My husband and I just found the ten-year financial plan we made together shortly before we decided to get married. I wrote about how that plan worked out (spoiler: we were 0.4% ahead of projection), and I wrote about how making a ten-year plan helped us make the decision to get married.
What I haven’t really shared is how we did it. How do we have that kind of talk (which we do regularly) and how do we do it without fighting?
This is where even a five-minute conversation can go well or badly, based on the entire structure of your relationship.
Whether you respect each other
Whether you’re willing to humor each other and listen to an unusual pitch
Whether you actually know what a “pitch” is
What emotional pitfalls either of you are likely to fall into
Note that this is the same whether you’re having a financial conversation with a roommate, travel buddy, business partner, sibling, parent, child, best friend, random stranger, or talking squirrel. The only real reason that it would be different when talking about money with your romantic partner is that you’re more likely to be sharing accounts.
Think that through. As far as the *duration* of your relationships, you may have a roommate, colleague, or bestie in your life far longer than you’ll have a husband or wife. (Or talking squirrel, for that matter. Regular squirrels only have a lifespan of about… sixteen years?? What the…???)
The very most important part of a strategic discussion is to choose your moment.
It’s the context and the situation and the timing.
Where most people go wrong when they start learning how to pitch or negotiate is here, in the timing and choosing the optimal context. When we act out of panic, desperation, or pessimism, when we’re anxious, we tend to blurt things out at the worst possible time.
This is because
We are thinking about OURSELVES and our feelings and our guesses and our projections
The OTHER PERSON and their perspective and their needs and their likely reaction.
It’s the same with public speaking. When I am anxious, it’s because I’m thinking about myself. What will people think of me?? (who cares) I can relax when I refocus on my audience. I can crush it when I focus on… my message. Not how I look, or who’s watching, but what I am saying and how important that is.
When I believe that my message is valuable, then I increase my motivation to share it.
LOOK OUT! .. is a very important message, as is FIRE! Obviously people need to know if they’re in the path of chaos or if something is on fire. We should never hesitate to call out if we have that information and other people don’t.
Honestly, talking about money with people who are close to us can often be much more important to their long-term survival than open flames or a runaway shopping cart.
We avoid these conversations when we are afraid of conflict, and we are afraid of conflict in a lot of avoidable situations. We’re afraid when we don’t know how the other person will react… yet the only way to get to know this person’s reactions is to get to know them better. That happens through open communication.
We’re also afraid when we’re insecure in our position or when we have something to hide. Yet open and honest communication destroys the reason to hide anything.
We can only find that security in our position by thinking strategically about it, figuring out many approaches to solve our problems and create our desired results.
What we are trying to accomplish when we talk about money is a mutually satisfactory result.
In the case of bad roommates, the result might be “how do we both move out without owing extra money?” In the case of siblings, the result might be “how do we take care of our parents without them having to move in with any of us?” In the case of romantic partners, it should start with “how do we have rational discussions about this so we don’t have to give all our money to a divorce lawyer?”
I’m not even kidding about that. I’m a divorced woman married to a divorced man. Our entire friendship started over lunchtime conversations about our divorces and the cannonball-sized holes they blew through our finances.
The first thing a strategic thinker asks is, How do I mitigate my risk?
That means, what are the obvious pitfalls? Where am I going to get myself into trouble? What do I need to avoid in order for this to work out?
When we’re first reaching out and entering negotiations with someone, about anything but most especially about money, we want to avoid alienating our discussion partner. If we’re going to trust each other in any kind of contractual situation (marriage, lease, mortgage, creation of entire new human), then we have to have a basis for ongoing communication.
That’s also true after a painful, explosive divorce, by the way. Just because you hate each other and never want to see each other again does not excuse either of you from having to fill out financial forms together. If you have kids, then you’re involved in each other’s tax planning for years.
It’s a lot easier to talk about money with someone we like and want to spend time with!
Remember that and try to keep it that way. Give what you wish to receive. Listen attentively and with courtesy and consideration. That is literally the only way that you can earn reciprocal respect.
One little trick that I use is to avoid the word “you” as much as possible when speaking to someone. I try to only use the word “you” when followed by a complimentary observation, such as “you got Exceeds Expectations on your performance review.” There is something inherently accusatory about saying “you” to someone that tends to make people tense up.
What you want to do is to choose your moment carefully. You want to make it low-stakes. Make it easy to agree with you. Start with an easy win.
Be willing to go first. Start with an offer. If you don’t know the person very well, engage with curiosity about something that they would like. What’s important to them? What are their values? Hopefully you already know at least a few things about the values of your spouse, if you’ve already married this person.
As an example, I had some roommates in a big, drafty house. Someone gave them a smart thermostat after upgrading theirs, and none of us really knew how to install it, so it sat on a table for a few months. I knew it would save us money to hook it up. As the child of an airplane mechanic, I believed I could either figure it out, or make a phone call and get some guidance. My pitch was basically, Do you want to try to install that thermostat together? Low stakes, non-accusatory, mutually beneficial outcome. As it turned out, it took five minutes, worked right away, we all cried out in joy and threw our arms in the air, and it saved us hundreds of dollars over the next few months.
Every time you pitch something that is a mutual win, you build trust and rapport. This can quickly build to outright enthusiasm, such that when you say, I have an idea, everyone’s head swivels in your direction. Yes please! More ideas please!
Another important aspect of negotiation is to think through your position before you start talking. You have to know what you want. If your position is, I wish to abdicate and convince someone else to shoulder my responsibilities, then I sincerely hope you’ve spent some time choosing your target.
My starting position was, I am on track and I am a total accountability person. I will share my financial statements and the fundamentals of my strategy. We can make plans together as long as you are willing to be as open as I am.
This is part of how we opened our first major financial planning meeting together. We had started talking *before* we started sharing accounts, before we moved in together, before our money started to mingle. We didn’t blame each other for anything, we didn’t try to throw down ultimatums about each other’s spending, and we didn’t ask each other for anything we weren’t willing to do ourselves.
We succeeded at talking out a ten-year plan, and succeeded at staying on track over those ten years, because we saw each other as equal partners. We also did it without fighting because we had no reason to be angry, hurt, or upset. We reached out to each other in friendship, in an invitation to combine forces, us against the world.
Hey honey, let’s pay off our debts together and save enough to retire, and go on vacation too!
* copy and paste that and send it to your money buddy *
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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