Have More Finance Dates With Your Partner

As a couple, it can be difficult to get on the same page financially and agree upon sensitive financial topics. We may have different backgrounds, experiences, personalities, and preferences when it comes to money. Fortunately, there are ways to stay on track, keep focused and have fun. My wife and I have monthly check-ins we call Finance Dates. We’ll describe what they are and why they’re important.

What Is a Finance Date?

My wife and I have a monthly Finance Date on the calendar to check in on our financial progress from the previous month, assess our current status, and review our progress toward our annual goals. There’s an element of the past (what we did last month), the present (where are we now) and future (where are we trying to go). This keeps us laser-focused on our financial goals so that we can make adjustments along the way, as opposed to setting the same goals and resolutions year after year.
One of the advantages of being in a relationship is having a built-in accountability partner. It is an opportunity to leverage each other’s strengths to keep making progress. For example, for Finance Dates, if one partner is more of a planner and detail-oriented, they could take the lead in organizing the finances. I’m a personal finance nerd, so reviewing our spending, updating our budget, tracking our net worth and forecasting ahead is actually fun for me. If the other partner is more free-spirited and spontaneous, they can take the lead in organizing the date. Whatever your strengths are, BOTH partners need to be involved in understanding and agreeing upon your financial goals. It is essential that each person understands all the financial accounts, where they are, how to access them and their purpose. Just because one partner takes the lead in organizing doesn’t absolve the other partner of their responsibilities. Talking about money doesn’t have to be stressful, judgmental and depressing. It can actually be fun!

How Do You Make Finance Dates Fun?

Use your Finance Dates as an opportunity to celebrate! Any time you set long-term goals, it’s really important to celebrate the small wins. The small wins are what keep you motivated along the path to achieving the big goals! Paid off a credit card? Celebrate! Saved $200 by making breakfast and bringing lunch to work? Celebrate! Paid off a student loan? Celebrate! Increased your credit score? Celebrate! As the liquor commercials say, Please Celebrate Responsibly! This is where the strengths of the more spontaneous, free-spirited partner can come in! Ice cream and a mid-afternoon dance party at home? Yes, please! Your favorite evening go-to romantic activity? Oh yeah! Be creative and find ways to enjoy the process of moving toward your goals. Even if there isn’t all that much to celebrate on paper, the very fact that you two are coming together to review your finances and discuss how to improve is, in fact, a WIN!! Consider all the couples that are not doing it!
We know that finances are one of the top reasons for divorce and the biggest source of stress for most individuals and couples. We created a Finance Date checklist to help you in these discussions and recommend a monthly cadence to both improve the relationship and make progress on your financial goals. Use your advantages as a couple to turn that potential source of stress into an opportunity to get closer and celebrate each other!

5 Topics All Couples Should Agree On Financially

Let’s be honest, money is emotional and complex! It impacts nearly every aspect of our lives and most certainly impacts our relationships with our significant other. Since money is still such a taboo topic in our culture, miscommunications can create small cracks in the bonds of our relationships. Like a small crack in a windshield, it can expand over time and damage the entire windshield. However, it’s also true that small cracks can be repaired simply if they are identified and corrected early.
When thinking about finances as a couple, we must understand that we’re partnering two people with different backgrounds, experiences, goals, and values when it comes to money. A couple partnering their finances is essentially entering into a business partnership, with the exception that businesses typically have a formal written contract which stipulates the rules each partner must abide by, most couples don’t have a written contract. In absence of a written contract, we need to come together to have a common understanding of some fundamental questions.
Before we get into those fundamental questions, let’s be cautious about how we set up these conversations. Personal finance is just that, personal. When we’re having conversations about money, they can be extremely intimate and bring up emotions of shame, defensiveness, guilt, and even anger. Do NOT corner your partner in an interrogation room Law & Order-style with a bright light asking intimate financial questions. You want to create an environment that is safe, positive, private, honest, and free of judgment. This is also not just one conversation but should be several and ongoing. Make it a finance date! We’ve created a checklist of items to discuss to make sure you can cover all your bases.
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So let’s get to the questions! The following are 5 topics couples should agree upon financially.

1. What are our financial values and priorities when it comes to money?

As we mentioned before, we have different priorities and values when it comes to money. One partner may view money through the lens of power and control. For example, they may be a meticulous planner and want to maximize every penny. The other partner may believe money enhances their experiences and relationships. They may see money as a means to see more and do more. In this situation, one partner views their partner’s financial behavior as controlling/limiting and the other partner views their behavior as undisciplined and wasteful. If we only view our partner’s behaviors through our own frame, it can create a purely biased and unbalanced view that can create many small cracks in the bond. It’s important to discuss these views openly and come to terms with what your joint values and priorities are.

2. What are our individual and joint financial goals?

After discussing your values and priorities, then you can discuss financial goals. Goal setting is important individually, but it’s even more important as a team to ensure you’re both rowing in the same direction. Your goals have to be specific, written and shared.  An unwritten goal is called a wish. Can you think of any successful teams, businesses or organizations that don’t have specific written goals? Come up with your financial goals individually and then bring them together to set joint financial short, medium and long-term goals.

3. What is our plan for managing debt?

Misuse of credit is one of the largest contributors preventing people from building wealth. Debt is essentially present borrowing against future income. Unfortunately, too often people find themselves in a situation where their future catches up with them, and their new present is unbearable. Living paycheck to paycheck can create ever-present stress because financially they are just treading above water, knowing that one uncontrollable change could cause them to start drowning. Working hard just to pay off debt from the past and not being able to take advantage of opportunities in the present or save for the future can put a serious strain on both the individual and the relationship. Discussing current debts, and being on the same page in terms debt that you may incur in the future (mortgage, business loan, student loan) is vital.

4. What is our plan for handling emergencies/loss?

You know the saying, $%*? happens! The question is not whether it will happen, but rather are you prepared for it when it does. Having an emergency fund is vital for anyone to have, but that’s just a first step. Once you’re in a committed relationship and are partnering your finances, you need to discuss how to handle a situation in which one or both of you are disabled or passed on. If you think those are difficult conversations now, think about how much more difficult it would be in the absence of these conversations afterward. Don’t add financial stress to grief.
Life insuranceDisability Insurance, Living Will, Healthcare Power of Attorney, and organizing confidential paperwork and passwords. These are examples of items you can take care of relatively inexpensively which go to piece of mind.

5. What is our plan to build wealth?

So you’ve sorted your values, set goals, managed debt and planned for contingencies, now let’s talk about wealth building. Most people who work simply exchange their time and skills for money. At some point, they may no longer want to continue that exchange. Some people call it retirement or financial independence, the goal for most people is to amass enough financial resources to have independent control over the use their time and talent. The best way to do that effectively is to plan, save and invest as early as possible. There are a zillion routes to get there; combinations of employment, entrepreneurship, equity investing, real estate investing, inheritance just to name a few, but you and your partner want to be on the same page in terms of what is the end game, how much do we need, and approximately how long will it take?
We created a checklist of items for your finance date and we are also developing an online course with live coaching to help couples dig deeper into some of these topics to get on the same page financially.
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Discussing finances as a couple can be a very tough road to travel. There can be potholes, detours, roadblocks, speed bumps, accidents, and traffic. However, if you and your partner can agree upon where you’re going, how to manage challenges and which routes to take, it’s much more likely that both you will get there, together.
 

If You Hate Maintaining a Budget, Track these Two Numbers Monthly

As personal finance nerds, we are interested in where every dollar goes, what bucket it falls into and how that compares to the previous week, month, and year. Most people are generally not interested in tracking every dollar. Some people say, “I’m just not a math person” or “that’s just more detail than I care to know.”

If forced to come up with two metrics to evaluate your financial progress, we would have to say without a doubt, it’s your net income and net worth. Let’s define both and then let’s talk about why these are the most important financial measures to track.

What is your Net Income?

Your net income is simply taking your monthly after-tax income (the amount that comes into your bank account) and subtracting all of your expenses during the month (housing, food, utilities, transportation, debt payments, personal, etc).

Net Income = After Tax Income – Expenses

If you were a business, your Net Income would be called ‘profit’. You need to know what your profit is each monthly. You don’t want to run a business that’s losing money each month. You want your net income to be positive each month and you want it to be growing over time.

A common mistake people make is that as their income increases, they increase their spending along with it (a.k.a. lifestyle inflation). So if you get a 3% raise at work, but you increase your spending by 4%, you could actually be worse off financially, that’s why tracking net income (profit) monthly is so important.

 

What is your Financial Net Worth?

Your financial net worth is simply adding up all your financial assets (everything you own) and subtracting all of your financial debts (everything you owe).

Net Worth = Assets – Debts

Financial Assets can include real estate, securities (stocks, bonds, mutual funds), vehicles, checking, savings, cash or anything you can sell and turn into cash. Alternatively, your debts can include mortgages, credit card debt, personal loans, home equity loans, student loans, etc.

Let’s be clear about a few things, first, never confuse your financial net worth for self-worth. Regardless of whether you’re a millionaire or your net worth is negative, it says nothing about who you are as a human being. We live in a ‘more is always better’ culture, we glorify millionaires and condemn the poor, but that is not the goal of this measure. Your financial net worth is simply a number that applies to you individually or as a family to track and increase over time to assess how close you are to reaching your financial goals (i.e. financial independence).

Second, the majority of Americans have either zero or negative financial net worth, so if they sold everything they owned, they would either have nothing left over or would still owe money. Many young professionals fall into this bucket due in part to student loans. Building your savings and getting out of debt both increases your assets and reduces your debt, thereby increasing your net worth.

Why are net income and net worth the most important numbers to track?

Good question! Why not Salary? Savings? Credit Score? The answer is simple, your net worth is the bigger picture goal, net income is how quickly you’re moving towards that big picture goal.  In your financial journey to your financial destination, your net worth would be the miles traveled to your destination, your net income is how fast you’re driving.  There are all sorts of metrics that you could measure if you were taking a cross-country journey, but if we had to choose only two, we would want to know how far we’ve gone (net worth) and how fast we’re moving (net income).

Both Net Income and Net Worth are simple formulas and there are only two ways to increase them:

  • Increase income/assets
  • Reduce expenses/debt

Increasing Income/Assets

Unfortunately, the majority of our expenses (after our essential expenses) are for items that decrease or depreciate in value. So when we buy a pair of shoes or a phone, if we were to sell it used a month later, we would receive much less in return than we paid for it. On the other hand, if used the same money to purchase stock ownership in the company that manufactured that shoe or phone, that stock could potentially increase or appreciate in value over time. When you hear phrases like ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’ that is partially because wealthy people are more likely and able to purchase appreciating assets (e.g. businesses, securities) and the middle class and working class are more likely to buy depreciating liabilities (i.e. debt – a.k.a. stuff that makes us look/feel rich, but actually make us less wealthy). A depreciating liability, such as a car note, is a double loser because not only is the car rapidly declining in value, but it’s also financed from a bank, which means paying additional money in interest (increased cost & reducing value).

We have to change how we look at what we buy and whether showing off our expensive stuff is more important than actually growing our wealth. Recent studies have shown that 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, that includes high-income earners, so the people we compare ourselves to or try to impress are likely broke.

We also have to change the way we think about our income. It’s often said when talking about investing, that ‘you don’t want all your eggs in one basket’, you have to diversify your investment assets to reduce risk. Well it’s much less talked about, but just as important to diversify your income because having one source of income is just as risky as having all your investments in one stock.

In order to put more wins in the asset/income columns, the focus should be to develop multiple sources of income and free your income to purchase assets that appreciate in value. Building an emergency fund, increasing your 401k contributions, contributing to an IRA, are all ways to increase your assets in the near term.

Reducing Debt/Expenses

The other end of increasing your net worth is reducing your debt. Everyone has different types and levels of debt, but the most advantageous position to be in financially is having no debt. There are entire industries that rely on people getting and staying in debt. Credit cards, auto manufacturers, mortgage lenders, banks are examples. In fact, the credit card industry calls people that pay their balance in full every month, deadbeats. They are deadbeats because the card companies aren’t making any money off them in finance charges. If you choose to use credit cards, please be a deadbeat! Unfortunately, in our culture we have become accustomed to debt as a way of life. When we start to understand how much debt impacts our ability to reach our financial goals, we begin to make different choices. Keep in mind, our debt is someone else’s asset (i.e. banks, credit cards, auto companies, mortgage lenders), just like your loss is someone else’s win.  If you are a lender, the loan contract is an asset that appreciates. You lend someone $20K for a car purchase and you’re paid back $22K over 5 years.

In order to reduce losses in the debt/expenses columns, the focus should be to free your income to pay off debt more quickly and avoid additional debt. Also, reduce the purchasing of items that depreciate in value. Tracking your spending for a month, using only cash for 60 days or selling possessions are all ways to increase income or reduce expenses in order to reduce debt.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we cannot wear or drive wealth. In one camp, the majority of millionaires live well below their means, drive used cars, and live in modest homes (read: The Millionaire Next Door).  However, in the other camp, the majority of Americans live far above their means, live from paycheck to paycheck and finance their lifestyle with debt. There are free online financial aggregators such as mint.com that will allow you to centralize all your financial accounts and calculate your net worth automatically. Tracking your net worth monthly allows you to become more aware of not only which camp you’re in, but also allows you to know how close you are from moving from one to the other.