Financial stress affecting relationships, particularly those of young Kiwis - research

Financial stress is causing conflict in relationships, particularly for young people, recent figures show.

Research by the Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) of over 3000 New Zealanders from January to August, shows one in five have close relationships that are affected by financial woes. Released as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the figures show the link between financial stress and relationship conflict is strongest for young people.

Of those aged 18 to 34, almost a quarter (24 percent) have experienced strained relationships due to money. Financial disagreements tend to decrease with age, affecting just 7 percent of those aged 65 and over.  

While money-driven relationship stresses affect people across all levels of income, conflict is most common among low-income earners (under $10,000 per year), at 28 percent.

Of those who said finances put their relationships under strain, just over a quarter had young children aged up to four years.  Other groups where money and relationship stresses were compounded include Māori (27 percent), Pacific Peoples (28 percent) and renters (25 percent).

CFFC managing editor Tom Hartmann said there's a recognised link between financial stress and mental health issues. Conflict often arises from different money attitudes and habits.

"Good relationships with partners, family and friends support good mental health and resilience, but as opposites often attract in relationships, partners will have different attitudes and habits when it comes to money," Hartmann said.

As people have different experiences and earn different amounts, this can put strain on a relationship.  He encourages regular, open discussions about money.

Accountant and 'money mentalist' Lynda Moore, suggests couples finding it hard to work together could book a regular, half-hour 'financial date night' to discuss bills, plan and set goals.  

"The structure is to review last month, was there anything unexpected that cropped up, what were the positives (e.g. surplus) and what's coming up in the next month," she said.

In times of stress, peoples' money personalities tend to come to the forefront. Often, one partner will carry more of the financial burden or worry. Communication and teamwork are key.

"The main thing is to recognise each other’s strengths: the saver will make sure there is money tucked away for a rainy day for example, but to get there can make life miserable.  For the spender, it's about setting boundaries, but not so tight they feel trapped," Moore added.

Three tips for resolving money conflict:


  1. Avoid the 'blame game'.  Find common ground first. Design a basic budget for those things you agree on, then build from there. 
  2. Be honest. Don't hide debt: come clean and get it all over in one conversation.  
  3. Ask for help. If one person is controlling the money, running up debts or preventing financial independence, that's abusive. Help and information is available from the following people and websites:
  • A Doctor or medical practitioner. They can refer to other services if needed.
  • Text 1737 at any time to get free support from a trained counsellor.
  • - a free helpline for debt and budgeting support.
  • - for independent financial information, guides and tools

The CFFC survey results were released as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, 'He tirohanga anamata', which runs from September 21 to September 27. The initial survey, which ran from January to August 2020, showed lack of financial planning, tendency to spend rather than save and reluctance to discuss money as key drivers of financial conflicts.