Relationships: the cost of holiday spending

It might be time to talk money matters to avoid putting even more pressure on a relationship during the holidays.

As magical as the festive season can be, this is a time of year that can also be full of financial traps that can hurt relationships – and the pandemic doesn’t help.

In a survey of 1200 South Africans as part of Sanlam’s Letters to My Pre-Covid-19 Self campaign, 55% of South Africans admitted that financial worries have put a strain on their relationships since the start of the pandemic.

According to the survey, the top-5 things that put a strain on relationships during the pandemic were:

• The stress and uncertainty of Covid-19 (55%).

• Financial pressures (55%).

• Depression and anxiety (31%), with 21% taking up prescription medication.

• Lost job or income stream (30%).

• Childcare and family responsibilities (29%).

Differences in opinion around the issue of vaccinating were also identified as a relationship challenge by 24% of respondents.

“Money is the driving force behind 55.6% of divorces, so it is no surprise that money worries feature prominently as the number-one strain on relationships,“ says Farzana Botha, segment solutions manager at Sanlam Savings.

Navigating December demands – plus the long, long month of January – can put relationships into a “pressure cooker”, especially if partners have different approaches to spending, she says.

“It’s critical to play open cards, decide on a budget and keep the money conversation going.”

There are several things you can do to salvage your festive finances and possibly strengthen your relationship at the same time:

Be Sensitive

People’s relationships with money tend to be complicated and rooted, at least partially, in childhood. As such, it can be very easy to hit a nerve and end up making little progress in the discussion. With a little bit of patience and sensitivity, however, sharing your back story and values about money with your partner can be extremely insightful. Understanding entrenched childhood belief systems around money can change the way you react to each other around undesirable money behaviours. This can help both parties to be more empathetic and set and work towards shared goals.

“Couples who are open to talking about their finances often find it easier to reach long-term goals, such as saving for a home or holiday. Your lifestyle aspirations and the dreams you have for your children and family can best be achieved when you are aligned on where you are heading,” Ms Botha says.

Designate a chief financial officer

This works for major corporations, and it can work for you. It isn’t a competition nor is it about trying to escape personal responsibility for your finances. Rather, by picking the person who is better with money to handle the relationship’s finances, you are putting yourself in the best possible position to achieve your goals.

It is important to remember that there is a difference between controlling the money and managing the money.

The CFO’s job is to manage the money, not control it by excluding their partner from decisions. It’s pivotal both partners remain equally involved and informed.

“While one partner can take on more of an advisory role, the decisions made need to be joint ones. Crucially, both of you need to feel in control and informed,” Ms Botha says.

Budget for the festive season together

Between the many family members, travel arrangements, food, presents and merriment, expenses can get out of control if you aren’t keeping careful track. Before going down that rabbit hole, sit down and discuss what you are willing to spend. Leave plenty of breathing room and remember that buying gifts and splurging on entertainment may bring temporary smiles, but financial prudence will set you up for a prosperous future together in the long-term.

Do not be afraid to seek help

Clinical psychologist Dr Nozi Nyawose says that in high-pressure situations like the pandemic – and the festive season to a much lesser degree – people often neglect their mental health. That can lead to an increase in undesirable behaviours as an escape mechanism. Just think of the relationship many people have with “retail therapy”. If left unchecked, these risky behaviours can continue in vicious, stress-building cycles. Often, we feel we need to hide the problem or deal with it alone, which may only make it worse.

Dr Nyawose says the pandemic is making many feel like external factors have spun outside of their control. She says this can predispose individuals to negative thoughts, which can bring on new or exacerbate existing mental conditions, like poor impulse control. People’s moods, thinking and behaviour can be impacted.

“I strongly suggest South Africans try to regularly consult with a mental health practitioner for professional support, treatment and medication when needed.”

About 55% of the presenting problems for many of her clients have been relationship and marital stressors, she says.

“The pandemic has made couples scrutinise their relationship due to financial decisions made by partners without transparency or thought for the future.”

During the festive period, some can feel especially irritated and upset as it is often a time of heightened emotional intensity and expectation.

“It’s critical partners can keep talking to one another and feel safe enough to admit when they don’t feel like they’re coping. If one partner has fallen into irresponsible spending patterns, it’s important to ask the question why and get to the underlying root of the behaviour.”


Dr Nyawose says if both individuals are able to take responsibility and acknowledge their individual traits that possibly contribute to the strain, then it may be easier to find a common goal and ways to adapt and rebuild.

She advises couples to be upfront about what each partner plans to spend money on and why. Agree on shared goals and a budget together and keep common milestones in mind. For example, a couple saving for a house should keep their “eyes on the prize” and agree to spend less on gifts and entertainment to save more for the future.

Families and couples must be willing to take responsibility for the decisions they make and how those decisions might affect those around them, she says.

“By taking proactive steps to try better yourself, be it financially or otherwise, you are helping provide a safety net for your loved ones.“