For all of you married or cohabiting couples of there, it is never too late to more tightly integrate your finances.
There are several core aspects for getting started as a couple. The first thing to do is explore where you differ and where you are similar Taking time to discuss your financial perspectives should illustrate both your long term values and your long term emotional needs. This is important because money often comes to take on symbolic or emotional importance. Thus, when you are having conversations about money you are often really talking about something else – such as need for love, support, security, etc.
Thus it’s important to clarify these issues at the outset. If these questions are openly discussed to the point that you both know each others values, then you’ll have a stronger basis for building a financially solid partnership. Keep in mind that this might not always be easy. And you might experience learning that your partner and you may vary substantially on your perspectives. This doesn’t mean that you can’t negotiate your differences. In fact, they might make your partnership even stronger.
There are a number of exercises you can use to help move the processes of clarifying your differing values. You should not skip this step, knowing where the other person stands is very important in discussing your finances.
Values are not goals or material things. Values are attributes of character like security, power, happiness, freedom, independence, confidence, love, health, growth, creativity, etc. They are distinguishable from goals, which are measurable things you want to achieve – such as becoming a millionaire by 30, or paying off $20,000 worth of credit card debt by the end of the year.
Okay, so here is what you should do:
Step 1 –List your values. List as many values as you feel you hold. You should come up with at least 6-8 values that are applicable to your life. The order of these values is not important at this point, just relax and list as many as you can. If you can’t get started doing this just ask yourself a simple question. Such as, what’s really important to you. You might be surprised at what comes up.
Step 2 — Choose your core values. Now go back through your completed list and pick the top four values that are the most important to you. While all of the values you listed define your life, these core values should be those that more precisely define your life and that you cannot live without.
Step 3 – Sit down and compare your values. This is important. You can be with someone you dearly love for years and still not know their most deeply held values. Knowing your partner’s values is important in understanding the decisions they make with money. Also, you’ll be able to do more as a couple and act more quickly once you both understand how the other person is looking at the matter. So, sit down and do the exercise together, preferable when you both have time to focus on doing it, rather than needing to run off to take care of errands or something else. Partnerships move forward more harmoniously when both partners know the other, so please don’t short change this part.
From our perspective, total transparency is a must in managing finances as a couple. If you both aren’t forthright about what you bring to the table it doesn’t establish the trusting relationship that is needed in committing to one another. This means laying all of your cards on the table and sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly.
This might mean sharing how much debt you have, or revealing that left to your own devices you would blow your budget on renting movies and eating junk food. Whatever the case is, it is best to be open about the facts of ‘what is’ in each of your financial packages, so to speak.
For us this initially meant that Miel was straight forward about the reality that she had around twelve grand in debt, after having been unemployed for six months of the previous year. By being honest about the situation, James was able to be supportive and Miel managed to pay off the whole thing in a year (while netting less than double this amount!) Over the years we’ve both changed in some ways and stayed the same in other ways, so it helps to evaluate over time.
In James’ case this meant being up front with his passion for money and making it clear that this was part of the package. At the time James had socked away a sizable chunk in his retirement and stock portfolios, and Miel had to come to terms with what this meant for her. While having assets is always a good thing, this meant that Miel felt that she had to step up to the plate to feel that she was at an even playing field. Since then she has become the bread winner and her retirement savings have dwarfed James’.
While it certainly is not a financial competition between a couple, it is helpful that both partners feel solid in where they and their partner stands. Generally speaking it is likely that when a couple joins together they will have to come to terms with the reality that one person might have or make more than the other. To maintain a communicative and open relationship this must be addressed openly.
Miel and James