In my post about how couples can combine their finances, I ended by stating that if there was any wrong answer on the many ways that such commingling was possible, it was to not talk about your strategy.
If two people are working in opposite directions, they are going to get nowhere. If one person spends profligately while the other is watching their pennies, this will breed resentment on both sides. One person will feel controlled, and the other will feel disrespected. None of this is a recipe for success.
But as much as the practical mechanics need to be worked out at some point, arguably, that may not be the most important conversation that needs to be had. Instead, I believe that couples need to come together first and talk, not about money, but about dreams.
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Yes, dreams. This is because any discussion that involves finances really contains a mix of both present and future. It’s not just about what you do today. Presumably, unless your couplehood has a predefined end-date, you’d like for it to continue, right? Maybe deep into the future. And what you do today affects what happens tomorrow. And more to the point, the outcomes of tomorrow are created today.
There is a tension between what you do today and what happens tomorrow. Do you go to Hawaii, or do you pay down your student loans? Buy a home now or save up for later? The future can appear ephemeral when compared to what is possible today.
$100 a month difference
I firmly believe that you don’t want to forget about fun, but only up to a point. After all, how much could your future life improve by some small changes today?
My favorite example of this is the “$100 a month difference”. Imagine saving $100 a month. That is a bit over $3/day, or about 20 Starbucks drinks. A real caffeine hit, to be sure, but what could happen?
If you were to save and invest $100 a month over the course of your working life (40 years) you would have a minimum of $150,000 at 5% return, and at 12% (which you don’t want to expect, though you could get it) you could be over the $1,000,000 mark. Yes, million.
What could you do with that, together? Moreover, showing that kind of shared sacrifice and discipline together, is there anything you couldn’t accomplish together?
Back to dreams
What do you dream of your future together being? What does it look like? Where do you want to be?
These are questions that need to be asked. It might be a scary and vulnerable conversation in places, but that’s probably a good thing. And if you’ve already made a commitment of some sort, wouldn’t you want to know? To develop a sense of shared purpose, to know that things are more than just “we like each other”?
Once you’ve dreamed together for a while, work backward from there. What will you need to do to get there? How badly do you want it?
Now, at no point did I say that this is easy. But I honestly think that it’s easier to talk about dreams than it is to talk about the day-to-day habits of spending and saving money. Once you have your goals and dreams in place together, it’s easier to have an “eyes on the prize” mentality, so you know why you may make sacrifices now for greater rewards later.
With the right attitude, and the right partner, talking about—and commingling—finances can be the best thing to happen to your relationship. Not intrinsically, of course, but because it can help you get on the same page. And by working together, you will be unstoppable.