Love and money: how to create healthy financial habits with a partner
- Financial discussions with the people we love can be emotional
- Investment goals help to focus the conversation
- A neutral third party, such as a financial advisor, can help keep the conversations in check
Discussions around money have always been a tough topic for couples. When you add the crushing weight of a pandemic and the fact that, according to the National Women's Law Center, 100% of the jobs lost in December 2020 were held by women—disproportionally Black and Latinx women—it’s no wonder couples and families are feeling financially stressed. However, during times of uncertainty, there is a golden opportunity to pause and reflect on the changes we can make to secure a better future.
“There is a lot of potential shame surrounding the subject of money”, says Jeff Kreisler, Head of Behavioral Science at JPMorgan Chase. “Our decisions are all guided by hidden emotional biases which can cloud our judgment.”
Someone who understands these delicate matters is Eve Rodsky, author of Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (And More Life to Live). Rodsky surveyed 500 couples across different socioeconomic backgrounds to help them find “domestic rebalance” by developing a series of 100 household tasks in the form of playing cards with the idea that couples divide them fairly, though not necessarily equally. Many of the financial tasks such as Money Manager, Cash and Bills, Planning and Life Insurance can have an emotional component or, as Rodsky puts it, act as “triggers” for a larger underlying issue.
One’s past experiences or different viewpoints can lead to misunderstandings between partners: “I had a client whose spouse was upset about the multiple charges on their credit card statement for high-end coffee,” says Rodsky. “Once she explained to him that she was struggling emotionally during the pandemic, and the coffee was cheaper than therapy, he suddenly understood.”
While we know money is emotional, especially during a recession, having realistic goals for the short and long-term can help. But what if you and your partner have different goals? One may want to save more for children’s education, while another may be focused on retiring early or providing for loved ones by gifting assets.
When emotion is high, cognition is low
How do you work out these differences? Turns out, a 10-minute weekly check-in can go a long way: “When emotion is high, cognition is low,” says Rodsky. “Ritualizing communication can be done in three easy steps: Starting with your ‘why,’ as to the meaning behind the financial decision; creating the important practice of communication; and looking at your own vulnerability.”
In addition to a weekly check-in with your partner (Rodsky and her husband schedule “money dates” over tacos), you may want to neutralize emotional hurdles with a neutral party, such as a financial advisor who can help guide the conversation so that decisions are being made together, not separately. “The financial advisor is the third party in your two-player game,” says Rodsky, referencing her fair play card system. “Sometimes your financial advisor is more important than your therapist.”
Studies show during times of uncertainty people are hardwired to speculate, testing out ideas. This may cause them to act in a way inconsistent with long-term investment goals. This could also lead to what Rodsky calls “going rogue,” which is when one partner makes a substantial or impactful financial decision without letting the other person know, such as investing all one’s savings in one explosive stock.
For those without a significant other, a financial advisor can help you figure out your “why,” create healthy money habits, neutralize emotional talk around money and attain savings goals. We’re all in this together, after all.