The following is a guest post from reader, Erin Opalek. Erin is a married 30-something saver who engages in synchronized saving and other questionable leisure sports.
Over the years, I’ve had a bunch of married friends express a desire to get their personal finances in order. Pretty much everyone agrees that financial uncertainty is stressful, and following a plan is a great remedy for that stress. So what’s the biggest obstacle I’ve heard about getting started? Surprisingly, it’s not that one person is a buy-like-you’re-dying-tomorrow wastrel. Instead, it’s usually been the fact that one partner hates the thought of even talking about money. So how does a couple tackle their finances when only one half is interested?
It’s a question that I’ve pondered a lot lately. Because, here’s the deal: while I think personal finance is neat-o, it’s not really my husband’s cup o’ tea. But we’ve been able to stick to a financial plan, save a ton of money, and never worry about how to pay for expensive surprises like that furnace that crapped out on us a few years ago. How have we made it work? How did we get here?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
I met my husband. Little did I know that fateful night of renting Underworld together would lead to a decade of awesome. And also to a nostalgic obligation to watch the many terrible Underworld sequels to come. (Will the franchise ever end? I don’t know. What could be better than a movie about vampires and werewolves that is filmed solely with blue filters? Oh wait, everything.)
Love is great and all. But figuring out how to share your life with some one is another thing entirely. Like any collaborative effort, long-term relationships depend on the strengths of each contributor.
The contributions of my husband are quite apparent to me at the moment. He’s working out of town and though he’s only been gone a handful of days, a number of issues have come up in his absence that raise questions as to whether I am competent to live independently:
• I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We are out of peanut butter. But I find cream cheese. I think, “peanut butter’s kind of creamy, this could work.” But the cream cheese is moldy. That’s cool, right? I cut off the moldy bits and make myself a cream cheese and jelly sandwich. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Well, it tasted terrible too. Like rotted spinach (and jelly) sandwich. It is a very very bad thing.
• I try instead for some corn with mayo and cayenne pepper, like they serve at the refresqueria down the street. It’s all fun and games ‘til I realize the cayenne is MOVING.
• Basically, after that I’ve just been eating dried-out, 6-month old Cadbury eggs until he gets home.
Why am I not dead yet? I don’t know. I’d definitely vote myself off the island. What I do know is that my husband makes a sweet sweet grilled cheese sandwich, and I’d really like one right now.
What does all of this have to do this personal finance, you say? Here’s the thing: making killer grilled cheese sandwiches is one of my husband’s secret powers. I can’t do that. It’s not a way I contribute to our little family. But I have my own way on contributing: I can make a mean financial plan.
That’s my secret power. He’s got his hand on the pan, and I’ve got my head in the clouds of budgeting, long-term planning, vacation logistics, investment allocations, home renovations, all that stuff. I happen to enjoy it immensely and he’s cool with that.
And that’s how we make it work.
Sharing your life does not mean doing everything together.
You love each other, you want to be together, huggie-kissy-wah-wah whatever. If you’re interested in personal finance (which you clearly are, because you are reading this) and your partner isn’t: fine. Spearhead this project. Don’t wait for your partner to get interested. It’s not likely to happen. Some people don’t like puppies. It’s weird. I know. But we love them anyway. Let your partner do what your partner does best. And you, braveheart, go off and plan.
First, let your partner know that you’re going to analyze your finances and come up with a plan. If you don’t already know your family’s big picture goals, now is a good time to talk about them. Do you want to buy a new house or have (more) children someday?
If your partner has concerns, listen to them. This isn’t about bulldozing. It’s about buy-in. Take those concerns into consideration when you begin crafting your plan.
Cut your partner loose and dive into the details on your own. Go read a bunch of personal finance blogs and forums. If you want to get real crazy, read some books. Design your plan. Track your spending. Create a budget that allows you to meet the goals in your plan.
Remember that it’s not about deprivation, it’s about understanding what both you and your partner realistically want and then working towards that through a planned approach. If it’s important for your partner to have things you find unnecessary – like that new Grand Theft Auto or an iTunes Season Pass to Real Housewives – try to work that into the plan. But if you don’t have enough money to make it work, be sure you can demonstrate why. Show your partner what you are able to accomplish instead (like, paying your July electric bill on time). You’re doing the leg-work, but your partner needs to sign on.
When you’re done with all the fun detail work, summarize in a sentence or two what you’ve just done. I have—ahem—a friend who even came up with this catchy mission statement: “To live below our means without sacrificing quality of life in the present or future.”
The Big Reveal
Now, settle in together on the sofa one night with some beers or a lovely hot cocoa, and present the high level plan to your partner. If your partner wants more details, you’ve got them. (In my own experience, my husband generally isn’t much concerned with the details unless it pertains to the amount of money saved up for his guitar budget.) If your partner has questions, answer them. If tweaks need to be made, make them.
And then go for it. Execute the plan. Update your partner as needed, if things get out of check or if you’ve accomplished something particularly awesome like paying off a loan. Otherwise, just let it roll along.
The beauty of this approach is that the partner who doesn’t want to think about personal finances doesn’t have to. And, preferably, in exchange he will make you his awesome grilled cheese sandwiches and generally ensure that you haven’t poisoned yourself to death. Because those are your partner’s strengths. And making sure your family’s financially sound is yours.
These strengths are gifts to one another. Appreciate them. Every last butter-soaked crumb.
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