If you ask me what my least favorite topic to write, talk or counsel others about in the entire world is—I will tell you right now, it’s money.
Which is terribly inconvenient for several reasons, not the least of which being that finances are still touted as being close to, if not #1 on the list of common reasons why couples divorce.
In many ways, it makes perfect sense.
Money is a part of our daily lives. You either learn how to deal with it, or eventually it railroads you.
Although theoretically for much of the population, money should be a fairly straightforward topic. The exchange of a valued item (money, shells, a camel or two) for a good or service is practically as old as civilization. And figuring out whether you have enough money to pay for that item doesn’t change very much whether you’re using Quickbooks or an abacus.
The fact that we still haven’t really come to grips with how to manage it is both impressive (in a morbid sense) and raises the question:
Have we been trying to keep up with the Jones’ since the dawn of civilization? And more importantly, how do we keep our relationships healthy in the midst of it all?
Before I share more about this effort to keep up with those pesky Jones’, I want to take a minute to highlight some of the resources already available to the Engaged Marriage community: Married Money Management (a multi-step guide to rewriting your financial future as a couple), as well as this fantastic piece on Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps that is definitely worth checking out.
And finally, from around the web here’s a quick listing of Do’s and Don’t’s that seem pretty spot-on from an communication/therapy perspective as well.
I’ll encourage you to read all of these pieces, and to do so with 2 things:
1) An open, creative mind – not everything is going to true for you.
(Have you read the comments on the Joint-or-Separate Accounts article?!) so you’re going to have to be prepared to tweak things here and there to get them to work for you.
2) A healthy sense of humility - let go of the expectation that you need to have all the answers right now. You can’t learn anything if you’re too busy justifying how perfect your system is right now. No one’s system is perfect. Everyone can learn something.
So beyond the articles I mentioned, what can I invite you to consider regarding relationships and money? The most important concept that I’ve found—and to be honest, something that my husband does much better than I—is letting go of the “supposed to’s” that often accompany our struggle to keep pace with Jones.
Letting Go of “Supposed to…”
Tell me, do any of these ring true?
- “You’re supposed to take care of the house, you’re my wife.”
- “I have a college degree, I’m supposed to be able to find a job!”
- “You’re supposed to take a luxury vacation every year.”
- “You’re supposed to get married/have kids/finish school/buy a house by ___ age.”
- “I’m supposed to have acquired _____________ by now.”
The “supposed to” conversation is a common one in its many and varied forms. What I would like to know, however, is who is writing these rules? Who said that you had to get married by a certain age? Who said that you were supposed to have a 2 story 2,000+ sq ft house in the suburbs? Who said those things?
Now don’t mistake my message—getting married, buying a house, taking a vacation are in and of themselves good things. It’s great to have goals, and typically I tend to think that our friends and family give us advice that comes from a place of love and caring.
However, anyone can get married by 25. And as the housing market collapse, and $16,000 in credit card debt carried by the Average American illustrate, the financial powers that be are more than happy to exploit our feelings of “supposed to.”
The invention of credit has allowed folks to fake their way into luxury homes and cars on par with their personal Jones’ expectations.
But again, who is setting this standard?
Of course there’s the somewhat commonplace answers: we can look at friends, families, coworkers and celebrities—even people we genuinely dislike and want to be “better than.”
But what if – and this is a very real possibility – that your spouse is the one who keeps setting the socioeconomic benchmarks higher and higher with little or no concern for your bottom line? What if the worst financial decision you ever made was linking your bank account and your credit score to the person you love?
The truth is being irresponsible with your finances and disregarding your spouse’s financial goals in marriage can be equally as poisonous to the health of that relationship than if you slept with your financial planner.
Trust, security, and safety are foundational to a healthy relationship—ANY relationship. Wondering whether or not you’re going to be able to pay your mortgage next month while your husband rides around in a new sports car or your wife is doubling her shoe collection is not only unfair—one could make the case that it’s downright abusive!
Now of course I’m not talking about that one month where you accidentally went a teensy overboard. I’m talking about a month upon month, year upon year, failed promise to “cut back.”
To be honest, I’m really not sure how we start healing this issue as a culture. I think one place to start is recognizing where our “supposed to” traps are hidden and make conscious efforts to release them.
We need to remove the shame that some how got associated with living within our means and silence the “They” and “Jones’” that would have us think otherwise. Keeping up with the Jones’ and the endless list of “supposed to’s” is exhausting and expensive.
So what are the “supposed to’s” that you find yourself or your family struggling with? Is it having the latest technology? A new car? Taking an annual family vacation or paying for extravagant Christmas presents all on a credit card?
Better yet—what are you going to do TODAY to address it?