Nancy Paquet is National Bank’s Senior Vice President, Retail Banking. In 2012, she became the first woman President of National Bank Direct Brokerage. Hélène Belleau is a sociologist and professor at the National Scientific Research Institute’s Centre UCS. Ali Fares is Vice President, Investment Strategy, at National Bank.
All three authors look at the taboo around money and how breaking it can help you better manage your finances and your relationships.
Love and money
Why don’t people talk about money on the first date? It’s not like it’s a trivial part of sharing your life with someone, after all. It’s mainly for cultural reasons that we unconsciously decide to leave that stuff for later. Romantic relationships aren’t subject to market logic. But the kind of emotional logic applied to them is equally necessary to social life. That’s why talking about personal finances—looking out for #1—seems to violate the fundamental principles of love: altruism and disinterestedness.
Money can be a source of conflict because we don’t all manage it the
same way or attach the same importance to it. That’s one of the
reasons people, consciously or unconsciously, steer clear of the
subject: you don’t want to undermine your relationship in its early
stages. Instead you put money to work for the relationship. You give
gifts, pay for dinner, buy new clothes so you can look your
But if you’re aware of the emotional mechanisms at work, it’s easier
to sidestep them and opt instead for openness and transparency. Find
out if you and your prospective partner are financially compatible
right away. You’ll spare yourself some heartbreak and maybe some
pointless expenses as well.
Of course, it’s not like it’s easy to talk about money after your
relationship is farther along and committed either. Take the example
of those couples with big differences in income. The person who makes
less money often feels pressured to cover half their combined
expenses. This can lead to a big difference in the partners’ savings
capacity and, eventually, their retirement income.
But many couples seem eager to duck any talk of the long term. What
do we want to do when we retire? What do we want to leave to the kids?
How much money does each of us need to do what we want to do? How does
it all line up with what we’re doing right now? You can’t ever forget
that a couple isn’t a homogenous unit—there are two individuals in it
whose incomes and aspirations differ. That makes it all the more
important to be open and talk to each other about your goals and how
you’re going to achieve them.
All these questions are essential to long-term financial planning.
But many couples haven’t looked for the answers. It’s not that they’re
not interested. They just can’t bring themselves to talk about it with
their partner. The main reason is insecurity. They don’t want to look
clueless, or be one of these people who has no retirement savings. And
they sure don’t want to look like they’ve totally lost faith in the
relationship and are now only concerned about their own financial
interests—or about to pull the plug.
The worst-case scenario for couples who don’t communicate is poverty
for the most vulnerable partner if they separate. They’re victims of
the money taboo. They didn’t protect themselves financially in case of
separation. They contributed more than their share in time and money
to the life of the family and got no long-term monetary payoff. They
neglected savings in the interests of “fairly” sharing day-to-day
expenses. They never drew up a contract to make sure they’d come away
with their fair share of the household assets. There are a lot of ways
to end up facing financial hardship overnight. But there’s no shortage
of ways to protect yourself either, once you get yourself to talk
about money, either with your partner or a specialist.
What about family and friends?
Financial interdependence is less likely in non-spousal personal
relationships, so people are less likely to let things slide. But
there are still good reasons to talk frankly about money there
In the family, you can talk about inheritance and clear up any
misunderstandings. It’s a chance to air everybody’s wishes and maybe
settle some the inheritance early so that seniors can see their loved
ones enjoying their legacy while they’re still alive.
With friends as well, being honest about your financial situation can
prevent awkwardness about the costs of going out and doing things as a
group. You might casually pick up a few ideas on financial management
that you can use to improve your own situation.
Your family and friends can also be good motivators you can share
your career goals with. Go ahead and talk about it—your goals, pay,
benefits, and all the rest. You’ll feel more committed when you have
people there with you.
Why break the taboo against money?
Knowledge is power
Treating money as a taboo topic has a long and sordid history of
leading to unfairness or making it worse, leaving a trail of financial
insecurity in its wake. The fact is, the more you talk about it,
the more you learn, and the easier it gets. The more you take an
interest in money, the better you’ll manage your finances.
But don’t underestimate how hard it is, or the amount of friction that conversations about money can generate. For the stickiest of such conversations, you might want a professional for support. Financial planners and advisors, notaries, attorneys, and human resources professionals are neutral third parties who can help you start a dialogue with your loved ones.
Your budget, savings, wages, estate, relationship, and retirement can benefit enormously.
Outside help is a great thing, but the first step is to become aware of the emotional reasons you avoid money questions. Then you’re ready to make the effort to address the subject frankly and openly. Be prepared to learn, share, grow, and get some advice.
Nancy Paquet is Senior Vice President, Retail Banking, at National Bank. Nancy started at National Bank in 2007 and has held a number of executive management positions within the organization. Since 2019, she’s been Senior Vice President, Strategy Investment and Savings, Retail Banking. In 2012, Nancy was the first woman to appointed President of National Bank Direct Brokerage. She’s a lawyer by training and also has an MBA and designation as a financial planner.
Hélène Belleau is a sociologist and professor at the National Scientific Research Institute’s Urbanization, Culture and Society Centre. For years she’s been doing research on spousal relationships, the social use of money, and the legal framework around common-law relationships. She was the scientific director of the Research Partnership on the Changing Family for eight years and is the founder of the Quebec Observatory on Family Realities. She’s written lots of books and papers, including Amour et argent : Guide de survie en 60 questions with Delphine Lobet, published in 2017 with Éditions Remue-Ménage and Quand l’amour et l’État rendent aveugle : Le mythe du mariage automatique, in 2011 with Presses de l’Université du Québec.
Ali Fares is Vice President, Investment Strategy at National Bank, where he manages every aspect of the personal investing experience for personal banking services, including strategy, digital, marketing, and operations. Ali is an engineer by training and a Harvard business Alumni. He strongly believes in providing informed advice to clients at every stage of life, and in the power of digital tools for reaching out to clients on a broad scale.