What could your relationship have to do with your money? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
I know, it probably doesn’t feel like it – because most of us don’t spend our downtime with our spouses talking about the budget – or if we do, it’s never sexy, it quite possibly gets a bit feisty, and no one comes out satisfied. What do we spend our “downtime” doing? Well, if you’re anything like myself and my husband, you either:
1. Spend the time doing all the stuff you haven’t managed to fit in around work (like cleaning up, paying bills, ironing)
2. Talk about what jobs you need to do when you get the chance (mow the lawn, clean the car, put mould spray on the bathroom ceiling)
3. Talk about the kids – what they need, what they did today, whether they need new shoes, a dentist appointment or which friends birthday is coming up
4. Or, you completely ignore each other, looking on your respective phones/tablets/computers while putting TV noise on in the background (which you both continue to ignore).
Of course, there is the possibility that you are in one of those couples where you do consistently talk to each other every evening – sharing all of your deepest thoughts and feelings over a glass of something; before going to bed with a mind that is completely free of any anxiety or worry. If you are that couple – very well done, please tell me how you do it (and why are you reading a communication blog?)
For the rest of us who have evenings that fit into the types I’ve described above, the very idea of talking about your family finances is simply going to be a bridge too far. You already spend all of your time talking about stuff that you HAVE to talk about to keep your lives functioning, why on earth would you choose to add money to that list?
The answer, rather counter-intuitively; is that talking about your money setup will help reduce the amount of time you spend on points 1 and 2; might help make conversations about point 3 more fun and less “administrative” and even mean that if you still choose to spend your evenings doing point 4 – you’ll be doing it out of choice, not awkward and avoidant silences.
I bet you’re thinking how exactly? Let me explain.
I wasn’t always a family money coach.
Prior to becoming pregnant in 2018, I had spent 5 years working as an investment analyst and report writer (also known as a paraplanner) for financial advisers – and my husband worked as a tax consultant for a big accountancy practice. When we found out that we were expecting a baby, we didn’t really think that much would change in our finances; and we thought the things that did change (like needing to buy things to set up a nursery and baby clothes etc) would be relatively minor changes, that as two personal finance professionals, we would have “down pat”.
What neither of us was prepared for, however, was that it wasn’t the money that we had to change and adjust – we had to adjust our whole way of communicating. The arrival of a baby didn’t upset the family budget as much as it upset the foundation of our marriage, of our RELATIONSHIP.
Once you become a parent, you are fundamentally altered – and importantly, you’ll never completely go back to how you were pre-children. The reason for that is because your priorities change – your focus shifts away from yourself and you as a couple, to your child/ren. Some couples manage this transition without too much upset to their communication – they are both able to transition seamlessly from a “me” mindset to an “us” one without losing a beat. For other couples though (this is true for myself and my husband, along with many many of my clients), that transition is a little bit tougher.
It’s tough not because we don’t want to focus on our family, but because we have to manage doing and providing “more” at a time when we have increasingly “less” – which creates strain and tension. It creates tension around our very sense of self and our identity, and that in turn, affects our relationships.
We have to give more of ourselves to our children, we spend more of our money on them, more time focusing on the family, more energy looking to other people, more headspace worrying that we are doing the right things.
In turn, we have less time to look after ourselves, less time with each other to talk about our worries and our dreams, less money due to changes in work arrangements, and potentially even less “self-worth” – especially if one partner has gone part-time or given up work completely to look after children (as, unfortunately, humans tend to tie an intrinsic part of our self-worth to our jobs and how much we earn…)
I went through this transition myself when I was a new mum. I had given up running my business because I had struggled with ill health in pregnancy, and I found it difficult to be “content” with becoming a stay at home mum. I felt guilty for having no income, for needing to spend my husband’s money to look after myself and my daughter. As it turns out, he also struggled. He struggled with no longer feeling financially “independent” – no longer having complete autonomy, and even struggled with the weight of being the main provider, in case he couldn’t provide in the way that he thought he should.
We worked with a coach ourselves – and she helped us to gradually unpick all of those unspoken elements in our respective minds, and importantly, talk openly about them. She helped us to learn that although our circumstances had changed, our relationship was, fundamentally, as strong as it always had been, and we needed to shift our mindset, before we approached shifting the “money” to work better for our family.
The thing about money is that it is only ever a “resource”, a method for achieving and realising our family goals. Our money does not define us, it doesn’t define our relationships, and it doesn’t have to be something we avoid talking about. When we avoid talking about the money, it’s important to realise what we are really trying to avoid talking about: that transition in our relationship, in our identity, and in our collaboration as a couple.
Once we can openly talk about that transition that our relationship goes through - once we can acknowledge that things have changed, that our roles and our responsibilities are different, we can work together as a team to look at our family money as a resource to achieve our family goals.
And that means that talking about how you spend money, how you save it, how you choose to run your family life (and having conversations about whether you continue doing all the jobs I listed in the first 4 points of this blog, you start paying to outsource them or you do a combination of approaches that best works for your family) is no longer "code" for having conversations where you judge each other or feel that you are being judged - because we no longer use our money as a weapon, as a means to argue about the roles we occupy in our family.
We simply recognise it for what it is - a method by which we get to achieve our family goals - as a family, not as individuals.
I got so much out of my experience working with a family money coach in 2019, that I trained to become one myself in 2020. I launched my business at the beginning of the year, and I now spend my time supporting parent couples, just like myself and my husband, and just like many of you; to have those conversations about that transition from us to family – and how to create a family money strategy, that focuses on the family first, then the money.
I know that it’s daunting to talk to a stranger about your relationship. I know that it’s incredibly daunting to talk to a stranger about your worries, your anxieties, your feelings and your desires. I know that it’s “next level” excruciating to talk about how your family finances play into all of that.
But I’ve also been exactly where you are – so I know that it gets better. And I know how to help you make it better.