When I first got married, money talks in my home looked something like this: I brought out my spreadsheet and the four other programs I was working on to have a financial summit with my husband. He mentally tuned out the second he saw the first version of the budget and was in another place (I suspect it was at a college football game) by the time the meeting was over. Over the years, I learned to simplify my budgets and my husband brought both his mind and body to the meeting. My colleague Steve offers great insight into how to make couple money meetings work that I wish I knew from the beginning:
I have a confession to make. For over a decade in my professional career, I was the pot calling the kettle black. Almost 20 years ago, I followed the advice of a fellow CFP® professional and started advising clients to schedule a weekly 30 minute money meeting to focus on their finances, but I wasn’t doing these myself. Then about 7 years ago, I started having those meetings with my spouse and guess what? They work.
The basic idea is this. Many of us can go a month or longer and not spend any time thinking about our investments or whether we are spending our money on what is important to us instead of where we have always spent it. We pay our bills but don’t think about our spending plan.
On a side note, I hate the word “budget.” It sounds like “diet” to me. They both are limiting and negative.
A friend of mine told me “Steve, you’re a financial planner. Don’t think of it as a diet. Think of it as an eating plan.”
That works for me. I don’t think of my spending as a budget. I think of it as a spending plan.
The ideal time to have a conversation about money is not when you’re late for work, trying to get the kids off to school and have a deadline that is consuming all of your mental energy – been there done that. The Weekly 30 Minute Money Meeting can either be with yourself or with your partner. The rules are the same:
1.You cannot change the past. It is a waste of time to argue about or beat yourself up about things that have already happened. Learn from your mistakes (we have all made them) so you don’t repeat them in the future.
2. Be thoughtful and focus on the future. With my eating plan, if I choose to have a 1,500 calorie breakfast (which is delicious), I’d better plan on eating a lot of salad with little dressing for the rest of the day. If I choose to spend my future paychecks now (think credit cards), I’d better plan on not spending any other money.
3. Hold yourself accountable. Notice I didn’t say hold your partner accountable. We are adults and need to hold ourselves accountable. If you make a mistake, own it and try hard not to repeat it.
4. Schedule the meetings when your energy is high. I am an early morning person. I wake up at 5:30 am every day no matter the time zone or if it’s a weekend.
The ideal time for me would be 6:00 to 6:30 on Saturday morning. My wife’s response to this suggestion is not fit for publication. We meet from 11:00 to 11:30.
These are some tricks to make the most out of your meetings:
- Put them on your calendar and if you think about something, pull your phone out and add a note to this week’s meeting. That way you don’t forget it.
- Use the meetings to develop a spending plan. Your spending plan needs to get you, not the other way around. Look at your bank’s online tools, other online tools like Mint, our Easy Spending Plan, a custom made Excel spreadsheet or paper and pencil. Try different ones until you find the one that gets you.
- Find an item in your spending plan that you buy because you have to but don’t enjoy spending money on and see if you can cut that cost. Think of auto insurance and electricity. Any money you can free up from those is money you can save or use for something you want.
- Run a retirement estimator calculator and make sure you are on pace to retire. Update this at least once a year.
- Run a DebtBlaster calculator and make sure you are paying off your debt as efficiently as possible. Update this every 6 months or when you pay something off.
- Review your investments at least once a quarter and make sure you are taking an appropriate amount of risk.
As someone who has done this for a while, the benefits of these meetings include reduced financial stress, you and your partner having a plan and fostering honest, direct and sincere conversations about money. Start now. Don’t wait a decade…like some people.