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  • Writer's pictureThe Family Money Coach

Family Plc – Budget meetings that bring the whole family together

I don’t know about you, but I’ve pretty much lost count of the number of times that a money blogger, personal finance “expert” or even a regulated financial planner has told me that the best way to ensure couples are on the same page about money is to have money “date nights”.

I find this suggestion annoying, and in fact, I kind of think it’s insulting to boot. It implies, however well-meaningly, that the reason few couples discuss their finances is because money isn’t romantic – because it’s functional – and so we avoid it as much as is possible.

But quite plainly, that’s not true. We don’t avoid talking money because it’s functional – the vast majority of my clients are parents – so the vast majority of conversations that they have ARE functional. I haven’t sat down with my husband and had a conversation that doesn’t include at least one “we need to..” or “we have to remember that…” in the last 2 years. Functional conversations are how 90% of most families communicate – in the spirit of speed, efficiency and actually getting stuff done.

The real reason that couples avoid talking about money is because it IS emotional – so I don’t see how attempting to make the occasion even more “emotion-filled” by calling it a “date” is helpful. What happens in most couples when we discuss money?

We end up arguing. We end up disagreeing about who spent what, why they did and why one of us disagreeing with it is “only natural”. We end up having those arguments because, for many people, an element of our self-worth, a core part of the value that we attribute to ourselves is tied up, messily, in the invisible pound sign price tag we put over our heads.

Society at large encourages us to do this, too. We congratulate those with high salaries, we look down upon and criticise stay at home parents. We don’t place value in work that doesn’t come with a wage, unless that volunteer is also independently wealthy (and not a drain on the “state”).

Even the way we spend our money is aspirational – we are encouraged to always aim for better – to not “settle” for what we can afford (just consider the sheer number of finance and contract hire agreements you can get for nearly everything, and you’ll see what I mean).

So is it any wonder that when we finally do decide to sit down, look at what’s coming in, what’s going out and what’s leftover, the conversation very quickly goes downhill into an argument less about value, but about our VALUES?

I don’t think that discussing our money should mean that we end up in a cat and dog fight about whether what one person spends aligns with the others values – and so to eradicate this, I recommend to my clients that they treat their family like a company – Family Plc.

If you watch my Instagram videos on a Wednesday, you’ll already have a little insight to Family Plc – but this blog will “concrete” the idea in your mind.

The purpose of a company board is simple really – it’s to ensure that the company stays true to its mission, that its activities align with the core values and that the culture of the business is welcoming, nurturing and interested in its staff.

Those are all elements that we want in our family too. Every family has a “mission” – some version of life that you would like to achieve and provide for your family members – even if that simply means “being comfortable”. We all have “values” too – things that matter to us and that we want to uphold and pass on to our children – be that the importance of giving to charity, of religion, of openness and honesty, of hard work or entrepreneurship.

And at its heart, every family cares about its culture – about nourishing and nurturing other family members (and if you don’t, you’re possibly in the wrong family…)

So whilst at first glance it might seem like a crazy wild idea to suggest you should treat your family like a company – you’ve actually got a lot in common with one. But how exactly do we go about applying those similarities to our family finances?

The other key detail about a company board is that everyone that sits on it has a specific role – a reason that THEY are on the board – a specific value or skill set that their presence brings.

Having a board where everyone respects the value that each member brings means that even when they disagree about “how” to make something happen, that disagreement doesn’t dissolve into personal or petty insults – because the person is inherently separate from their action, and from their suggestion – so the “board” can acknowledge (and dismiss) a suggestion from any board member without also implying that member is stupid, their contribution invalid, or that they shouldn’t have had a say in the first place.

It’s important to think of your family like a company board when both parents are employed outside of the home – because this “allegory” reminds us regularly to respect the value of everyone’s contribution – but it’s even more important in families where one parent has a full-time job in the home.

Being a one-income family can make having money discussions doubly difficult, because it’s easy to slip into the narrative that the person bringing in the salary is more “deserving” of dictating how that money is spent – because it is “their” money.

In my coaching practice I’m not shy about calling time on that narrative. It’s outdated, it’s undermining to the hard work of stay-at-home parents, but it’s also WRONG.

When you are a family, you have family “goals”. I have never yet come across a family group where their ultimate aims in life didn’t involve each other. I’m probably very unlikely too, too. Most husbands and wives are not going to sit honestly and say “I envision my retirement as completely separate from this person – I’m only with them to raise the kids/afford a bigger mortgage/have someone to go on holiday with”. You don’t tend to start a family unless you “intend” to spend the rest of your days linked to someone – so it’s very likely that your overall goals and desires include them too.

If you do have family goals, you’re already 95% of the way to having “family finances” too. Now I have some clients who proudly (and consistently) maintain separate bank accounts, even where one parent is not in paid employment, and that’s totally fine. Because it doesn’t affect the idea of having “family finances” at all.

It’s not about where you hold the money – it’s not about who brings the money in, who spends it and on what – it’s about recognising the money for what it is – which is simply your pot of “resource” with which you are able to achieve your “family goals”.

To return briefly to our idea of a company board – the beauty of this idea is that the company board doesn’t focus on where their funds came from – which member brought in the most new business or won a grant for development doesn’t really matter – the focus is on how the company, as a whole, can use their annual “resources” to further their mission, to achieve their goals that align with the company values, and to improve the culture.

That guiding principle should be at the heart of your family too – at the crux of the mission of Family Plc. Yes, you could focus on who brought in the money to the family, you could spend your time going through the bank account statements asking your spouse whether they really needed to spend so much at the supermarket or buy a coffee from Costa after the school run – but in the grand scheme of things, those questions won’t get you closer to achieving your family goals.

Your focus as a family is on using the money that you have to live the life that you want as a family – and that means that you have to pull together – not apart.

The next time that you think you really need to look at your budget, I want you to try out having a company “board meeting” instead – and see if it makes a difference to the way that you approach discussing how to use your family finances.

And that way, you can keep date nights as date nights - without any budgeting required (aside from how much to spend on the wine with dinner, that is...)

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