Welcome back to this series about working as a team with your spouse-to-be around your finances. Money is the #1 relationship stressor, and I’m here to help you make sure that in your marriage, that’s not the case.
In fact, I want to help you make finances an area that brings you closer together and helps you live a life aligned with what really matters to you.
Here’s a quick recap of where we are so far:
- I’m Adam Kol, The Couples Financial Coach. I help couples navigate sticky money situations together, whether they’re combining finances or not.
- Key #1, discussed last time, was to not go straight to the numbers, but instead talk, talk, talk! Talk about your financial values, experiences, fears, dreams, etc.
Today, we’re covering Key #2 – let’s get right to it.
Key 2: Know Your Numbers!
Money is emotional and relational, but it’s concrete, too. While even wealthy couples can be unhappy, it’s also true that all the love in the world can’t pay the rent. That’s why we need to address all aspects to get on the same page and make a plan.
The numbers to know are basically:
- Your current financial situation
- The cost of your goals, priorities, wants, and needs
Hopefully, that doesn’t sound too overwhelming. Either way, I’m about to walk you through it step by step.
The Four Essentials
The key to understanding your current finances is what I call “The Four Essentials”:
This means any money coming in – meaning you can access it – whether from salaries, commissions, gifts, self-employment earnings, etc.
For example, if your 401(k) goes up in value, that’s fantastic! However, since it’s a retirement account, that money isn’t available to spend now, so we won’t count it for now.
But if you have a side hustle and you pay yourself out of that business, then that money definitely counts!
Add up everything you earn in a year, and note the total. Then, divide it by 12 to see how much income you have each month. I strongly recommend using your actual take-home pay after any taxes and other deductions like for health insurance.
This means anything and everything you spend money on.
Start by writing out each expense you’ve had for the last 2 calendar months.
This may be a bit boring, but you need to get up close and personal with the financial choices you’re making – good, bad, and ugly. Plus, you won’t have to do this forever…unless you want to!
What if you come across an expense that only happens once a year, like an anniversary or the holidays? You should still write them all down, but you can track them separately from the regular expenses.
Especially if you have guilt or shame about your spending, this may be uncomfortable. You may even be tempted to remove too much from the “regular” expense category.
Remember first that here we’re only dealing with money that has already been spent! Resist the temptations, and lean into any discomfort to learn and grow.
This means anything you have that has value, like:
- Checking/Savings accounts
- A car
- A home
- Investment accounts
- Collectibles, etc.
Write down each item and how much it’s worth, estimating for things like a car or home where we don’t know exactly, and separate them:
- Assets that you can’t touch, i.e., a retirement account;
- Assets that are available to you right now, like a savings account; and
- Assets that you could turn into cash, like a car, home, or collectibles
This is any money you owe, basically the opposite of assets. Common examples include student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, and car loans. For each, write down:
- How much you owe;
- To whom you owe it;
- The minimum monthly payment;
- The due dates [optional]; and,
- The interest rate charged on the balance
Note that some items can be listed under both assets and debts, like a home. Say you bought a $350k home, but you now owe $300k, and it’s worth $400k. You have a debt, the mortgage, AND an asset, the house.
Some people record just one number: the difference between what the thing is worth and what you owe on it. If you end up with a positive number, then you call it an asset, and if it’s a negative number, then you list it as a debt. I prefer to write out each asset’s value and the related debt, but do whatever suits you!
Okay, who’s ready to take a breath?
This seems like a good time for a reminder that you do not have to collect all this data or have all of these conversations in one shot. I recommend setting aside 30 minutes, 1-2x per week, to get these conversations and activities rolling and go from there.
Your Financial Priorities
By now, hopefully, you’re feeling more comfortable discussing money together. If so, that’s great! If not, take a moment to reflect on why that might be, and try to work on that before continuing.
Everything until now was about sharing thoughts and finding specific information, so there wasn’t too much to argue about. But now, as we start discussing financial priorities, tension can arise, mainly if you get worried about not being compatible.
On that note, let me share an important reminder:
YOU ARE TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE WITH DIFFERENT LIFE EXPERIENCES, AND YOU WILL HAVE SOME DIFFERENCES IN YOUR FINANCIAL GOALS & PRIORITIES
Can you tell I want to normalize this idea?!
Seriously, though, it’s true. Yes, it’s essential for you two to be aligned on some key big-picture ideas, like whether to have children. But in terms of how much you value having a more-expensive wedding versus paying off debt sooner, going on vacation sooner, buying a home sooner, or investing more for retirement sooner, etc. There are going to be differences.
I see couples turn these differences into a problem, but they don’t have to be. It’s completely fine to have a mix of joint goals and individual goals, and there’s no reason to fight about it. Instead of feeling alone or unsupported by your spouse, the goal is to honor each of your preferences as best you can. That starts with considering…
Your Top Financial Goals, Wants & Needs
I’ll keep this one simple. Set aside some time individually to:
- Think about your financial goals, big and small, short-term and long-term;
- Let yourself dream about your wants, i.e., things you don’t currently have or get to do that you want to do; and
- List out any upcoming needs, i.e., getting a new air conditioner, car repairs, etc.
Then, share with each other all the different things you came up with. By the way, this is an excellent opportunity to listen for future gift ideas!
Next, research how much each of those things would cost – estimates are fine. When you’re done, share with each other whether each item is more expensive, less expensive, or about the same as you expected. Sometimes this part is full of surprises!
Finally, narrow your list of priorities to make your final choices. Start with 2-3 joint priorities and 1-2 individual priorities each (to the extent you have them) to focus on first. In Part 3, I’ll show you how to turn these priorities into a concrete plan!
For questions or support around creating financial clarity, teamwork, and peace of mind, visit my Website, check out my Programs, or email me: Adam@CouplesFinancialCoach.com
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