Sometimes one of the toughest things for couples to do is merge their money. That said, there are a few basic steps you can do to bring yourself and your partner on the same page.
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 importance. So, when you are having conversations about money you are often really talking about something else – such as need for love, support, security, etc.
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. It is important to keep in mind that 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 40, or paying off $20,000 worth of credit card debt by the end of the year.
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 out of it.
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 devised you would blow your budget on renting movies. Whatever the case is, it is best to be open about the facts of ‘what is’ in each of your financial packages.
James and Miel