My daughter got married last summer and it’s been quite interesting to watch the newlyweds figure out how they want to manage their money as a couple. They’ve arrived at a method that is working well for them but the process was a bit bumpy. After some heartfelt conversations it became clear that they had different ideas about money and how to handle it. They were raised with different money values and have families that handle money differently, neither right nor wrong, but different. They weren’t able to get to the actual topic of how to manage their money without understanding what money means to them, what it symbolizes, and what struggles and accomplishments are tied to money.
Finding ways to talk about money as a couple in an open, comfortable and non-judgemental environment is the first step in learning how to manage it together.
Discussing money with your partner can be difficult because of the deep-seated emotions it tends to evoke. What money means to each of us is attached to our feelings and therefore goes where we go, including into our relationships. When two people have two different ideas of money, problems tend to pop up. Fortunately, these can be minimized by addressing them up front, before you’ve started sharing finances. Oftentimes, these ideas about money are heavily influenced by how you were raised, so let’s start by taking a look into your family history with money.
It’s enlightening to understand how you and your partner’s feelings about money were formed. For example, my parents never bought a brand new car. They couldn’t afford it and my dad worked on cars so buying a used car was actually fun for him. Once I was on my own, I couldn’t imagine buying a brand new vehicle! I married someone who grew up with quite a bit more money and parents who always purchased new cars so he thought that was the way to go. Needless to say, we had a huge gap in our approach to purchasing vehicles and it took some time, and a lot of discussion, to find a middle ground that worked for us.
Learning about your family money history will help your partner better understand your triggers, insecurities and behaviors related to money, and you will better understand theirs. Families tend to operate within their own microcultures, and money is a big part of that. How your family lived with money, what it meant in your family, how they did or didn’t talk about money, how it was valued and how much there was most likely influenced your feelings about money. I’m a family history/genealogy buff so I call this “Money Genealogy.”
What’s in your and your partner’s money genealogy? How did your respective recent ancestors live, how much did they have, and all those interesting topics are part of your research. So you see, these aren’t really problem solving conversations at all, but fact finding and sharing stories about each other’s financial history. You can view yourselves as the Indiana Jones/Nancy Drew of finance!
Here are some questions to guide the storytelling. You don’t have to cover them all! One story will dovetail into another and after a few discussions, you’ll both be amazed at how much more you understand about each other. Learning about family money history and emotions tied into money will enable you both to be more empathetic when money management topics come up.
- Was your family affluent, middle income, or financially challenged?
- Are you, or were your parents or grandparents immigrants?
- Did your grandparents give you gifts of money?
- If you went to college/trade school/etc., did your family help pay for it?
- Did your parents stress about money?
- Did your parents teach you about investing?
- Did you invest as a child?
- Were your parents entrepreneurs?
- Did your family go through bankruptcy or foreclosure?
- DId you have health insurance growing up?
- Did your parents talk about money in front of you as a child?
- What do you remember about money as a kid?
- What did your family do with unexpected windfalls?
- Did you have an allowance?
- Did you get paid for good grades?
- Did you work as a teen? If so, what did you do with your money?
- How much did you get from the tooth fairy, if you got it?
- Did your parents use credit cards?
- Did your parents and grandparents buy new cars?
- What age did you open your first savings account?
- What emotions do you feel when you receive a bill in the mail?
- What comes to mind when you hear the word money?
- Who paid the bills in your parents’ family?
- Did your family take vacations? What types of vacations?
- How often did your family go out to eat at restaurants?
- Did your parents fight about money?
- Are your parents retired? Do they plan on retiring?
Questions like these will help you and your significant other dive deeper into your family money history. Doing so will also enable you to be more empathetic when money management topics come up, which in turn will help both your marriage and your stress levels. No, we are not our parents or grandparents, but how they viewed and handled money has without a doubt impacted each and every one of us. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of digging, or some money genealogy, to figure out how.
One way to start out your relationship with your partner and your money life on the right foot is to involve a third party. A $19.99 a month Hey Money subscription can give you not only peace of mind, but it will help you and your partner develop a healthy relationship with money from the beginning. And if you aren’t in this position, Hey Money makes a great wedding gift for friends or family! Learn more here.