A few of my friends know I write a blog about personal finance. The other day one of them asked how I stay on the same financial page as my husband.
In my mind the answer is simple. In order to stay on the same page you have to communicate often and in detail. Okay, well that’s a lovely answer, but I’m sure you’re thinking how do you communicate when it comes to money?
Here are the steps my husband and I take…
First, document your net worth. Pull up all of your accounts and assets and calculate just how much you have in each of them. Make certain to classify them. For example, you want to keep retirement accounts separate from funds in your checking account and the principal payoff of your mortgage separate from your 1999 car.
Why do you need to determine your net worth. Well I think it’s your starting place. It gives you an overall picture of how much you owe and how much you own. It helps you set future saving goals and helps you determine whether or not you can spend money. It’s important to classify your net worth, because unless you sell your car you can’t spend that money. The same applies for retirement accounts if you aren’t old enough to access the funds.
Next, create a cash flow report. In order to do this you need to track both how much money you earned this year and how much you’ve spent. If you keep detailed ledgers of your expenses this will be quite easy. If you don’t try to get a general grasp of your income and expenses. Find your W2s and credit card statements. At a minimum try to document all of your recurring and major expenditures.
It’s important to see just where your money goes each month so you can objectively discuss your expenses. You may notice that your spouse spends a lot more money than you do. Or you may be surprised by just how much money you’re spending on hobby you consider inexpensive. It’s important to see these figures in black and white. You want to focus on the truth. Try your best to refrain from judging the expenses you see. You want to begin simply by discussing the actual numbers.
Third, review your insurance policies. You want to be careful not to over-insure, but you certainly want to make certain you are covered in case of an unexpected accident, death or disability. Check all of you insurance policies including health, home, disability and life. Review how much you are spending on these policies and what the policies actually cover. Once you have the numbers from your net worth and cash flow reports you can determine whether or not you are properly covered.
Having solid insurance will help ease some of your financial worries. You want to know that you are both covered in case the unexpected happens. The goal is to reach a financially stable place where you both feel comfortable.
Fourth, write down and share your goals. Focus, on three main categories. One year, five years and ten years into the future. You can plan further out than that if you have the desire, but cover at least these three time frames. I find it best to do this every six months or so. Have each spouse write down their goals. Place them upside down on 3×5 cards and allow the opposite spouse to turn them over and read them aloud. You will inevitably find that some goals are the same and others are wildly different.
Again refrain from judging your spouses goals. Let them explain what the goal means if it requires additional details. Allow each spouse to rank the goals they created first as individuals and then as a team. Hopefully you can settle on a set of goals that make you both happy.
You may wish to remodel the bathrooms in your home while your husband wants a motorcycle. You’ll need to discuss the pros and cons of each goal and try to decide which one takes precedence. If you can’t agree on how to rank the goals or you think both goals rank as #1 then you’ll need to determine if you can fund both of them at the same time.
This is a place of give and take. You will need to recognize each other’s goals and desires and find ways to make each other happy without feeling like one person is perpetually compromising. Again, remember to try to be gentle in your conversation. You want to talk openly and honestly. If you get upset put a halt on the discussion and agree to return to it at a later point in time. Perhaps later that night or on a completely different day.
Lastly, decide how to fund your goals. Once you settle on a list of goals you’ll need to figure out how to fund them. This is where information in the net worth and cash flow homework come in. Maybe you already have a chunk of change set aside. Maybe you need to cut back on other expenses in order to fund your goal. The point is you’ll never meet your objective if you don’t define it and then figure out how to achieve it.
Set a date on your calendar and review this information at least once a year. It’ll ensure that you remain on the same page. It’ll help you see what you are worth, what you wish to attain and how close you are to reaching your goals.
Money can elicit a whirlwind of emotions and I find that following these steps helps us talk openly and honestly without getting upset with one another. As I mentioned before the key is to begin by reviewing the facts. No one can argue with the cold hard numbers and in looking at the figures you may find that they don’t add up the way you thought they would.
If you openly discuss your goals you’ll find that you are more willing to sacrifice some things to help pay for others. Hopefully as time progresses the conversations will become easier and the goals themselves will become more in sync.
The more my husband and I talk about our desires the more we find ourselves landing on the exact same page.
This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2012. For more posts about Relationships and Money see the Relationships and Money Roundup.