Read just about any list or article about the reasons why couples divorce, and you’ll see “money” mentioned near the top. If you’ve been married or in a serious relationship, chances are you’ve had a few money fights yourself.
Having disagreements about money is a normal thing. But how you handle them can make all the difference in the success of your relationship.
Over a decade ago, I secretly got myself and thus, my husband, $40,000 into debt. Well, we made it through. We are completely debt-free now and planning for our future together — as a team.
If you and your significant other need to get on the same page about money, here are a few very valuable pieces of information we learned along the way.
1. Take a Step Back and Look at the Big Picture
If you have a goal to make the relationship work well, don’t start out by focusing on day-to-day financial disagreements. Take a step back. If you’re honest with each other, you may find that you actually do agree on the big picture.
No one says, “Ya know, I think by the time I’m 65, I want to have piles of debt, no retirement fund and an empty bank account.”
It’s pretty likely that you and your partner both want to have some financial security in your later years. You can agree on that. Use this as the first piece of common financial ground and lay claim to that goal together. How you will get there takes some work, but it will be worth it.
2. Discover Your Partner’s Desires
One of the very first things I make all the students in my life coaching program do is to fill out a financial “bucket list”: a list of financial goals you want to achieve before you “kick the bucket.”
You and your spouse should complete your lists separately. Then compare your responses. I think you’ll probably learn something new about your spouse and maybe be surprised by some secret goals they’ve always had. You also might think some of their responses are silly, but they may feel the same way about some of yours too.
Here are a few of the categories on our Financial Bucket List:
- Education: College funds for your kids? Additional schooling for you?
- Housing: A bigger house? A new location?
- Retirement: How much money would you like to have saved up by then?
You can make your own categories. No matter what they are, this exercise should help you recognize that many long-term goals in your heart may actually cost some money to make happen.
It’s now time to ask yourself: Will you ever reach your financial goals on your present course?
3. Listen in Order to Understand
This is a very important step. Your partner has put maybe some of their deepest desires down on a piece of paper. They’ve opened up. Be careful how you respond.
Actually, at first, don’t respond at all. Ask them to talk to you about their goals. Listen to them. Hear them. Understand why the goals they’ve listed are important to them. Find value in learning that information.
How many of their financial bucket list goals involve you? Probably almost all of them. They want to live in that house with you. They want to finally take that trip to Europe with you. Right now, they have it in their heart to be with you until one of you “kicks the bucket.” Think about that a little while. Let that gushiness sink in. Their long-term life goals include you.
4. Come Up With Short-Term and Long-Term Plans
Combine your lists. Now try and prioritize the list. This may cause a little debate, so remember to keep it light and try to value each other’s goals. Come up with an approximate dollar amount for each.
Determine which goals are short term (5-10 years), and which are long term (11-30 years). Figure out how you want to save for and accomplish these goals. Do you want to have small separate funds for each? Do you want to just start saving for one, then once you’re reached your goal, start on the next? A little of both? Come up with a rough plan of attack to reach these goals.
You might have to do a little math. For instance, If you want to have $10,000 in a wedding fund for your child in 10 years, you’ll have to save about $85 a month (interest not included).
5. Free Up Money
Many families are already financially maxed out and don’t see how they can save or plan for anything else. Team Clark has plenty of ideas on how to cut expenses and start freeing up money in your budget. There are also many ways to make extra money on the side. Here are 20+ to get you started. If you want to reach goals in your life, you will not get there by accident. It will take focus, hard work and intentionality.
If you aren’t budgeting, you have to start. This is non-negotiable. Once you start budgeting and tracking your expenses, you’ll be astounded as to where your money was going. Give your money a real plan, and use it as a tool to make your goals become reality.
6. Fight for One Another’s Dreams
When you start taking ownership of your spouse’s dreams and begin to treat them as your own, something powerful can happen. You may well find your relationship getting stronger and that you find more confidence in your partner’s dreams and goals. I think this is for two reasons. 1) Real, lasting love serves and sacrifices for others, and 2) Generally, it is easier to have more confidence in other people’s dreams than your own. Use that to your mutual advantage.
Start believing in each other’s goals and fight for them. It builds your confidence tremendously when other people believe in you and fight for you. Begin doing that for each other. When I was first starting my website years ago, I could never have done it if my husband hadn’t been right there, cheering me on, helping me solve problems and believing in me. It made all the difference.
7. Check Your Progress and Stay Positive
If you want to accomplish things, you have to set a goal. Having shared financial goals with your spouse will give you both something to accomplish together. Since you are sharing the goal, you can stay focused by holding each other accountable and encouraging one another in the hard times. If you get discouraged, pull that financial bucket list back out. Remember why you wanted to do this in the first place.
Look over the progress you made. Are you on pace to reach your goal? Do you need to step it up? Was your goal too small or too big? Are you encouraged by where you are? If you are, awesome! If you find you are a little discouraged with your progress, stay positive. Encourage each other and adjust as needed.
Remember, even if you aren’t where you want to be, imagine where you would be if you never got on the same page at all. Progress is progress. Keep going and don’t give up!