Money: Communicate Now or Pay Later
When we find the person we want to share our lives with, there’s a temptation to overlook certain facets of reality. In the early days of the relationship, everything seems magical, and mundane elements of life tend to take a back seat to the romance of the experience.
The truth, of course, is that these everyday, routine fundamentals, while not romantic, are vitally important when it comes to building a family. When we ignore them, we are building in a flaw in the foundation of our relationship — a flaw that will lead to cracks, or worse, as time goes along.
Over the next few articles, we’ll be examining some of these foundational questions that successful couples — like my Theory of 5 mentors — have asked each other and answered as they built their lives together.
First up: Money.
Money Matters in Marriage
Money and finances are one of the main points of contention between partners in a marriage or relationship, and it’s not difficult to see why. Money — or the lack of it — determines in large part how we will live. It affects our security, our lifestyle, our future plans and more. This is why it’s so important for a couple to have discussions on money — and our philosophies on spending and saving — early on in the relationship.
We also should continue to communicate about this topic regularly for the life of our relationship. It’s that important.
From what my mentors and I have seen and experienced, there are two ends of the financial spectrum that we can land on when it comes to spending and saving money. At the frugal end, we have people who save every cent they earn and hate to let any of it go for any reason. And, on the other end, we have the spendthrifts, who aren’t afraid to spend anything and everything they have with no thought to the future.
The reality is that the vast majority of us land somewhere between these two extremes. The further apart we are from our partner, however, the more we’ll have to communicate about the decisions we’ll have to make about our finances. If we like having some extra cushion in our bank account for unexpected emergencies, and our partner loves to “live in the moment,” there’s are some compromises that are going to have to be made. And, if one of us always seems to be making the compromise, that’s going to add stress to the relationship.
Knowing that we might have different views on finance, wealth and/or health is key to coming up with solutions that we can both live with comfortably, and that knowledge only comes through communication. For instance, if our partner was raised by parents who taught them good saving skills, the value of budgeting and the power of investments, while our parents went from one financial crisis to another, we’re going to have different outlooks when it comes to finances. Having a calm discussion about money early can allow us to avoid having an argument — or a full-blown fight — down the road.
Once we have a pattern and a rhythm when it comes to our finance, we also might come to respect, and even enjoy, the habits of our partner. A tightwad might enjoy going on a vacation now and then, and a spender might come to appreciate that it’s not a budgetary emergency when the car needs new tires.
Sharing Our View of the Future
One way to get on the same page as our partner is to plan for our future. If we don’t have a vision for where we would like to be in a year, five years, 10 years, 20 years and later, it’s more challenging to come up with a financial plan — and stick to it. Also, some plans might call for tightening our belts for a short while so we can live a life with financial freedom and independence in the future.
When I first married at the age of 23, we literally tracked every single cent we spent during our first few years of marriage. I was a natural saver, constantly looking for ways to grow our net worth, and she was not, but together we decided to set financial goals we wanted to reach and started to work toward them.
By communicating with each other, we stayed focused on our objective — building a new home. It’s easier for a couple to pull in the same direction when we have the same or similar goals.
We learned to sacrifice in the short term to reach our long-term goals:
I drove a 10-year-old Oldsmobile station wagon — complete with the woodgrain side panels — with 230,000 miles on it.
We didn’t go on vacation for years; we focused on having fun with family and friends.
We rarely went out for dinner; we enjoyed cookouts.
We kept our eyes on our goal and did what we had to do to reach our destination. We built enthusiasm and excitement in reaching our goal. Our vision of the home we’d build saw us through the sacrifices we were making, and when seen in that light, those sacrifices were viewed as investments in our future.
Next time, we’ll take a deeper look at the importance of having shared goals, plans and vision.