Actually, it's entirely possible to have fun while discussing finances with your partner. All it takes is a willingness to pull off the band-aid and look at the wound together. There's no need for blame or recriminations unless the starting positions are adversarial. If you're on the same team, there's one thing you can't afford, and that is defensiveness. You both want the same things. You want to be happy together, you want to enjoy your life, and you want to be covered at the time when life's inevitable tidal wave of hassle heads in your direction. Everything else is negotiable.
My husband and I began our friendship by discussing our finances. That was when we made the jump from colleagues and lunch buddies to real friends. I was sleeping on an air mattress when we met, and he was fresh out of a divorce with a hot raw custody battle. A couple years down the road, when we started having romantic feelings for each other, they began on a bedrock of trust and respect. We've always been able to discuss money openly, in a professional and businesslike manner. Money is just money. It's like game tokens. We had a much tougher time admitting we like-liked each other.
Our roles are divided. He plays offense, I play defense. His strategy has always been to earn more, and mine has always been to save more. I've been known to physically break into hives after spending money on something that was out of my comfort zone, or accidentally taking out my emergency credit card instead of my debit card. He's of the opinion that it's silly to spend time worrying about pocket change, when the value of an hour of his time is so much higher. Better to spend time learning more job skills than clipping coupons. A fair chunk of his disposable income goes to textbooks, which he reads cover to cover. It works, too; his income is now about what our collective income was when we met. It's easy to see why I tend to be the one more interested in micro-managing our expenses or researching new personal finance trends.
Then we went to a personal finance seminar, and everything changed. One engineer to another. We learned about Mr. Money Mustache, and how he became financially independent at thirty. In the past week, there has been much lamentation about If Only Someone Had Shown Me That Spreadsheet When I Was Twenty. Now we have an FI spreadsheet of our own! (Courtesy of the Mad Fientist. Then we had the great delight of listening to him interview MMM on his podcast. Almost too much awesome to handle!)
The difference between financial independence and retirement is one of nuance. Financial independence means you have enough money invested to live off the interest for the rest of your life. Most FI people choose to continue to work because they like working, and it's more interesting than sitting around. Retirement tends to imply that you're dedicating the rest of your life to hedonism, such as sitting in a recliner in front of a television, or playing golf every day. Someone who is sixty and has been working for decades at an unfulfilling job may adore that idea. For a younger person who has a cool job, it sounds boring at best and dreadful at worst. Retirement feels like escaping pain, while financial independence feels like pursuing awesomeness.
My career track has given me many gifts, such as the ability to listen to people condescend to me while maintaining a placid smile on my face. Also: data entry, typing, and dictation. We sat side by side and took turns looking up the balances in our various accounts. It turned out that we had a small savings account we'd forgotten about, an investment account with one penny in it, and a credit card we never use. Now, he's over there counting coins and separating the euros from the yuan. We both tend to hide cash stashes here and there, and consolidating them is an exercise in hilarity. Subcategory: Underwear Money. I joked about keeping money in the dog's doggie-bag pouch, and then we both thought it might be a good idea.
Humor is definitely a key to our financial harmony. We also both like flipping the bird at the big banks. Debt-free because "forget you!" It also helps that we build our leisure time around things that don't cost money. Our main hobbies are playing with our pets, napping, side hustles, sending each other emoji-glyphics, and reading the news. We save money because we're both savers by nature, and also because we'd rather blow it on epic travel adventures than dribble it away on junk food, cable TV, and other wallpaper background expenses. Iceland or reality TV? Morocco or taco chips? That's not even a question.
Single people can make all the financial spreadsheets they want, and nobody else has to know or care. It does tend to be a signifier of frugality and maturity. The older you get in the dating market, the more your financial position factors in. When you're twenty, you can afford not to care how poor your sweetie is. When you're forty or older, you have to ask whether you have enough saved for two retirements plus someone else's debt elimination plan. When my boyfriend (now husband) proposed sitting down one evening and comparing retirement plans, little cartoon hearts popped out all around my head and torso, setting me up to accept his marriage proposal a few months later. "Financial spreadsheets together, for reals?" Cupid shot me with a slide rule.
If you show me your PowerPoint, I’ll show you my spread sheets. Word.
When you're part of a couple (or more, I guess), usually one person has to take the initiative. If you independently come up with the same idea and suggest it simultaneously, this is an extremely good sign that you're on the same wavelength. High five. It's more likely that one of you is naturally more cautious and meticulous, and that you'll have to sell your honeymuffin on the concept. I'd venture that the best way to do this is to do all the tracking and research on your own side first. The next thing is to keep it friendly, funny, and approachable. Gamify it. Have incentives. Offer to do all the nitpicky data entry yourself. If your impulse is to cut back on expenses, it will most likely feel like "deprivation" to the other party, so it's better to offer fun substitutes for those activities or expenses. Trade shoulder massages instead of going to every new release movie. Have a tapas night instead of going out for sushi, or learn to make your own sushi at home. Finger-wagging and lectures are not going to fly. Make a pinboard of photos of your savings goals, such as the house, the vacation, or the inflatable dinosaur suit you always wanted.
We've been holding a Status Meeting at breakfast every Saturday morning all year, and we love it. Now that we've set up the financial independence spreadsheet, it has instantly become an agenda item. We used to discuss many of these numbers, but now they're in a more detailed, more accessible format. The only thing missing is a chart of our progress from month to month, and that will probably happen, because we have the spreadsheet skills to set it up.
Money is just money. It's a simple metric to track, though. It's easier to "put a number" on an actual number than it is to rate your job satisfaction or life fulfillment. The more fulfilled you feel in your daily life, the easier it is to separate that feeling of contentment from the act of spending and purchasing stuff all the time. We're buying freedom and options in life.