If you’ve been following my family’s debt free story here on the Art of Simple over the years, then you know that one of the things that led to our big turn around was when my husband and I finally learned how to communicate with each other about money. It is something I wish we had figured out sooner in our marriage, but I’m thankful that we are where we are today and I’m glad for the lessons we’ve learned, so I try not to regret what cannot be helped now.
Christopher and I have been working as a team for many years now, we celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary in a few weeks, but it is still important for us to have a joint vision for our money and to keep the lines of communication open about our finances.
We aren’t quite out of debt yet and even when we are finally debt free, I can’t imagine that the need to talk about money will ever really go away. We’re planning a future together and it is important that we share a vision.
New situations come up for us as a family all the time. From allowances to family vacations to major purchases like cars or homes, we need to find a way to get on the same page and to make sure that we each are being heard.
Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going are all important pieces of the financial picture. I’m sharing a few talking points here that have benefited us in hopes that maybe they will be helpful for you in figuring out your financial vision.
Being real about your financial history is important. No sugar coating, please. You need to have an accurate idea of where you’ve been and what your true financial habits are, the good ones you’ve developed over the years and the ones you still need to work on, and even those money blunders you wish you could just forget about.
Hopefully you’ve got many positive things in your financial past. But if you don’t, remember that this isn’t the time for guilt or regrets, but to look back so that you can put the past behind you by being honest with yourself about the good, the bad, and the ugly of your financial history.
Some questions to ask:
- Have I been a spender? or a saver?
- Have I made any financial missteps?
- How did the way I grew up influence my financial decisions today?
- What would I change about my financial history so far if I could? What would I do the same?
It is important to consider the household you grew up in and how that impacts your views on money. For example, I mentioned allowance earlier. This is something that was important for Christopher and I to talk about because we each grew up in household that did things differently regarding kids and money. As we figured out a plan for our kids, we needed to look back at our pasts.
Photo by Brandbook
What is your current financial situation? Again, be real. I’ve learned from painful experience that you aren’t doing yourself any favors if you underestimate your spending and overestimate your earnings and savings.
Don’t guess, get the real numbers. Take a deep breath, pour yourself a hot cup of tea, set aside a block of time, and gather all of the papers and account information that you need so that you can get a complete and accurate picture of exactly where you are today with your money.
- Do you have any debt? If so, what is the total amount you owe?
- What are your necessary expenses each month?
- What amount are you spending on extras?
- How much do you earn?
- How much are you saving for the future?
A very eye opening exercise, one that Christopher and I repeat from time to time, is to write down every single penny we spend during a month. If there is any belt tightening that can be done, this will show us.
If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?
Now, my wandering soul and independent spirit wants to resist this planning, but what lends a sense of adventure to some aspects of life isn’t such a great idea when it comes to money.
Though my hippie-mama tendency is to let tomorrow worry about itself, one of the things I’ve learned from my husband is the value of planning and checking in from time to time on the progress we’ve hopefully been making toward our goals.
- What debts, if any, do you have left?
- How long will it take you to pay those at the rate you’re going? (yes, get the calculator out and do the math)
- How much have you saved for the future? Could you be saving more?
- Where would you like to be financially six months from now? A year? 5 years? 10? Do some long term thinking.
Set some goals, concrete and specific ones. “Save $100,000 in ten years” is more specific than “set aside a lot of money.” Now, break those goals into baby steps. Think about what it will take to get where you want to go. This is the time to do some research.
This is also a time for soul searching.
Really think about WHY you’re working, earning, and saving. Think about the life you’re making for yourself and what you want it to look like. Will you donate to charity? Will you travel? Will you buy a house? Do you want to move?
Have you read Tsh’s manifesto here at the Art of Simple? There are some good words there about living holistically with your life’s purpose. Your daily choices matter – they are the steps you take on this journey.
One of the things that Christopher and I want to do, especially in the next five or so summers before our oldest leaves the nest, is to do a lot of family travel. So our five year plan involves frugal, simple day to day living and working so that we can hopefully live out that vision and be setting aside savings for the future, ours and our kids.
Past, present, and the future: it is all a part of your financial story. You need to know where you’ve been, where are are today, and where you want to be in the future. What’s your vision?