Financial self-awareness, receptiveness, and understanding play an extensive role in setting the stage to make financial intimacy a possibility for your marriage. In addition to the knowing, there must be the “doing.” Financial intimacy is both a goal and a journey. The only way to attend to growing your financial intimacy in your marriage is through action. Here are the systems, structures, and tools needed to make financial intimacy happen.
Create a System to Centralize All of Your Family’s Bills
While this step may seem like a no-brainer, it is crucial. One of the reasons that our bills go unpaid and financial infidelity occurs is simply because we forget about them and begin a cycle of deceit when the consequences start to hit the fan.
To jumpstart this process, elect a shoebox or folder where you will drop your weekly snail mail bills. This will be a temporary system, which should be replaced with something more comprehensive like Excel, Quick Books, or Quicken Books, or any the online tool you choose.
Keep this ad hoc filing system close to where you drop your mail when you get home. If you get your bills online, create a virtual folder called “bills” and within that folder, create sub-folders for categories like insurance, phone, or rent.
Schedule and Honor Money Meetings
We all know about date night, right? We all love it. We look forward to it. But just imagine if your spouse forgets about date night, cancels at the last minute, or comes unprepared, looking a hot mess, ignoring you and scrolling through his/her phone over dinner or while you are at an event. Needless to say, there’s going to be a problem. It is going to be like when Biggie Smalls said: “There’s gonna be a lot of slow singing and bell ringing…”
But seriously, you will not be happy. You may feel angry, hurt, and disappointed, and begin to believe that your partner does not care about you or your feelings. The same thing goes for honoring your commitment to “romancing” your financial intimacy. Schedule your meetings monthly, biweekly or as needed, have agenda items to be discussed, assign responsibilities, and be present and engaged in the discussion, and honor that time for you to work on your shared dreams and goals.
Set Goals, Monitor, and Revise
Together, you both have to get on the same page as to where you want to be with respect to emergency funds, homeownership, creating and updating wills, tithing, salary goals, investing, debt elimination, having and funding children, and lifestyle. Instead of creating broad goals around each area, use SMART goals, which stand for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
If you both have $50,000 worth of student loans combined, it may be unrealistic (and discouraging) to set a goal of eliminating all of this debt in one year especially if you have competing financial priorities like mortgages, rent, car payments, and the like. A SMART goal would read like this, “By December 2018, we will eliminate $2,000 of student loan debt by doubling the minimum payment of our student loans each month.” Between the start and end date of your goals, administer checkpoints to monitor the progress of that goal.
If you both know that you have difficulty paying your debt on time and consistently, speak with your bank representatives to set up monthly recurring payments to the institutions to which you owe money. This is especially true for bills that you hate to pay. This structure takes some pressure off of you and your spouse because payments are automatically withdrawn from either your checking or savings accounts. With automation, though, it is still important that you are regularly checking and reviewing your accounts to make sure payment amounts and dates are accurate.
Celebrate Financial Milestones
With all of the hard work that you are doing to build your financial vision and grow your financial intimacy, you must find ways to play hard as well. Be strategic about what you celebrate, when you celebrate, how you celebrate your financial milestones or successes. Do you want to celebrate when one credit card is fully paid off, when half of the mortgage is paid, when one of you receives a promotion, after a graduation, or once you close on a home? Similarly, “celebration” takes on different forms: a quiet bath together, a movie, a trip to Vegas, or a big sloppy kiss.
Monitor Your Language and Be Generous
No one said that having money conversations would be easy, especially if you married your financial opposite (you are a spender, your spouse is a saver or vice versa). That does not mean, however, that you have a license to throw daggers or intentionally hurt your partner when you are having a financial disagreement.
When you find that you have reached a financial impasse, try to find something positive to say about your spouse’s spending habits or financial decisions. For example, if you think that your wife is financially anal because she has kept every ATM receipt since the summer of ’99, put a spin on it: my wife is detail-oriented and an excellent data manager and that keeps our family finances on track.
On the other hand, if you think that your husband has spent more than he should have on cologne, you can praise him for having good taste, taking care of himself and you can be inspired to pay more attention to putting yourself together.
Know When to Ask For Help
If you can’t be productive or find something redeeming to say to your partner in the middle of a disagreement (because sometimes it is a stretch), the best thing is to step away and table the conversation for another time, when you both are cool and levelheaded.
You may need to bring in a qualified third party to support the two of you engage in meaningful dialogue around money. I say qualified meaning bringing your mama, Madea and ‘em, or your boy Shawn from up the block into the mix may make the situation worse. Ask for referrals for Certified Financial Planners, personal finance coaches at work, within your network, and at your places of worship.
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BMWK, are you ready to improve the financial intimacy in your marriage?