4 Ways Money Complicates Relationships With the People Around You

Joanne Poh


You don’t need to be some wheelin’ dealin’ towkay with a nubile young thing on your arm to feel the effects of money on your relationship. In fact, the folks who tend to get affected most by money are regular people like you and me. Money-related issues might not make themselves felt much at the start, but given time, many friends and couples will face at least some of them, unless they’re clones of each other.


1. Different spending habits affect your time spent together

Spending time together as friends or as a couple costs money, at least in the early days. And somewhere into the 50th or so date or outing, one of you might realise that more money is being spent than you like. That’s where differences arise.

Darius, a 31-year-old trader, pays for his 27-year-old girlfriend every time they go out. “Each night, we can end up going to three or four different places. We spend on average about $300 over the weekend alone. I choose to pay for her as she doesn’t have a stable job. But sometimes I wish she would be a bit more appreciative. At times, she invites her friends along and I end up paying for them too.”

Such differences arise not only between couples but also between friends, which can be even more damaging, since one person is less likely to consistently pick up the tab for the other.

Theresa, a 31-year-old research assistant, went to school with lots of people who are now mostly doctors and lawyers.

“I’ve lost touch with a lot of my old friends because of our different values and spending habits. These are people who think nothing of spending $80 on a restaurant meal and enjoy comparing the size of their diamond engagement rings. I have nothing against that, but it’s not a lifestyle I can afford or would want to buy into.”


2. Different financial goals make long-term planning hard

It’s not impossible, but it’s very, very hard to make long-terms with a partner whose financial goals are incompatible with or just vastly different from yours. Even if you have no plans to open a joint account or buy property together, your different attitudes to spending will often manifest as different attitudes to life.

Arnold, who is 32 and self-employed, says, “As a guy, one of my main concerns is being able to afford an HDB flat. So differences can arise if my girlfriend wants to spend a lot of money on branded goods and expensive food. Here I am slogging away so we can have a place to stay and then you complain that I never buy you anything or we never go anywhere.”


3. Encourages comparisons which can affect self esteem

In Singapore, as in other materialistic cities, money tends to get conflated with self-worth. This explains why everyone in Singapore feels so crappy these days as Lamborghinis and Ferraris race past them while they trudge to the office from the MRT station.

If one of you earns a lot more than the other or both of you are simply psychotically competitive types, friction may arise.

Arnold complains, “Many of my friends from school are now very successful businessmen, driving BMWs without having to work much. I still hang out with them but sometimes I feel awful about myself.”

This plays out in the dating arena, too.

Kimberly, a 30-year-old assistant vice president at a multinational bank, says, “My male friends tell me that guys get intimidated when they see that I like to buy designer bags and go on holidays to Europe. Singaporean guys are always complaining that women are materialistic, but they should realise that often it’s their own self esteem issues talking.”


4. Exacerbates existing differences

After the stars fade from your eyes in the early stages of getting to know one another, spanners get thrown in the works by personal differences. While money issues may not always be directly involved, they can exacerbate the existing differences.

For Janice, a 30-year-old editor, the ideological differences between her and some of her co-workers appear at first sight to simply be the result of different spending habits, but upon greater examination are much bigger than that.

“Many of my co-workers don’t watch their spending and eat at expensive cafes every day. I don’t join them as I usually bring my own lunch. People think I’m deliberately distancing myself from the group just to save a few dollars. But honestly, I’m glad to get away during lunch so I get a break from office gossip.”

Lionel, a 29-year-old civil servant, avoids spending time with people who go to expensive places he dislikes, like Avalon and Pangaea. “The prices are crazy, which gives me a convenient excuse to bow out. But the fact is that I probably wouldn’t want to hang out with those people even if they were going somewhere cheaper.”

Has money ever affected any of your relationships? Tells us what happened in the comments.

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.