Two weeks back, a bunch of you submitted relationship questions, so that the team at Ours (a kick-ass platform created by divorce lawyers, to teach folks the relationship skills they need to not get a divorce) could answer them. So as an end-of-year gift to you, they have pored over all your questions and picked a few that cover an array of topics and themes that you all most needed answers to.
Before we dive right into the answers, we have an announcement! The time has finally come (drumroll please) to go join the Ours family! After a ton of hard work, they are launching their amazing product, with… you know it… a class about relationships and money. Click here to go right to their pre-sale and snag a spot in their inaugural course: ‘How Power Couples Bank Together’. You can snag this first class for only $99 (that’s 34% off the normal price of $149). I’m signing up right now, because this is exactly the kind of content my partner and I need (you can read more about us here).
But now, answers to your questions. Here are the questions from APW readers, and answers from the lovely founders of Ours:
On Budgets, Emotions, and Making it a Thing
So, this is like, maybe too specific or just me/us, but how do you have conversations about money that are quick and painless rather than everyone feeling like it’s an emotional “thing”? Is it just practice? Am I just bad at this?
Also, what do you do when one member of the relationship (me once, partner a few times) just completely blows a budget? Like, how does one have that conversation?
From the Ours team: Honestly, we don’t think that these conversations can be quick and painless—at some point, something is going to trigger an emotional reaction. It may take multiple conversations about money and budgeting to get you guys to where you want to be and that’s okay!
Here are some tangible ways to make these big intimidating conversations easier to have:
- Pick The Right Time: Do not start having this conversation as your partner is running out the door to work in the morning. Make sure that your partner has the time and ability to focus before beginning the conversation.
- Attitude is Everything: The attitude you bring to these conversations can be a game-changer. Think of it as you and your partner vs. this task—you will not be defeated! You and your partner can also try and make them “fun.” Maybe there is a treat you typically deny yourself. Well, now is the time to have it—why not pair budgeting with chocolate cake or a good bottle of wine?
- Break It Down: Creating a household budget is a big task with a lot of moving parts. Just making a list of all your monthly bills can devolve into a detailed back and forth over who forgets to turn the lights off when they leave the house. Set aside thirty to sixty minutes to complete one step each day until you’re done.
- Take Breaks: Before you start this conversation, establish some ground rules. Talking about money can be stressful, and the physical reaction we have to stress can cloud our thinking—if things are getting too emotional, give each other permission to take a five-minute break.
As for blowing a budget, here are some takeaways on how best to approach these types of emotionally charged conversations.
- Don’t start the conversation with an accusatory tone, because that is just going to make the other person feel defensive.
- Don’t assume that you know why they blew the budget—ask them. “I noticed that the budget we set didn’t work for you this month, what do you think happened?” When they answer you, don’t listen in order to prepare your response, listen in order to understand their answer. Make this a dialogue between the two of you, and not just a monologue berating the person who blew the budget.
On Doubts, Time, and Family
My fiancx expressed some doubts about six months before our wedding. One of the biggest ones is that his desire to be extremely close with his very large (double-digit aunts/uncles) extended family and attend every possible event (christenings, birthdays, Labor Day parties, etc.) will always be at odds with my desire to just have our own time—the two of us and our future children. Both of us are kids of divorce, my family dynamic was just way less close than his. I’ve built better familial relationships with friends than I have with any of my actual relatives. I attend many of their events but there always seems to be more (an immediate family annual vacation is now on the table). Is there a compromise here?
From the Ours team: When couples are at odds, there is almost always a possible compromise to be made, but unfortunately, you can’t make your partner meet you halfway. Wedding jitters can be a momentary feeling that you can brush aside, but sometimes they mean more. If your fiancx felt strongly enough to express this to you directly, then you should take it seriously. If it’s in your budget, we would recommend engaging a couples counselor for a discrete number of sessions to explore this issue; if that doesn’t feel affordable, then we would recommend setting aside a few evenings to talk about this.
When it comes to how we spend our free time (and money!), usually there isn’t enough to go around; between family, friends, date nights, hobbies, vacations, and kids you can really get spread thin. This is an opportunity for the two of you to come up with a few new (non-holiday) traditions throughout the year that you can keep for just the two of you and your future children. A spring road trip? A beach weekend? An annual stay-in movie marathon? Apple picking and a picnic? Schedule these things way in advance and promise to protect that time.
On Money, Egalitarian Partnerships, and Emotional Labor
How do you implement a financial plan when one of you is the planner and the other isn’t, so the actual and emotional labor of tracking budgets fall unfairly on one partner?
From the Ours team: Divide and conquer can be a totally healthy approach to getting sh*t done. Casey’s husband has lovingly been dubbed “Chief Sanitation Officer” because he takes out the garbage and obsessively wipes the kitchen counters, while Casey has been dubbed “Chief Purchasing Officer” because someone has to remember to buy more toilet paper. Of course, labor should be divided fairly; but above all else, labor must be recognized. Some practical recommendations:
- If you don’t feel acknowledged, speak up. Make sure your partner knows how much time and effort goes into this. Maybe they can take on something else to even things out.
- Get your partner involved. Next time you plan to review the budget, ask your partner to join you. And don’t spring it on them—schedule it in advance for a discrete window of time.
- Explore ways to make this easier on yourself. There are a lot of great apps available to automatically track and categorize expenses. Not only will this help you streamline the labor of tracking your budget, but you can also share your tracking screens with your partner to streamline communication and make sure everyone is on the same page.
On Accountability, Defensiveness, and Fun Money
How do we hold each other accountable to a budget, without feeling like we are policing each other? We have a shared budget (along with individual “stipends” for each of us to have no-questions-asked spending), but I’m not always awesome at sticking with it. And I feel like when either one of us tries to hold the other accountable (read, when he gently tries to hold me accountable to a budget that I myself set), I feel myself getting defensive and resistant. How can we both do this better?
From the Ours team: Getting defensive during conversations about finances is so common—and trust us—we have all been there and done it. It sounds like you actually want to stick to the budget and that you already know yourself pretty well, so maybe you need to acknowledge that this is really hard for you and just hack your way into it. (In our former lives as practicing divorce attorneys our clients were always on a budget, with every penny they spent being monitored by their soon-to-be-ex and the court—can you even imagine?) Here are some techniques that we’ve seen work:
- Rather than spending your individual “stipend” from the joint account, open a second account and deposit the stipend there every month. Only allow yourself to make your “no-questions-asked” purchases from that account.
- Cut up your credit card if you have one (the points aren’t worth it).
- Reward yourself for sticking to the budget. Self-control is like a muscle you have to exercise—the more you do it, the stronger you get.
Remember that when your spouse tries to hold you accountable, it is coming from a good place. As a unit, you and your partner are working toward shared goals. So while the gut reaction is to feel defensive, press pause, and remind yourself that your partner is being a supportive teammate. And always remember, if you feel that there would be a more effective approach for your partner to take when having the accountability conversation, tell them!
On Kids, Retirement, and Starting Where You Are
How do we plan for retirement in a world where retirement feels… unlikely? What is the best way to financially pay at least part of the tuition for a future kid? How much does having a kid actually cost at each stage: pregnancy/birth, infancy/toddlerhood, school-aged, tween years, teenage-hood? How do I let go of the fear that I’ve lost all my chances to make good money and just start from wherever I am?
From the Ours team: Start playing the lottery NOW! Ugh, all jokes aside, we understand how stressful planning for retirement can be, especially because retirement feels like it just might not happen for many of us. The first thing that we would recommend is sitting down with a financial planner. They understand your fears and they will help answer your questions and figure out a way that feels manageable and doable for you. We can recommend some great ones (just fill out the form on our page, it’s new, and we’ll email you recommendations from our national network of vetted professionals). The most important thing is to get started, no matter how small the contributions seem—stalling will only increase your stress.
As young parents, we understand the financial anxiety that comes with having a child. The bottom line is this: Children are expensive and as they grow so does the financial cost that it takes to raise a child. How much it costs to raise a child at every stage depends on so many factors: your local cost of living, your childcare options, school district, medical issues—this list goes on and on. So, when planning for a child, sit down with your partner and come up with an estimated budget for the first year. Once the two of you have agreed on that number make room for a little emergency buffer, just in case.
For example, Sonia has a six-month-old boy and he is her first child. Early on in her pregnancy she and her husband spoke to other parents, did some online research, and made a list of everything they would need for the baby for the first three months. Once the baby was born, and they started to see what he needed and did not need, they adjusted their budget accordingly. It’s a learning process, so you have to be flexible and open to change. Joining a local parenting group can be a great resource—not just for friendship and advice, but also for swapping clothes or buying lightly used baby gear! We are designing a course to walk you through budgeting for children, so keep your eye out for that (if you’re looking for how to get started banking together, you can sign up for that now!).
As for letting go of fear, Casey has a little motto she likes to push: “Getting-Sh*t-Doneliness Is Next to Godliness.” This is how you set yourself free: empower yourself with education, then take action. It’s never too late.
I have to go, ya’ll. Time to go revamp my entire financial plan, drink a beer and chat dollars with my partner, and get some sh*t done. Also don’t miss the chance to sign up for their course pre-sale deal—it’s way too good to pass up. I really can’t wait to hear what you all learn and take away from these brilliant ladies and their tools for power couples.
This is part of our series and partnership with Yours, Mine & Ours, where power couples are born. A platform of education, action plans, and professional advice for modern couples, Ours will help you identify what’s important in your relationship, provide you with custom advice, and then turn that advice into action for. First comes love, then comes real life, then comes Ours. With the help of Ours, you can tackle the tough stuff, and keep the love alive. Be your own #relationshipgoals.