When Two People in a Relationship Diverge on How to Do Money

by Lily Nichol

My boyfriend (let’s call him Carl) and I have some shared values and goals: We one day hope to have children and own our own home (probably not in Vancouver — I don’t have a million bucks!). We like discussing politics and world issues. We like reading, and watching documentaries together. We go on walks and gossip about our mutual co-workers (working in the same office as your significant other isn’t so weird when you’re in different departments). But what we do not share is an idea of how we should be using our money.

As I’m writing this, I have just finished texting Carl about his tax return. I’ve said something to the effect of, “You should keep your tax return in your checking account because it’s been in the red a lot lately. Don’t put it in your RRSP [a Canadian retirement savings plan]. Your RRSP has lots of money in it. You’re not going to retire for, like, 35 more years. You can prioritize immediate expenditures like rent and groceries and that vacation to Europe right now.”

And he said, “The money in my RRSP can be a down payment for a house!”

Carl no longer lets me know how much money he has at any given time because I don’t like that he overdrafts his checking account and I tell him so.

I make about 20% more than he does and our expenses are minimal enough that I’m able to take care of the brunt of it if need be. We try to share the costs of our lives in equal percentage to our incomes, but his income is inconsistent since he’s paid hourly and has partially seasonal work, whereas I am in a salaried position.

Carl’s parents (especially his dad) taught him that saving into his RRSP is important; saving for a house is important; saving for retirement is important. But they may have overemphasized how important this is. He had an RRSP when he was a teen! His parents have put their own money into his RRSP every year on top of the money he has personally contributed. I have a really hard time wrapping my brain around this.

My own parents taught me the importance of saving, but they also taught me that life is long. They both didn’t figure out their money until they were in their 30s, and my dad still managed to retire early. From them I’ve learned that making small investments now is useful, but you still need to eat. And if I want to go back to school like I keep saying I will, then I should use my big savings for that. My parents discourage me from having an RRSP and their financial planner has set me up with a TFSA (tax free savings account) instead. I also contribute to an investment thingy with my employer that has a matching program with (I clearly am not up on my financial jargon).

I am uncomfortable with the idea of having a checking account go in the red, though I do occasionally carry a balance of less than $200 on my credit card (I always make sure I can pay it off within the next two pay periods = one month).

Carl pays a fee to be able to overdraft his account (how does that even work? You’re paying money to spend money that you don’t have?), and he argues that he doesn’t get penalized in the same way as you would with a credit card. Sometimes he cashes in bonds to bring his checking account back into the black. He’s searching for another full-time job and his irregular income situation won’t last too much longer, but his attitude still weirds me out; why focus on contributing to an RRSP when your checking account is in the red?

I’m 22 years old and still have time to figure it out. I firmly believe that I will be able to retire when I’m supposed to, but right now, I need to sort myself out. I’m saving slowly. My tax refund is going into emergency savings, but will also be used for a trip to Europe (experiences are a good investment, in my opinion). His tax refund is going toward our future house. My next paycheck is going to rent and groceries. His next paycheck is going towards pulling himself out of a red hole.

And somehow, out of this financial mess — where he has five figures in his RRSP and I have a couple thousand socked away between my TFSA and work matching program (that I could just liquidate all of and use for my education) — we have a couple, two people that are supposed to be on a team. Have we talked about it? Sure. But have we gotten anywhere? Not really. I guess he’s buying the house. And I’m making sure we get fed.

Lily Nichol lives in Canada (but not in an igloo or anything). She likes cats and words and radio. You can see her cat photos on instagram at @whilefredsaway.