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Post: Next Avenue: 3 important questions for couples to help update and re-evaluate your money goals and habits

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

Setting the stage for having money conversations with your loved one requires intentionality and care. Often, couples rarely slow down from the hustle and bustle of life and take a step back to see if they’re on track with their goals and money. Arguments and disagreements ensue with miscommunication and unclear direction as the primary culprits of marital and financial stress.

Three important money questions

Fall is the perfect time to cozy up with your sweetie and reflect on your money journey. With the leaves changing their hue and the sun shortening its shine, invite the inspiration of rest and harvest that this season brings into your money conversation.

Find a place where you can enjoy each other’s company, savor warm apple cider and pumpkin muffins, and explore together these three important money questions for couples:

1. Are our goals, values and preferences defined and aligned with our money?

When couples decide to marry, the vows they share ceremoniously represent their vision and values for their life together. As a pastor’s wife, I’ve been privy to many marriage ceremonies, (including our own!) where this traditional vow was shared: “I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife/spouse, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

Whether you’ve uttered these words or not, couples define their partnership by committing to a journey together, deciding how money will support their lives, and holding each other accountable for inviting and nurturing holistic wellness. Where many couples fall short is consistently evaluating their values, goals and preferences individually and collectively, discussing the progress and gaps, and dispelling any assumptions.

Also read: Americans think they need $1.25 million to retire. Is that enough?

To help you answer this question, take inventory individually, compare notes, and (re) design your life and financial vision together. While these activities shape the foundation for savvy business owners, I believe households represent the original foundation of managing a successful enterprise. 

  • Explore your life mission, honoring how you show up in life and your why/purpose. Revered memoirist and poet Maya Angelou eloquently shared: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” This is inspiration at its finest!

  • Capture your two or three most cherished values. Renowned author and professor Brené Brown offers this great resource for this exercise: Dare to Lead List of Values.

  • Write down three to five goals for the rest of this year, next year, and the next three years. Decide the necessary resources (i.e., money, time, and support) for reaching your goals, and reflect on how your goals align with your life mission and values. Consider using George T. Doran’s SMART goal framework for this activity: Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.

  • Discover your lifestyle preferences. Feel free to express what you enjoy and decide what trade-offs you are willing to make. For example, if you like Starbucks coffee, decide what you may modify or eliminate in your lifestyle plan (i.e., budget), if necessary.

Once you have completed these exercises individually, listen with an open mind and heart as your spouse/partner shares their individual discoveries. Compare notes and (re) create your vows/partnership plan anchored in your shared mission, values, goals, and finances. Consider designing a vision board as a supporting visual aid. These exercises set the stage for caring, candid and courageous money conversations and for joyfully designing an action plan together.

See: Inflation is hijacking retirement savings

2. What is your relationship to money?

Even the best financial planning conversations can go awry if individuals have not grappled with their money scripts – beliefs, habits and stories. Exploring one’s relationship with money is a mental health matter that yields the best results when working with a therapist or counselor. Unfortunately, seeking mental healthcare for any life matter continues to carry a stigma, and navigating insurance coverage quells the desire to seek help. 

Don’t be afraid to launch the conversation together with these questions, some of which we use with our financial planning clients in our Discovery Meeting. Also, some financial planners specialize in financial therapy and may hold a designation or membership from the Financial Therapy Association.

  • What have been your proudest moments when it comes to finances?

  • What is your first memory of money?

  • What’s your experience with money?

  • Does the thought of money bring you joy or stress? Why?

Don’t miss: 8 weird things that America’s happiest couples have in common

3. Do we understand the story behind our tax return?

As a financial planner, I have encountered many people who trust the tax preparation process without reconciling their life’s story to the numbers. It frightens me because the tax return clearly shows a household’s life and financial DNA. Taxes are much more than finding out if money is owed or refunded from the government.

Let’s explore a few areas that reveal your life and financial decisions:

  • Household status (e.g., marital status, dependents, etc.)

    • Are you happy with your marital status?

    • Who is financially dependent on you, in what ways, and for how long?

  • Employment status and income (e.g., W2, 1099, business owner, retired, unemployed, etc.)

    • Are you happy with your job?

    • Is your salary at market rate?

  • Health status and investments (e.g., HSAs, long-term care coverage, medical costs, etc.)

    • How are you managing your medical costs now?

    • How are you preparing for medical costs in the future?

  • Education investments (e.g., student loan deductions, 529 contributions, etc.)

    • Are you managing your investment in your financial education well?

    • Are you investing in your loved one’s financial education?

  • Financial investments (e.g., mortgage interest deduction, interest and dividends on bank accounts and marketable securities, gains/losses on property, stocks, rentals, etc.)

    • Are your investments sound based on your values and goals?

    • Are you monitoring the progress of your investments and positioned for their upkeep and sustainability?

    • What percentage of your investments represent passive investments?

  • Charitable investments

    • How are you making the world a better place with your money, in addition to the time you spend working and investing?

  • Cash flow

    • Did you earn enough to enjoy your life, meet some of your goals in a tax-efficient way, and have ample cash to pay your taxes?

    • What needs to change if the answer is no to the question above? Benjamin Franklin said it best: “…in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” Figure out how to navigate and enjoy your life through the lens of your tax return so death and taxes don’t feel scary.

Read next: This couple never talks about money — and they never fight about it either

Taking the time to explore together who you are, what matters most to you, and how it shows up in your money activities, can add warmth and comfort in a season marked by cool weather and a slower pace of life. Cheers to “falling” in love all over again!

Certified Financial Planner Lazetta Rainey Braxton is co-CEO and co-founder of 2050 Wealth Partners and CEO and founder of Lazetta & Associates. She is passionate about amplifying diversity, inclusion, equality and belonging in the financial planning profession and does so through financial planning, public speaking, writing, consulting and coaching. She was named a 2021 Crain’s New York Business Notable Black Leader and Executive as well as one of the Top 10 of Investopedia’s 100 Top Financial Advisors in 2020 and 2021. In all her endeavors, she is on a mission to create wealth for the common good. 

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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