The beginning of a committed relationship is not only a coming together of two hearts, but a blending of two financial mindsets. By the time a couple starts to comingle their belongings, their money attitudes are already firmly in place. Money values are grown out of our immediate family history both directly – how you were taught to handle your allowance – and indirectly – how you observed your parents deal with the family finances. Later on, other key relationships influence attitudes about money such as friends, co-workers, people you date, and prior marriages. In addition to relational influences there are the effects of advertising on our money behaviors and beliefs.
It’s no wonder then how you handle money as a couple can be a challenge, but an important one to work through. If it’s time for your household to get on the same financial page, here are some suggestions.
Set regular money meetings and then set the mood. Situations change over time and there are many topics to discuss in the area of money so it’s a good idea to get together regularly, for example, quarterly. Pick a day and time when you won’t be interrupted, and when you’re not tired or stressed. Get a sitter for the kids and turn off the phones. Have an agenda for the time allotted, and keep the amount of time reasonable – say 30 minutes. It’s plenty of time to accomplish what needs to be, and short enough that it shouldn’t discourage future meetings.
Seek neutral ground. Pick a place that’s comfortable for both of you, and private where others won’t hear your conversation. Your home’s kitchen, dining room and den are excellent choices.
Begin With a Couples Questionnaire. As mentioned above, the blending of two financial DNAs can be challenging so it’s important to begin to learn what money messages are rolling around in your partner’s head and how they mesh with yours. (There is a list of sample questions for your first session entitled “Money Questions for You and Your Partner” at www.starrcochran.com.) Without knowing what’s important to your partner in the area of money or your partner’s financial history, incorrect assumptions could be made, which could impact your ability to move forward in a positive way. For example, one partner may have a panic attack whenever money is spent and regularly reprimands the other partner for buying anything. The buyer in the couple might assume that the mate is controlling, unreasonable, or cheap when perhaps the purchasing-adverse partner grew up in constant fear of being homeless because of the father’s gambling addiction.
Choose an agenda that’s exciting for both of you then stick to it. Each of you should have a say in the subjects to be discussed so both parties will be engaged in the process. Then stay on track. One topic may lead to another, but it’s a good idea to save non-agenda items for next time. Too many side trips may thwart future meetings.
Remember good communication skills.
• Practice good listening. Really listen to your partner then wait until they are finished talking before speaking.
• Keep the “I’s” in and the “U’s” out. Talk about how you’re feeling. Blaming the other person for whatever is not going to get you anywhere. Instead of, “You’ve made a mess of our investments,” try, “I’m not comfortable with how our money is invested.”
• “We” problem-solve. How the family’s finances move forward has to be a joint effort; therefore, money discussions should have a lot of “we’s” in them. For example, continuing with the dialogue above, you could follow with “How could we invest and save so we’re both satisfied with the portfolio?”
• Watch the tone. Keep the flavor of the interaction friendly and upbeat. Communication is more about how we say the words than the words themselves. And remember, too, body language is constantly communicating even when no one is talking.
• Be honest. If you’re committed to your relationship and to working together on a better financial future, now is a good time to fess up if you’ve been less than forthright with your partner about your personal financial dealings.
• And what if your mate is giving you the silent treatment? Put a positive spin on the topic. Find out what your partner might be excited about in the next few years that you could save for such as a large purchase or a dream vacation.
Take a break. If the discussion is getting too heated or unproductive, take a break. As mentioned earlier, money matters and the discussion of them is an ongoing process so give yourselves permission to resume the conversation another time.
Let there be compromise. There is a finite amount of money that can spent, saved, invested and given away in an infinite number of ways, which means there’s needs to be a bit of give and take involved when you sit down to work through the numbers.
Figure out what’s going to work for you. As every person is different in their approach to money so is every couple and somewhere along the line you need to decide what’s going to work for each of you. The choices range from combining all money in joint accounts to keeping everything separate and various combinations in between. For example in The Bread & Butter Chronicles, Lori and Bob Formor agreed to pool their incomes and allocate an allowance to each which could be spent in any way without permission or judgment by the other. Financial autonomy is important so “mad” money or allowance is a good idea plus maybe an agreement as to how much one person can spend on one purchase without consulting the other partner.
Agree on a plan for change and identify the rewards and consequences. Once you’ve identified and agreed on what changes you’re going to make in your financial life as a couple, then determine the penalty and reward for a particular goal. Since this is about finances, rewards should not involve money and consequences should. For example, back in the Formor family, Bob agreed to sell some of his no-longer-used, gathering-dust items around their house towards a goal of $1000 in a savings account in 30 days. If he fails, he has to sell a piece from his gun collection. If he wins, well, let’s say, Bob knows exactly what he wants and it has nothing to do with money.
With money issues being the main reason for the majority of divorces, getting to know each other in this area of your relationship is well worth the time and effort. For additional resources which cover the topic of couples and money, please visit www.starrcochran.com