A funny thing happened after we got married: the people of society started handing out random, unsolicited relationship advice & tidbits.
Thank you recently divorced co-worker and old lady at the voting booth for the salient advice!
The overwhelming theme of most of the advice we received was communication.
Communication is key. Never stop talking to each other. You have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason.
Now, we are no strangers to this communication thing, but it has been something we’ve been honing over the past 5 years and will be a continuous work in progress. With crazy schedules, it can be tough to find time to connect on important topics that need more than 5 minutes of focus, i.e. long term goals, money, readiness to get a pet, what side of the bed each person sleeps on, etc.
Enter the Finance Date Night. Now at first you may be thinking to yourself that this sounds like the worst date idea ever! BUT I’ll tell you that after 18 months of finance date nights I am feeling stronger than ever in my relationship with Mr. Doodlepop. I attribute 20% of that to our date nights! The other 80% is us bonding over being weirdos and our mutual love/borderline obsession for pizza. (I even just felt bad about writing borderline…)
Why have a finance date night?
A tale of 2 independent souls
You may feel like you have a solid handle on your life goals, finances, etc. (or not which is totally fine! I fluctuate between the 2 extremes on any given day…). Your partner may feel they have a solid handle on their life goals, finances, etc. But have you ever sat down to see where those two independent paths merge into the one journey that is your life together? It’s incredible how often Mr. Doodlepop and I throw around terms/ideas and think we are communicating effectively when really we are speaking past one another and/or not fully listening. In one of our early on finance date nights it was revealed that our basic premise behind what our financial independent (FI) phase of life would look like was completely different. Like the incommensurable, night and day type of different. This is how that went down:
Me: Once we’re FI we’ll be traveling all over the world! Slow travel will be incredible and we can explore this great big earth for like 60 years if we want to!
Mr. Doodlepop: Really? I always thought we’d settle down, have some kids, and spend a ton of time with them without the worry of having to earn a paycheck. I’ll probably keep my job and work half time since I really enjoy my field and working from home is awesome.
::::cue record screech::::
(A horrified look is currently on my face. My imaginary FI world is currently crashing down.)
Me: You aren’t planning on running away from your job as soon as financially possible??? We’ll still be tied to an employer??? (Rapid visions of my beautiful slow travel life are flashing before my eyes as if they are being sucked up by a vacuum. Dark thoughts of me staying at home only to cook, clean, and be a 1950’s housewife are now appearing.)
Mr. Doodlepop: I really like cyber security! And I have a flexible job. I roll out of bed onto my computer in the morning and my uniform is Mario Brothers PJ pants and bed head. I may want to start my own consulting business and do penetration testing on the side and hack this and hack that….encrypt everything….prevent DDoS attacks….live in the Darknet….the cloud (the f$#&ing cloud!!!)…(cue more tech lingo I can’t keep up with)
At this point I realized we are absolutely NOT on the same page. We are not even reading from the SAME BOOK!
By now I am very happy that finance date nights are accompanied with wine as I am hyperventilating into my glass of pinot grigio.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is why the finance date night is so important. If Mr. Doodlepop and I had not taken the time to really sit down and talk about our visions for the future, we would have never known that our dreams were so drastically different. I would have been on a beach in Thailand sippin’ mai tais and he would have been home with 3 kids. Now that we acknowledge we are not envisioning the same future (or even a somewhat similar future), we have time to rectify those differences before it is upon us. This gives us runway to fully hear each other out and reach a common ground that will (hopefully) make us both happy.
The finance date night serves as a tool for both people to:
1.) Openly discuss anything from day-to-day activities to dreams/life long goals in the far-off distance
2.) Course correct (aka get on the same page/same book/same series), and
3.) Figure out a tactical strategy together to get there
Where finances come into play is figuring out how you can best use every dollar that comes into your life to make those dreams a reality.
Let’s get real. Finance date nights can be awesome from a “feeling connected” and “working together towards a common goal” stand point, but they can also bring up some really heavy topics that most people try to avoid. But we aren’t going to avoid those here. The best way to improve your relationship is to delve right into those danger zones in a respectful, open manner and as a team find a way to navigate through those hairier parts of life. Although some of the convos we have during finance date night bring up a ton of emotions (and I may or may not cry ~88% of the time…), it has become something I seriously look forward to every month.
Why you ask? Because:
- I end up feeling more connected to Mr. Doodlepop.
- It’s a reminder that we both struggle with things, but are working together towards common goals.
- Dirty laundry between us gets aired out leaving nothing swept under the rug. All cards are on the table. How many more idioms can I used in one bullet point? But seriously, at the end of our date night I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to tackle the next month knowing I have a committed, (i)NSYNC partner by my side. It allows us as a couple (and as individuals) to deal with issues one month at a time rather than having problems build up over years of being silent and repressing feelings.
Long story short: it’s worth the awkward conversations/overflow of emotions because the joy you get from working on something together is amazing.
How do I have a finance date night?
Although the topic is on finances, there is also a focus on the date part! Make it feel like a date by pouring some wine, eating some fancy cheese, maybe a delicious dessert. Perhaps take turns surprising each other with something special for date night. Whatever suits your fancy; just make it a fun, festive, intimate environment because let’s face it: finances are sexy! Well maybe not the numbers themselves, but the feeling you get from working on a goal and using your finances to propel that goal forward is pretty awesome.
I’m an organizer by nature. Having a structure to this date night is key because it helps keep the conversation on track and moving. If you don’t like the current section you are in, just wait a little bit and you’ll be moving on to a section you may enjoy more. It also helps ease into the tougher spots and finish on a good note. Here’s the format we use for finance date night:
1.) Recap the past month.
Slow down, take a breather, and reflect with a holistic view focusing on how your life together has been emotionally, physically, and financially in the last month. This is the time to analyze arguments, question conflicts, and celebrate successes. It may be helpful to review the past month using a calendar, planner or whatever you use to keep track of your life; we noticed that without reviewing the calendar it can be super easy to forget all the awesome things that happen in a crazy busy month! A few examples:
- Last month was crazy flying to visit family for the holidays, but we successfully kept our airport expenses low by bringing snacks and eating at home before flying. Go us!
- As a couple we didn’t get to spend much time together last month since there was business travel, family obligations, busy schedules, etc. and I miss that time together. How can we re-focus on quality time this month?
Questions to ponder:
In the past month as a couple…how have things been going? What struggles have we had? What successes have we had? What can we focus on for this month?
2.) Individual check-in.
Two independent souls make up a couple and the state of each person greatly affects the couple as a whole. Time to take turns individually reflecting on how the past month was for you again with that holistic view (emotionally, physically, and financially). This is a time to share things you may be battling and highlight wins of any size. In the words of John Mayer, this is your opportunity to say what you need to say. This is not a time to personally attack the other person, but only to reflect as an individual one at a time. A few examples:
- I saved $50 each week from my paycheck last month by bringing my lunch every day. Boo yah!
- I haven’t been sticking to my training plan for the 5k coming up. I really want to stay on track and be ready for this race.
Questions to ponder:
In the past month as an individual…how have things been going? What struggles have I had? What successes have I had? What can I focus on for this month? What have I been struggling with individually that my partner could help with?
3.) Praise and thanks.
This part is fun and makes me feel warm and fuzzy! Time to show your honey some love by complimenting them. Express gratitude for something your partner has done in the past month. Sometimes it is hard to see individually how much progress we are making and it helps to have someone else point out the great things we are doing! Even the smallest step forward is progress. A few examples:
- I appreciate that you didn’t buy that double-caramel macchiato. I could tell that you wanted it, but you displayed amazing self-control. It shows your dedication to our bigger goals and it was fun (and cheaper!) making them at home together.
- Thank you so much for making dinner for us on Thursday night when I had to stay late for work. I was really feeling like ordering a pizza, but I’m glad that you could support us in our health and financial goals by making takeout not an option.
Questions to ponder:
In the past month…what have I appreciated about my partner? What am I proud of them for? What did I do that my partner may not have noticed/remembered at this moment? (It’s okay to brag on yourself too!)
4.) Spending review.
At this point, open up the computer and pull up your previous month’s spending. We use Mint.com to track our spending as it is easy, convenient, and free. Use whatever works for you. Side note: Tracking every penny is a proven way to decrease frivolous spending and make sure your money is going to the places you value. Highly recommend it! Here’s a great post on a DIY approach to managing your money from one of my favorite bloggers.
Start by reviewing each budget item (auto, home, groceries, etc.) and check in with how you did this month (over or under budget) and how you feel about where your money is going. If we feel the need, we will delve into a certain budget and look at exactly what we spent in that category. It’s up to you how in depth this section is. I have found that the more high level you keep it, the more meaningful it is and less nitty gritty. If you are a more detailed oriented person, it may help to review your each individual expense prior to finance date night such that you are familiar with where each dollar went prior to your date.
Questions to ponder:
In the past month…is our spending in alignment with our values? If not, how can we adjust our spending? Do we see any trends (always over budget on auto, tend to eat out at the end of the month)? Are there any opportunities to reduce spending without decreasing happiness/fulfillment (i.e. are we spending on something not in line with our life goals?)?
5.) Hot topics.
Let’s take that warm and fuzzy feeling from the previous section and ramp it up to hot hot hot! Time to get a little more pointed and talk about big issues. Things may get heated in this part so remember to be respectful, listen to your partner, and keep in mind that you are a team! The fact that you are sitting down and talking about these things together shows your commitment to one another and to building a happy life together.
Topics to cover: serious financial issues. This is the time to voice concerns and let your partner know that you are not okay with whatever it is they are doing that is impacting your financial stability. For example:
- I am not okay with how much money you are spending on eating out for lunch every day. How can we work on that together as a couple?
- I noticed you have $20,000 in the bank at < 1% interest but you are not willing to invest that money. Why do you feel negatively about investing?
Discuss how their actions are directly affecting your financial future (aka your dreams) together. Explore the root of each of these issues by asking open ended questions: Why do you feel this way? Where does this feeling come from? What can we do differently to solve this? How can I support? (This last question is key!)
Stay respectful and use active listening phrases to make sure you are effectively communicating. Paraphrasing can be a great way to check for understanding, but don’t be a parrot. Reword what your partner is saying to make sure you are comprehending what they are saying.
“I understand that you feel ___ .” “I observe that you ___ .” “What I’m hearing you say is ___ .”
Make a game plan to course correct with specific steps each person can take. Write down these actions so you can check in on progress next month.
Questions to ponder:
How will these current habits impacts us in 1 month, 1 year, 5 years, 15 years, etc.? What changes do we need to make? How do we ensure they stick?
6.) Future goals.
Back to the fun part! Take turns discussing your goals for the future. These can range from paying off debt to going on vacation, buying a home to reaching financial independence. Whatever it is that gets you excited! Talk about how your finances align with these goals and what you can each do to support your dreams. Try to articulate your goals with as much detail as possible to visualize and drive you forward. Nothing gives me more financial motivation than picturing myself free from my morning commute & cubicle, waking up without an alarm, and doing whatever I want that day because I am financially independent.
Questions to ponder:
Are our future goals aligned? Are our finances aligned to our goals? What can we do right now to give ourselves a taste of that future goal or achieve that goal sooner?
You made it! By now you are probably feeling a giant mix of emotions, but the important part is that you and your life teammate set aside time to talk though vital issues that can greatly impact your present and your future together. These check-ins allow time to change course if needed and build an intentional life full of the things you love.
My mom always used to say “If it’s not on the calendar it’s not happening” and that’s exactly how I feel about finance date nights. We do ours on the 1st Friday of the month, but pick a day/time that works for you. Just set a recurring date and stick to it. Now go schedule your next finance date night, round up some wine and cheese, and start tracking your spending if you aren’t already. Looking forward to hearing how your finance date nights go!