Lynn and Jim: What’s “Normal” When It Comes To Money?

Lynn and Jim, still newlyweds, sat across from each other at our conference table. They were here to plan for their financial life as a couple and I’d asked if they had ever had any friction points around money.

“When you said that you were going to buy a car, I never expected you to buy that car.  I mean, there wasn’t an option you didn’t include. We don’t need anything that fancy,” Lynn said. Her demeanor was not confrontational or accusatory; she really wanted to understand why he’d chosen an expensive car.

Jim tried to explain. “I don’t know; it’s just how I do things. Maybe I should have talked more about it with you before.  I really didn’t think it was a big deal.”

Rather than allow the conversation to heat up, I stepped in and encouraged them to try an exercise. “Money Memories” is designed to give each person a deeper understanding of their personal history that shaped their attitudes about money.

They tore into the exercise, writing their answers thoughtfully.

As I reviewed their responses, the car discussion came into focus.

Despite being newly married and just starting their careers, both Lynn and Jim were earning a good living—their future was bright.

But Lynn came from a very modest family. And when she thought about buying a car, she thought of what her parents had instilled in her—you buy a used car for basic transportation. No bells, no whistles, just a car that works.

Jim grew up in a family with more financial resources. Buying a car meant driving the newest model—with every conceivable upgrade.

As I gently pointed out the differences in how they were raised—they quickly “got” that there was no right or wrong, just two different definitions of “normal”.

Jim was dazed by the revelation.  “That’s so interesting.  I guess, being raised in a household where money was no issue, it’s what I always experienced. Buying our car this way was normal, even expected.”

They looked at each other, sharing a smile and an “aha” moment.

Later, I learned that this indeed had paved the way for a deeper understanding and a better dialogue around money and values.

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