says. It’s also never too early to have a will and you might need to get life cover too.

Ingram says it’s vital to plan for and document what needs to happen should one partner pass away prematurely.

9. Decide how to deal with the family

“Elderly parents, financially dependent siblings, exes and stepchildren often have financial needs that can strain your relationship,” says Sue Torr of Crue Invest. “Develop a strategy for dealing with these matters.”

For example, decide in advance how you’re going to deal with elderly parents needing financial assistance, siblings asking for help when they’re having money troubles, or an  ex making unreasonable financial demands.

“These kinds of questions can create feelings of resentment if you don’t address them early on,” says Soré Cloete of Old  Mutual.

10. Reward yourselves

“Celebrate short- and medium-term goals when you reach them,” says Sue Torr of Crue Invest. “Paid your car off? Go out for sushi at a fabulous restaurant. Got a bonus at work? Invest most of it, then treat yourselves to a weekend away.

“Reward yourself regularly – and while you’re enjoying the reward you can talk about setting new goals.” “Make sure each partner has money to spend on personal luxuries and hobbies,” Ingram adds. “And try to ensure that this spending is fair.”