Whenever I got asked “how can I get on the same page as my spouse with money?” I never had a very good answer, because I had never thought deeply about it.
Then I started thinking deeply about it and I realized how enormous that question is.
You see, it’s really hard for us as individuals to get on the same page with ourselves about money. Then you combine all the relationship dynamics between spouses, and it’s easy to understand why couples struggle to be on the same page with their finances.
Over my 20-plus years as a financial advisor, I can’t recall much training on the topic.
What I received early on was this: “Often times in relationships, one partner is a saver, and one is a spender.” While this may very well be true, it’s just scratching the surface.
Getting good with money requires work. It requires work that goes far deeper than simply understanding how to budget and contribute to a 401(k).
To get good with money, you need to dig into your past experiences and emotional connection to it. You need to examine your current behaviors. And you need to have a clear picture of what you want your future to look like.
Then, you need to compare notes with your partner. That’s what I want to help you with.
Quickly, before I go any further, you’re in good company.
The couple that is immediately on the same page with money is the exception, not the rule. It took many years before my wife and I got on the same page.
One of the keys to making any substantive change in life is being intentional about it. Great work getting started.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Important considerations as you begin this process
- Independent work to be done
- Coming together and the rules of engagement
- Moving forward together
Important considerations as you begin this process
In her wonderful book, Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott talks about the need to step out from behind ourselves and to muster the courage to interrogate reality. To really take a hard and honest look at ourselves.
Getting good at money, and doing it as a couple, is challenging and important work. The best way to do it is to be as forthright as possible.
A big part of interrogating reality is paying attention to your ego. When you find yourself making excuses for your behavior or past choices, recognize it may be your ego stepping in. When it happens, acknowledge it and continue on the path of honesty and non-judgment.
Being good with money isn’t hard-wired into us; quite the opposite. Don’t judge yourself or your partner on past experiences, actions or habits. Work to take things as they are.
Focus on empathy. The more we can put ourselves in another’s shoes, the better our chances of having a successful interaction. Money can be a deeply personal subject whose roots extend to many aspects of our lives. Try and see things from your partner’s perspective as much as possible.
It’s been said the three most important words in politics are compromise, compromise, compromise, and that may also be true for getting on the same financial page as your partner. Don’t go into this process intending to get what you want and “winning.” Instead, approach it intending to get to the place where both of you are happy.
Don’t assume anything. We’re all the products of our environments and our perspectives differ from one another. Don’t assume your partner is thinking or feeling anything. Get clarity on their thoughts and feelings.
Having shame around money is very common. Don’t let shame from your past cloud this process.
Just as we want to be mindful of any shame from the past, we also want to be cognizant of any anxiety about the future. Focusing on the present can help us avoid looking too far backward or too far forward.
Finally, beware of resentment. If you or your partner are harboring any ill feelings toward one another, they need to be brought out into the open. Resentment can cloud every aspect of a relationship, and it can make getting on the same financial page difficult.
Independent work to be done
Before you can get on the same page with another person, you need to make sure you’re on the same page with yourself.
That involves getting clarity on your financial past, your current financial life, and how you see your financial future.
Perspective is everything.
How you look at something makes all the difference. Recognizing we look at many of life’s situations differently than other people is valuable. Recognizing you may look at money differently than your partner is essential.
Conducting an honest and thorough self-assessment is the first step in this process. You need to figure out where you’re at with money. Areas to think about are financial literacy, your desire to spend time and attention on money and many more areas.
We all have beliefs about money. Some we’re giving to us through DNA, many others downloaded from zero to 7 years old, and we’re constantly getting new updates. All of it makes up our financial operating system. The more we can be aware of our programming and beliefs, the greater our chances of being financially successful.
Creating goals is an often-skipped step on the path to financial success. Getting clear on where you want to go is essential if you hope to get on the same page with your partner. You can access our Goals Course at no-cost.
Like goals, knowing your values is immensely important. They help to guide how we allocate our most important resources of time, attention and money. Clarifying and crystallizing yours independently will help you and your partner come together and create mutual values. You can access our Values Course at no-cost.
Having a firm grasp of financial needs versus wants is a fundamental financial concept. While you may discover you and your partner view these the same, knowing where you stand will help ensure you’ll get on the same page.
Having a good understanding of how comfortable you are with risk is extremely important. Risk tolerance informs the types of investment we make, and it’s highly possible your approach to investing may be different than your partners. Having a firm understanding of this will help you come together with your partner on your overall strategy, and will help you get on the same page with what you will invest in.
Ask yourself “what if.” What if the opposite of what you think the correct way to invest is true? What if the opposite of how you spend is true? Challenge your assumptions about how you interact with money.
Once you’ve challenged your assumptions, audit your actual spending behaviors. How well do you know what you’re spending money on? How often are you monitoring your cash flow?
We’re all triggered by things our partners do. What are the financial triggers your partner pulls (knowingly or unknowingly)? For example, “I get frustrated when you buy things online” or “I get mad when you go to happy hour and spend a lot of money.”
As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, getting on the same page with yourself will take some effort. But it’s an investment that will pay dividends not only for the rest of your life, but will also help to strengthen your relationship with your partner.
Coming together and the rules of engagement
Getting on the same page with your significant other can start you on the path to financial security and financial prosperity. Failing to do so can set you back years.
Odds are, you have time to do and accomplish everything you want. But you don’t have enough time to waste. The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. The next best time is today. The earlier you can get started working towards financial goals and priorities, the better.
Your financial life is important. Act accordingly and treat this with the seriousness it deserves.
Our attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person, and it’s in short supply because there are so many demands on it. When you’re working with your partner on your finances, remove all distractions such as phones, tablets, TVs, etc. Plan to be fully present on the task at hand and nowhere else.
We’ve been given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Endeavor to do more listening than talking.
Come to an agreement before you begin. Commit to completing whatever tasks you decide on in the allotted time. Commit to treating one another with kindness and respect. Sign it.
Create and follow an outline or agenda for each of the meetings. In each meeting, you’ll share your experiences going through independent work you’ve done. You’ll talk about what you’ve learned about yourself, your thoughts and feelings.
Focus on the present moment, don’t litigate the past. When you find yourself emotional, triggered or frustrated, take a break. Resist the urge to bring up negative experiences from the past.
Focus on the present, acknowledging shame from the past and any anxiety about the future, but not dwelling on it.
Financial matters can be emotionally charged and honest conversations about them can be filled with landmines. Acknowledging the process won’t be easy, but worth it, and coming to an agreement on how you’ll work together through it will serve you greatly.
Moving forward together
Doing the independent work and then coming together to share and talk about it will be an incredible accomplishment. The work of getting on the same page and moving in the direction of your goals and priorities will be easier, but no less important.
Compare notes and come together on your financial goals. Focus on the time horizon for completing them, how much they’ll cost and what actions you can start taking immediately.
Getting on the same page and creating your list of shared values is a powerful exercise. These values can help inform how you’ll spend your money, time and attention.
Figuring out what new learnings are needed should be done individually as well as together. There may be some things you’ll need to learn your partner does not, and things you’ll both benefit from learning together. You can find all of our Courses here.
You’ll need to decide if you’ll keep finances separate and share bills, or pool your money together.
Wants and needs are an important part of the budgeting process. Coming to an agreement as partners will help keep you on track to reach your goals.
Credit plays an important role in our lives, influencing where we live, the cars we drive and even where we work. Being a good steward of your credit means annually checking your credit report and potentially freezing your credit to protect against identity theft. One of our Partners Dovly can help you in this process.
There are many ways to create and maintain a personal budget. Spreadsheets are effective, and there are great apps that can help as well; it comes down to personal preference. One of our Partners, Tiller, has an easy to use platform.
The more we can automate and systemize our finances, the better. Setting up automatic contributions to accounts, automatic bill payments, and having cloud-based access to information makes managing our financial lives easier. One of our Partners, Trustworthy, offers a great online platform for bringing your financial world together.
Schedule meetings. What gets scheduled, gets done. Decide on a day of the month and time, and set recurring meetings to review your finances as a couple. Once you’re on the same page and on track to meet your goals and objectives, you can move to quarterly meetings.
If you’d like some additional help getting on the same page, have a no-cost conversation with one of our Coaches.
This is some of the most important work an individual can do, and certainly some of the most important a couple can do.
Having the courage to interrogate reality, step out from behind our egos and have open and honest dialogue about a difficult subject will set you up for long-term success.
Financial success is available to you and your partner. You can be on the same page and moving in the direction of shared goals!
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