Often when I work with couples, one person takes the lead, and the other is silent or possibly even absent. It totally makes sense. Sometimes one person is interested, and the other just isn’t. The path of least resistance is to go with it. You can make things happen on your own, so why bother to rope your partner into something they couldn’t care less about?
But long-term, having both people involved in financial planning will ensure that everyone is on the same page with what your goals are as a family and how you are going to get there. In addition, if your partner understands some basics of financial planning, they will be in a much better position if you’re not there someday.
In honor of financial literacy month, let’s try to get those silent partners into the room where you’re learning and making decisions about your future. Here are a few reasons why.
What happens if you’re not around anymore?
If you are making all the financial decisions in a vacuum, what happens if you’re not there? For a partner that has not been a part of the planning process, it can be very difficult to put the pieces together regarding the resources they have and the decisions that need to be made. If you have a trusted advisor but they have had very little interaction with that person, they may not feel comfortable in that relationship. The things you have put in place for them are less useful if they don’t know anything about how these tools work.
In a situation where our family is grieving, we hope that we can focus on things other than finances because they know that piece is taken care of. Not right away, but at some point, they will also need to be prepared and take up the reigns of the financial plan for the family. The more they know, the less painful that will be.
Disagreements You Never Knew You Had
If your partner is not part of your financial planning and discussions, you may have serious disagreements and not even know it. That could be about college savings for kids, the age you want to retire, or even how many vacations you can afford to take each year.
On the college savings side, I have many clients that expect to support their kids all the way through school either because they had that privilege growing up or even because they feel like their student loans are a huge burden. But I have many other clients who want their kids to partially take responsibility for their path by contributing at least something to their own education.
If you have student loans, I often see very serious disagreements about how aggressive it is to pay them off. Do we put all of our money toward loans for five years and just get rid of them, or take a slower approach and put more toward retirement savings (or – gasp – spend more).
Other people disagree regarding what they want things to look like if one of you passes away unexpectedly. Take the life insurance discussion. Let’s assume you and your partner both work. You have calculated an appropriate amount to replace your income if you pass away unexpectedly, but maybe your partner would want to take a step back at work for a while if you weren’t there to be with the family. What about their income? How would you know that’s what they want unless they are part of the discussion, to begin with?
Airing all of this out when you start to combine your finances (that starts even if you’re just splitting bills) can potentially save you a lot of headaches and arguments down the road. It may be painful to start these discussions, but hopefully, it leads to some compromises that work for everyone.
Can they learn from you directly?
Right or wrong, it is often hard to learn something new from a significant other. My husband once tried to teach me how to golf, and I ended up crying and quitting – in that order. In my opinion, golf is a lot harder than financial planning, but then again, there is a reason I am a Financial Advisor and not a professional golfer. For some folks, retirement planning and insurances are just as bad as golf is for me. When you try to pass on this information to your partner, they may wish they were wearing noise-canceling headphones. Possibly, they are tuning out and reliving the horrors of the Game of Thrones finale - anything to not think about dollars and cents.
If they like podcasts, you can try to point them in the direction of a few you think they will enjoy. Maybe they’re more of a reader? You can try blogs or books. Potentially you can even find things within this space that catches their interest. Maybe get them reading the Physician on FIRE blog if they really like the idea of retiring early and traveling.
If they really hate it, I don’t think blogs or podcasts will work, though.
So what do you do?
You may not be able to get everyone on the same page all by yourself. If you have an advisor, make them the bad guy. Say they’ve insisted everyone is on the call (even if they haven’t). You can also approach it from the aspect of really wanting your partner’s input. You are working through making some very important decisions for the family, establishing long-term goals, and making sure you have a plan of attack. You want your partner to be a part of that decision-making process.
If that’s not possible, at least try to keep them in the loop. Insist that they are copied on all email communication regarding your financial plan if you are working with an advisor. Make sure they know where your insurance policies are. Talk to them about your goals, and they may start to think of some of their own.
And then celebrate when you reach milestones. Did you just pay off your student loans? Did your net worth just break into positive territory or maybe even pass over that first million-dollar mark? Break out the bubbly! That is cause for celebration, and everyone loves celebrating, even if they don’t like financial planning.