Last week we introduced a 5-part framework to better money conversations with your spouse. To see parts 1 and 2 in depth, please go here.
This week we talk about parts 3 through 5. The 5 parts are:
- Understand each other’s background
- Put together a plan
- Commit to the plan
- Schedule regular check-ins
- Revise the plan as needed
Commit to the plan
This may not seem like a step at first glance, but it’s essential to the process. Both partners HAVE to be bought in for this to work.
Too often one partner acts as the lead and railroads to whatever solution they want. The alternative, and the point of the first two steps, is to create a partnership.
By creating a partnership, you allow both in the relationship to be enthusiastic about the plan.
So what does this look like realistically? If you cannot both say you’re fully committed and enthusiastic, you need to go back to steps one and two.
If you try and power through at this point, your money struggles will continue to compound.
Another element of this is something some of you don’t want to hear: each partner needs to have a piece of responsibility in the process.
I don’t care if you don’t like money.
I don’t care if you don’t understand investing.
Each partner should act like an adult and learn.
By each taking ownership of the plan as a whole, but also taking responsibility for your piece, you create an atmosphere of equality. If you each have a role, you each have an area you’re an expert in.
When I’ve passed tasks and responsibilities to my wife, it has helped her learn but it has also helped my peace of mind. It has helped me not feel like I’m on my own.
And let me address one thing: I keep saying you should be excited and I mean it. Part of a financial plan is getting to talk about the fun stuff. You talk about your goals, your dreams, your upcoming trips.
The goal of the plan is not to be restrictive. It’s to give you the peace that you can do the fun things you want to do.
Schedule regular check-ins
Financial check-ins sound horrible. And truthfully, they can be. But over time, you develop a rhythm that makes these meetings easy if you’re minding your financial house.
One trick that I’ve heard that has helped us is to make it FUN. Now, how do you do that? You pair the check-in with something you look forward to. Whether that be eating good food or desserts, or taking a walk, whatever excites you will help you get jazzed for this meeting.
Next, we want to make it regular. We choose to do ours weekly, and they should definitely happen at least monthly. Choose a rhythm you can stick to and commit to it. Grab the ice cream and dig in.
Now what do these check-ins look like? A few questions you can ask:
- How are we doing on our budget? What do we need to change between now and the end of the month?
- What is on the schedule for this week?
- Is there any way I could support you this week?
The great thing about this check-in is that after you’ve gone through steps one through three, you have a framework to work off of. When we used to have our weekly conversations, they became overwhelming and no fun. It felt like we were starting over each time. Instead of having a brand-new, overwhelming conversation each week, we have actually been able to shorten our conversations over time. Sometimes they are just regular discussions of where we are at with the monthly budget, but other times we have specific items that need to be decided on, like when we were deciding to refinance our house this time last year, making travel plans, or deciding how to allocate bonus money.
These regular check-ins make a place for those types of discussions. Because it’s a place, and it should be a pleasant place, it gets each person mentally prepared for what’s to come.
This check-in allows helps in the splitting of responsibilities. For the person who had previously ran the finances, these check-ins allow them to be aware of what the other partner is doing.
Another thing it does is allow the partner to grow in their money management. One of the adjustments that specifically helped Samantha was to offload budget tasks. In tackling those tasks, her confidence and knowledge grew. For instance, throughout the last phase of our fertility journey, it was Samantha’s responsibility to be in communication with the insurance company and the doctor’s office in regard to the processing of claims from our treatments. There was one claim in particular that has been drawn out, but Samantha has championed taking care of that. She knew her default would be to let me take care of it, but through my prodding/encouragement, she knew she needed to handle this on her own. She also has facilitated switching bank accounts, outlining the budget for our last phase of renovation, along with more regular tasks of managing specific budget categories.
This ownership means I don’t have to ask her about, for example, groceries. She has it under control. It’s off my plate.
Another thing that people don’t like to talk about but is still worthy of discussion is a financial contingency plan if something were to happen to your partner. This sharing of duties puts both of you in a place where you could step up and take over. If I (Kurtis) do it all, Samantha won’t be capable if something happens to me. She might do things differently from how I would, but if she never contributes, she won’t have the opportunity to learn. By involving her, I’m helping her to be prepared in case something horrible happens.
We never want to talk about these things, but life insurance alone is not enough.
Revise the plan as needed
Plans are meant to change. But someone with a plan is always better off than someone without one.
Without a plan, you are wandering in circles. With a plan, you’re headed in a direction. It’s always easier to change directions than it is to start from a stop.
Changing the plan also allows the plan to stay relevant. We’re expecting our first child, so we’ve had to revise our plan. We have new categories to plan for of diapers, supplies, and medical costs that while we have a rough idea of what they might be, we still aren’t sure. So continually monitoring and communicating about these areas will be super important in the months ahead.
Revising is also important because your goals change over time. As you discover new things, you may realize that the goal needs to be updated.
New information should lead to changes in plans and goals. It’s okay. It’s natural!
There are a few areas of the budget where our discussions have flexed the most, mostly revolving around the timing of purchasing a new car, but also some investment decisions regarding real estate and the stock market. Six months ago, our answers would be different on what our goals are than if you asked us today. And that’s okay.
Closing thoughts: do the work
While this is an amazing framework, this will not help everyone have better conversations. If you’re having marital issues, it might not be the best time to dive into this framework. Please, please, get counseling if needed. Your marriage relationship is a huge part of your life and should be stewarded well.
Hopefully, this framework will prove to be a helpful tool in that stewardship process.