Money and Your Honey: How to Schedule Personal Finance Dates
7 tips for holding constructive conversations during the pandemic
There's something romantic about hearing Elvis Presley croon: "Wise men say only fools rush in, but I can't help falling in love with you" that makes Cliff, my husband of more than 28 years, and me grin. We might even begin to dance. It's "our song."
It's also that tune I tee up in my head when we're having a talk about money issues and I feel the anxiety start to ratchet up.
Valentine's Day is always a particularly apt day to start shining a spotlight on your financial pledge to your partner.
Why am I telling you this corny piece of personal trivia? Because Valentine's Day just passed and it's always a good opportunity for a "money date" with your spouse or partner if you have one — followed by subsequent money dates monthly.
Sappy and sweet it's not, but stay with me. Money is at the heart of a solid partnership. It's the ingredient that allows you to build a successful and fun life together — from a home to travel adventures to raising a family or even a pet.
But, of course, it's also the hot button issue that can trigger anger over debts accrued, resentment of spending choices, misunderstanding of values and distrust over hidden accounts or expenditures.
Money, Couples and the Pandemic
Money matters are especially front and center during the pandemic, making the usefulness of money dates even greater.
Incomes may have plummeted due to a layoff or reduced hours or clients stepping back. Your household budget may have changed dramatically with more time spent at home — perhaps new expenses or additional savings due to the lack of a commute and traveling. And if you're a small business operator, you have had to pivot to navigate the shifting economy, meaning your finances may have pivoted, too.
Your retirement accounts may have soared and sunk and soared again, too, heightening your investment risk. So, this may be a good time to talk with your honey about moving some money into bank accounts for peace of mind; that topic was one dinner discussion Cliff and I had during a recent money date.
We're not alone. In a new survey from UBS Global Wealth Management USA, 68% of the women said they've been discussing finances more with their partners as a result of COVID-19.
I routinely advise couples to hold regular money conversations to talk about their finances together. Sometimes, these talks are about future dreams or past mistakes; other times, they're for problem solving or to discuss upcoming big-ticket purchases.
Valentine's Day is always a particularly apt day to start shining a spotlight on your financial pledge to your partner. And then dedicating one meal a month to talk finances. This turns down the heat on matters you both need to deal with. It also keeps financial problems from festering and getting worse.
Even if you can't go to a nice restaurant for these money dates due to COVID-19, you can order in food from one. (And agree to do the dishes together.) For advice on how to navigate these money dates, I reached out Stephanie McCullough, founder and chief executive of Berwyn, Pa.-based Sofia Financial. She specializes in financial planning for women.
7 Money-Date Tips for Couples
Here are her five suggestions followed by two from me:
Make the reservation. "Money touches all the most important parts of our lives," McCullough says. "It's security, career, family, relationships, feelings of self-worth. Of course, it's emotional! Having a pre-scheduled time to discuss money can help diffuse that emotion."
When it's a scheduled conversation, instead of coming up out of the blue, your partner is less likely to feel attacked or on the defensive, McCullough notes.
She talks from personal experience. "I can recall several times I've been super tired after a long day, and I'm cleaning the kitchen and looking forward to curling up with my book for a few stolen moments, when my husband asks a financial question that feels super urgent to him in that moment," says McCullough, "Because I'm the lead on money stuff in my household, and because of whatever my own issues and emotional baggage are, I am immediately on the defensive and feeling stressed. It doesn't go well!"
Keep a menu of topics for your conversation. When something comes up that triggers your financial anxiety, if it's not urgent, "put it on your mental or written list of topics to cover at the money date," McCullough says.
"By then, you may be feeling more logical and compassionate and able to see both sides. Behavioral science tells us that when we're in a state of heightened emotion, our logical reasoning brain actually doesn't function as well."
Share your money memories. When you reveal something deeply personal about how your parents dealt with money, other childhood reminiscences of the role spending, saving and debt played in your family or even stumbles from your pre-partner life, it helps your Number One understand what underlies how you deal with personal finances today.
This kind of mutual sharing has helped Cliff understand my approach and vice versa.
"Money is a frequent source of strife in relationships, often because we each bring our own beliefs, filters and scripts, most of them unconscious," McCullough says. "One way to use some of your money date time is to share these intimate money stories, what messages you picked up along the way and how you think they influence your current thoughts, feelings and behavior. A little self-awareness around finances is amazingly helpful. We can start to identify our own patterns."
Don't forget dessert. These conversations needn't be dedicated solely to digging into the nitty-gritty, eat your vegetables fare.
"I would suggest you spend time together envisioning your future — where and how you want to live, what you want to do," McCullough says. "Ideally you get really detailed about it. And know that it's totally OK to be guessing! Your plans may change in a couple years or even next month."
Oh, and remember to laugh. Sure, this is serious stuff, but don't let your meal get consumed by it.
Design your menu together. As anyone who has pledged to start a diet or begin an exercise regimen knows, it's key to have someone who will keep you accountable on the days when it's challenging. That's why monthly money dates can keep you motivated to reach your goals, whether that's having less money angst or planning an eventual dream vacation to St. Bart's.
"Once you've got some clear future vision, you can help keep each other on track to reaching those goals," McCullough says.
Now, two more tips from me.
Be honest if the pandemic is changing your taste for risk. You or your spouse or partner may be feeling less comfortable about the stock market than a few years ago. That's OK. Just explain it and come up with a plan to deal with it.
Curate your menu. Keep it simple. Pick one or two top-of-mind items. Perhaps something that's time sensitive or that has been nagging at you. Listen more than you talk. It's fine to repeat back comments you heard so you're clear you understood them in the spirit they were delivered.
Oh, and remember to laugh. Sure, this is serious stuff, but don't let your meal get consumed by it. If money dates are acrimonious, they won't be sustainable. No one wants to sign up for something unpleasant.
Enjoy your meal and your honey and think of Elvis singing: "Take my hand. Take my whole life too. For I can't help falling in love with you."