How To Set Money Goals With Your Spouse

Today we're tackling a pressing personal finance question by asking a handful of money experts for their advice.

It comes from David via email:

How do you recommend getting on the same page with your spouse when it comes to finances?

We both grew up with very different mindsets around money. My parents encouraged me to save and live within my means while my wife’s parents didn’t necessarily instil negative financial principles, but didn’t really instil any at all.

I have tried to come up with plans and spreadsheets that we both have a say in but she seems to lose interest after a week or two.

This is what individual experts have to say generally about an issue that affects each person differently — if you want personalised advice you should see a financial planner.

Reframe the Conversation

First, it’s so crucial that you recognise that you and your spouse grew up with different money mindsets. It can be easy to fight with your partner about money if you don’t realise how much your circumstances growing up affect how you engage with money as an adult.

Coming to terms with that, and having empathy for your partner’s different money outlook, is an important first step towards figuring out how to get on the same financial page. Changing habits isn’t easy.

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That said, it sounds as though you may need to dig deeper there. You understand that your histories are different, but have you talked through them together, and how they’ve shaped your values now?

Kathy Longo, a Certified Financial Planner and author of forthcoming book Flourish Financially, says your conversations needs to shift. While thinking about your money in terms of spreadsheets and hard numbers may make sense with your history, your wife could be better off thinking about finances in different terms.

“Dream together and have fun picturing the future. Make the conversation one of possibilities instead of thinking it’s a chore,” says Longo. “What we want to talk about is the purpose of the dollars, the goals — what are we saving for?”

She suggests sitting down together and envisioning your various goals: What do you want for your kids and their education? For your retirement together? If money were no object, what would you do? Make it fun.

Assigning concrete goals can make it more real for your wife than abstract numbers with no “real” purpose, besides building your nest egg.

If you have or want to have kids, you could also talk with your wife about the values you want to instil in them, and how you want to involve them in your money conversations. That can add purpose to getting your financial life together.

And you could invest in seeing a financial adviser or financial therapist together, to get a neutral third party perspective on what’s going on. Money can get heated, and sometimes you’ll need to turn the heat down.

Financial incompatibility is one of the top reasons couples get divorced, and a more traditional therapist may not be equipped to provide strategies, advice and tips to combat financial problems.

“If you go to a therapist to save your marriage, perhaps work with a financial adviser to work with the money question,” says Longo.

Set Rules

Once you’ve talked about your goals, you can set hard rules around spending.

Longo suggests discussing whether you’re better off splitting everything and tracking your and each other’s spending, or designating a certain amount of “independent dollars” per month that you don’t have to account for.

“There might be a household account and then separate individual accounts, because it takes away some of the ‘You spent what on what?’” she says.

Define who’s in charge of day to day bill pay, investments and so on. “Someone will probably take the lead, but both people need to spend time going over the finances and have an idea about the main factors,” says Longo.

If you or your wife messes up, that’s OK. Instead of stewing on the mistakes, reflect together on what did or has been working for the two of you. “Sometimes people are successful with change if they think about something they changed in the past, and reflect on that and use it to move forward,” says Longo.

And if you find that your rules aren’t working, don’t be afraid to reset. You’re in this for the long haul — there’s no one right way to approach your money.


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