By FPA member Nathan Gehring, CFP®
Last Updated: February 6, 2012
Organizing and managing your financial life can be very time-consuming and, at times, overwhelming. Add a second person into the equation and the challenge is exponentially increased. There is, thankfully, one important step a new couple can take to begin the process of bringing their financial lives together in a meaningful manner. This one step can help forge a stronger relationship with an understanding of one another’s money beliefs and expectations. Spend the right amount of time on this step and you can expect to reap many benefits for years to come.
The First Step (Alone)
The first step a couple in a new relationship should take is one of discovery and exploration of each individual’s values, beliefs and future goals around money. Many of these goals, values and beliefs have likely been revealed as you got to know one another, but have never been articulated. Worse yet, sometimes you may have an idea of your partner’s financial personality, but have misunderstood a belief in a very meaningful way. The below exercise will help you get on the same page.
Begin by spending time separately, and write down several of your goals for the short-term (0-3 years), medium-term (3-10 years), and long-term (10+ years.) Write these goals out very vividly and in great detail. Be as specific as possible and paint a picture that your partner will really be able to visualize.
Next, write out two or three financial expectations you have of yourself and two or three expectations you have of your partner. These might include expectations about who pays the bills, who balances the checkbook, what your career paths look like, etc.
Finally, write out what your perfect life looks like. Don’t spend any time censoring your thoughts. Just let the pen or keyboard flow with whatever comes to mind. What are you doing? Who are you doing it with? Where and when is this happening?
The First Step (Together)
Once you have completed the above exercises on your own, it’s time to compare notes with your partner. Read your goals to your partner. Explain what you value about those goals and how important it is to reach each goal. Share openly without fear of recrimination or judgment by your partner. This openness is vital to a true discovery of one another’s deepest held financial expectations and values.
Once you’ve finished reading and describing your goals, you now become the listener and allow your partner to read and describe their goals. Provide your partner the same respectful, judgment-free, inquisitive space they offered you. Then move on to your expectations and perfect life documents using the same judgment-free and open process.
As the listening partner, be attentive and ask questions deliberately and without judgment. Really think about what the person you are in a relationship with is telling you. Look for clues about values and beliefs underlying what your partner is telling you. Consider what their perspective is on finances to arrive at the goals they have described to you. Make certain that the questions you ask come from a place of curiosity and not judgment. And, most importantly, remain quiet when your partner is speaking. Don’t interrupt, don’t allow your body language to show judgment, and don’t seem bored or disconnected.
After you’ve both been given ample time to discuss, ask questions and clarify your goals, expectations and perfect life; it’s time to make sure you have understood what your partner said. In your own words, paraphrase what your partner has discussed. List the expectations you understand your partner has of you. Discuss with one another if anything as been misunderstood or if anything was unclear. Make sure you truly grasp what your partner has explained to you.
Once this process has been completed, you should have a good understanding of one another’s financial expectations, values and beliefs. You could choose to stop here and already have improved the financial well-being of your partnership dramatically.
Or you could move on to discuss which financial beliefs and values you have in common with your partner, and consider where you have differences and how those might impact your financial harmony and relationship. Deliberately decide how you will share financial duties and assign duties based on strengths. Determine how you will remain in touch about your finances and how you will make financial decisions.
As you work through the process outlined above, you will discover much about one another. You will learn about each other’s expectations. This understanding of expectations will help you forge a stronger relationship since you will no longer be making assumptions about the other’s expectations. Misunderstandings and arguments about money will be minimized.
You will also begin creating a path and goals for your relationship that both of you agree on and energizes each of you. Do you want to have children? Are you living where you want to? Do you have a career dream you have never discussed? Many of these questions will be answered, allowing you to begin planning for your future as a couple.
Having a deep understanding of one another’s goals will allow you to support each other’s pursuit of those goals. You will understand why something is important to your partner. You can also act as an alter ego to your partner, testing their assumptions and providing alternative thinking to their ideas.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, you will have established a strong bond of communication that will serve you well throughout your partnership, both financial and otherwise. You will have created an open dialog around money, how you want to spend that money and how you will make financial decisions.
Keeping It Going
This is only just the first step to financial well-being in your relationship. There are many other financial issues that you and your partner will have to work together to handle and overcome. Fortunately, having taken the time to understand one another’s financial beliefs and expectations, you will now be able to take on each of these future financial challenges and triumphs in partnership.
FPA member Nathan Gehring, CFP®, provides financial planning services at KeatsConnelly, the largest cross-border wealth management firm in North America that specializes in helping Canadians and Americans realize their dream of a cross-border lifestyle.