Couples disagree about a lot of things. What movie to watch, who to spend Christmas with, and even where to go on holidays.
When you think about it, our individual histories lead us to have different views, parenting styles and even values – and so we are bound to clash at some point. Of course, as adults, we know that communication is the key to overcoming this, and quite often, compromise.
As a financial planner who often consults with couples, I find this is just as important when it comes to how we talk about and manage our money.
Quite often I find myself as a mediator between two very different views on money
I remember when my husband and I first moved in together, we decided to do a budget to understand what is involved. We have different ways of thinking about money – he’s very detail-oriented and a stickler for 100 per cent accuracy, while I’m the more big-picture, strategy-focused “let’s round up to the next dollar” person.
As planners, it’s essential we take our clients’ ‘stories’ into account when providing advice, if advice is really tailored – we should consider the dynamic of the couple’s relationship and family goals, yes, but our advice also needs to be personal to each individual.
One of the big disagreements I’ve encountered with clients is spending – or more accurately, where spending should taper, so savings can be made.
What's important to one person, might not be considered essential to the partner
In our house, it’s clothes and food shopping. I recently shared this with my mum because we both knew why: we did not have a lot of money growing up.
And that’s why it’s important to really understand the “why”. To truly understand our clients’ money values, it’s important to know what their spending habits are, but it’s even more important to understand why they do things that way – only then should we focus on how to improve and plan ahead.
Help clients set clear and measurable goals
In my own example above, it wasn’t important for me to cut back on grocery shopping until we bought our current family home. With a much bigger mortgage, we both could agree on the goal: reduce the mortgage ASAP. All available funds are directed to this.
Your client’s goal might be an epic family trip or putting kids through your chosen school.
Whatever their goals are, get both clients to agree on them – this can be harder than you think when their money values don’t match up.
But, once they have goals, encourage them to write them down and put it somewhere visible. This might be a picture on the fridge, or a little post-it-note in their bedroom, but somewhere visual to be reminded of it. This makes it easier when disagreements arise, as you can just refer back to the goal.
We often ask our clients if they’ve done a budget or give them tools to do this. This is often a difficult and time-consuming step for clients, unless you guide them to one of the many tools available in the market.
These include using some of the in-built cash flow tools most banks offer, to help categorise expenses and income. In our practice, we’ve started using My Prosperity to help clients with their cash flow and budgeting exercise and find it’s useful to track spending and savings.
Whichever works for your practice, knowing a client’s ‘surplus’ or savings is critical, so that we can direct it towards those goals.
Joint bank accounts - yay or nay?
In our house, we were both comfortable with joint accounts from the start, but I have many friends and clients who are not. They prefer a joint account for family expenses, into which each person pays a set amount each month – the rest is theirs to spend.
There is no right or wrong answer here but there is one key element: the method you both choose has to work for both parties, and if it doesn’t, change it. There is more than one way to manage your money so that both parties are comfortable, they meet expenses and can focus on those other goals.
I have encountered situations where one person is quiet and reserved in meetings, and the other more dominant.
Often, I have asked myself if that’s just their personality, or if there is a real problem there. I believe as financial planners it’s our duty to ask ourselves these questions.
If money is ever used as a threat or a means to punish or control, that’s a form of abuse, plain and simple, and we are in a position to assist and empower in situations like these. All planners should take this role seriously, and not only accept the responsibility that brings, but ensure they are trained enough to handle it appropriately.
Sometimes it just takes a qualified third person, like a certified financial planner professional, to help clients navigate their cash-flow discussion. A fresh pair of eyes on the issues at hand can make all the difference, especially when emotions are high.
By helping couples agree on their shared values you can more easily ground conversations and stop seemingly ‘small things’ from snowballing into bigger relationship issues. With a values-based plan you can help couples tackle any challenges together, as a family.
Antoinette Mullins is a certified financial planner at Wealth Creation Advisors.