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.
 

Financial Infidelity Part 1: Why We Lie About Our Finances

Money is one of the leading causes of stress in relationships, however, it’s not necessarily money itself that causes the pain, but rather the lack of communication and transparency around money. Whether you are the financial cheater, the victim or just looking for ways to avoid it all together, it leads us to the same question – How do we prevent and overcome financial infidelity?
Often times our shame around money can lead us to behave in ways that are totally outside of our character. The shame of not being able to afford our lifestyle, the shame of being irresponsible with credit cards, the shame of not being as “together” as everyone thinks we are. You may be the ‘responsible’ person in your family. You stayed out of trouble, you got through school, you got a good job, but no one knows that even with your salary, you are barely getting by – and no one sometimes includes your significant other.
Often times in relationship arguments, there is the paradigm of the perpetrator (the person that did something wrong) and the victim (the unknowing recipient of the wrongdoing). We strongly suggest that perpetrator/victim could be the wrong paradigm in most cases of financial infidelity. First, let’s define financial infidelity and then talk about reasons why the perpetrator/victim model may not help you overcome it.

Financial Infidelity – The willful and deliberate concealment of financial transactions from a partner in a relationship in which there is financial interdependence.

Financial interdependence can be as simple as splitting the cost of a meal or complex as completely combining your finances. When people in a relationship begin to have joint financial transactions, it creates expectations which require communication and transparency.

The Perpetrator/Victim Paradigm

If someone is walking down the street and gets robbed. The victim has no responsibility to the thief. Anything the victim could have done differently to prevent the thief from robbing them is irrelevant. The thief committed the crime, gets 100% of the blame and goes to jail. Financial infidelity is often not that cut and dry, so before you condemn your significant other to relationship jail, consider there may be a different way to approach the problem.

We Are Often Irrational When it Comes to Money

We are constantly making irrational decisions with our money. For example, if a $100 item is on sale for $40, we’ll convince ourselves we saved $60. We actually spent $40 and saved $0. We spend hundreds of dollars per year on bottled water that in most cases are not measurably better in any significant way to the water in our kitchen sinks. So let’s begin with the idea that we are not purely rational beings when it comes to money.
According to recent studies, the median lifetime earnings for a U.S. college graduate is $2.3M (average of $57K/year for 40 years). That’s almost $5 million for a couple who are both college graduates. $10K in credit card debt or $100K in student loan debt may seem overwhelming, and definitely not helpful in building wealth, but let’s also keep it the context of a larger perspective of $5 million.
 

We Have Different Money Personalities

We also bring different habits and perspectives to money in our relationships. ‘Opposites attract’ also applies to perspectives with money. Many times in relationships you may have a rebel and a conformist dynamic. The rebel lives in the present, appreciates spontaneity and enjoys the discovery. So one of the reasons they didn’t tell you about the $500 purchase beforehand is because they literally decided to make the purchase in that moment. The conformist, on the other hand, is more likely the planner, the one that actually likes to budget and craves organization and doing things ‘a certain way.’ (a.k.a. My way is right and your way is wrong)
Even without financial infidelity, those different perspectives are bound to create conflict. In order to mitigate some of those inevitable conflicts, communication and transparency need to be at the forefront.
 

Our Foundation for Financial Transparency is Faulty

The foundation of financial transparency and communication is the responsibility of both parties. Have you had “The Money Talk” in your relationship? A few questions to assess your relationship’s financial communication:

  1. Have you recently (within the past year) seen each other’s credit reports (not just the score, but the detailed report)?
  2. Do you sit down together and discuss your budget monthly? quarterly?
  3. Do you have a dollar limit that you cannot spend without your partner’s prior knowledge/approval? (even out of your individual account)

In many cases of financial infidelity, the answer to those questions will likely be no, thus the seeds of deceit were planted. In heterosexual relationships, for example, there are often rules of conduct regarding interactions with people of the opposite sex. As an example, dinner and drinks solely with a co-worker of the opposite sex may be inappropriate. Those boundaries will typically be made clear in the course of a relationship. Financial boundaries, however, are less likely to be addressed and without those boundaries, both parties are setting themselves up for failure.
 

Shame and Guilt Can Cause Us to Rationalize Deceit

If lack of communication and transparency are the seeds of financial infidelity, guilt and shame are the fertilizer.

“Shame is a soul eating emotion.” – C.G. Jung

Shame is a very difficult emotion to overcome and can often be at the heart of financial infidelity. For example, if the way one presents themselves to the public is connected to their financial success, admitting financial trouble is like admitting one is a complete fraud. This is another reason why the perpetrator/victim model is flawed. There may actually be multiple victims. It is often difficult to admit failure to yourself, much less a partner or spouse.

“The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between “I am bad” and “I did something bad” – Dr. Brene Brown

Shame can make a liar out of even the most honest person. The extent to which we internalize our actions makes it more difficult to discuss with others. If racking up credit card debt in our mind makes us a terrible human being (as opposed to someone that made poor financial decisions), we are much less likely to admit to someone we are a terrible human being.
Shame lives in hiding, through secrets and deceit. Anger, judgment, blame and contempt only make it worse. The only real way to overcome shame is through vulnerability in an environment of empathy, understanding, kindness and respect. If that sounds too mushy for you, then ask yourself two questions:

  1. Who have you revealed your deepest secrets to?
  2. Were they someone who you knew would be empathetic, kind, understanding and still love you regardless?

If you haven’t created a loving and open environment for your significant other, then you should have no expectation your significant other will be transparent about their shame.

It Takes Two

The perpetrator/victim model doesn’t often work with financial infidelity because the victim doesn’t have any responsibility to the perpetrator. There are certainly extreme cases of gross deceit, identify theft, fraud and financial abuse where perpetrator/victim model does apply (many of these cases are actually illegal). However, in most cases of financial infidelity, both parties have a responsibility to develop a foundation of open communication and financial rules of the road for their relationship. Both parties also have a responsibility to create an environment of mutual respect and empathy from which shame cannot grow.
Financial infidelity, particularly early in a relationship, can be a wake-up call and catalyst for both parties to grow together with their finances. That was certainly the case in my relationship with my wife, which we will share in Part 2.

The Money Talk – 10 Financial Questions To Ask Your Significant Other

 
It is often referenced that finances are one of the leading causes of divorce in the U.S. However, money problems in relationships are typically a symptom of larger issues having to do with communication, expectations and power struggles that lie underneath. Money can represent different things to people, for some it may represent power or success, others it represents freedom and others it represents security. Having said all that, the fact that opposites attract in relationships does not only apply to personality, but it may also apply to their relationship to money. It is not uncommon to have a saver and a spender in a relationship. Much like an introvert and an extrovert, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. Spenders, for example, can often live in the present and take advantage of memorable experiences. Savers can often live in the future financially and potentially miss opportunities in the present. The goal is not to change the other person to your way of thinking, but rather to have all the cards on the table, understand and respect each other’s perspective and agree upon common goals and priorities.
Keep in mind that this will typically not be just one conversation. Please don’t ambush and interrogate your partner like a scene out of ‘Law & Order’.  This should be a planned conversation where both parties are prepared to be honest and open.
The first challenge is getting the cards out on the table. Keep in mind, there’s a ton of shame and blame that come with money. People often make personal value judgments with how people manage their money. Having a ton of credit card debt, for example, can be perceived as a failure of judgment or lack of self-control. On the other hand, someone could have a sizeable inheritance that they don’t speak about for fear of judgment or fear of ulterior motives. One has to judge whether the relationship is at a point to overcome these reservations and ‘open up the books.’
In a 2015 Fidelity Investments survey of over one thousand couples, over 40% did not know how much their partner earned. Some people can have more complicated earnings; such as freelancing or commission-based income, which could make it more difficult. However, in order to plan for the future, it is important to know where you’re starting from an income standpoint. The next logical step is debt. There are multiple ways to get at the debt question. Many people do not know the sum total of their debt, so pulling and sharing each other’s credit reports may be a way to be fully transparent while understanding the entirety of their own debt picture. Another way to understand the entire financial picture is if one or both of you use financial aggregation tools like Mint or Personal Capital. One of the benefits of these tools is to get to a number that is important for anyone to know and that’s your net worth. If you take all of your assets (cash, property, investments) and subtract all of your liabilities (mortgage, loans, credit cards, etc), the balance is your net worth. Finding you and your partner’s combined net worth is a worthwhile exercise to understand where you both are currently and set joint goals for the future.
Again, it’s not how much money one makes or how much debt each other has that impacts the success or failure of a relationship, but rather the communication and expectations around money. It is important for both partners to be engaged financially and make decisions together even if one partner is primarily responsible. Below is a list of a few discussion questions for your money talk.

  1. What were your first experiences with money? First savings account? First major purchase?
  2. How do you believe your parents impacted your financial habits? Do you talk to your parents about money?
  3. How do you feel about saving? Have you been able to save regularly?
  4. How do you feel about giving? Do you give regularly?
  5. What is your most regretful financial decision? (purchase, investment)
  6. How do you feel about investing?
  7. What are your financial goals for next 5 years? 10 years?
  8. (Kids) Would you consider one of us staying home if we could afford it?
  9. (Kids) Would our children go to private or public school?
  10. How can we help each other reach our financial goals?