Communicating: It’s About More than Money


Several years ago, a client I’ll call Jim came to my office for a meeting with one question on his mind: Could he retire?

The client was a successful attorney who was on his second marriage and had a second family. He was in his early sixties, but his youngest child was just starting high school.

Jim and his wife, Sharon, had set some goals that were their top priorities: tuition for one child already in college, more college costs for the child in high school, several weddings and paying off college loans for his older children.

In addition, Jim wanted to retire and play golf, his driving passion.

After running the numbers, I saw that there was no possible way he could retire and still reach his goals. Positively no way.

It was time to look at some alternatives.

“Why do you want to stop working?” I asked. He had his name on the door and he enjoyed his work, after all.

But it turned out he had one main reason. The hour-long commute each way was grinding him down.

I asked him if there was any way for him to work at home a few days a week to take the edge off the daily drive. After some thought, he decided that he would try.

A few months later, Jim and Sharon came in for a follow-up meeting.

“I’m never going to retire,” he said with relish. He went on, telling me how wonderful it was to sit on his deck with the computer and speak with clients. The change had reinvigorated him.

I looked over at his wife, who seemed less happy. “How is it with Jim working from home for you?” I asked.

She gave me a chilly look and said, “If he’s home one more day a week, I am going to kill him and then you!”

As you approach any new chapter of your life, it is vitally important to establish meaningful communications with your spouse/partner/significant other. The purpose of communication is to establish an open line to discuss possibly difficult issues.

Money is a big issue and most couples aren’t very good at the conversation—especially when it comes to setting boundaries and expectations.

But it isn’t just about money. Your financial needs determine most of your biggest life decisions, and the consequences of those decisions affect everyone around you.

In my clients’ case, they had never talked about what his decision would mean to her. If they had discussed boundaries at the beginning, perhaps they would have reached an agreement about how to give Sharon the space she needed.

In their years together, they’d both assumed that when Jim retired he’d still be out much of the day, at the golf course. Sharon had a part-time business she ran from home, sometimes with client meetings there. Jim’s presence was awkward at those times, and at other times a distraction for her.

“I married him for better or worse, but not for lunch!” she told me.

Once they aired their feelings in my office, I asked them to talk about how each of them might get what they needed.

Now Sharon rents space in an office-share complex not far from their home and that has brought her some new contacts and new dimensions to her business.

When you make a life change, your planning—financial and otherwise—might require shifts in thinking and behavior.

All parties need to have a voice and to be heard by the other parties. Here are a few basics to creating a meaningful conversation:

  1. Line up the issues—clearly and concisely.
  2. Acknowledge that each person might have a different money mindset or a different view of your new life plan.
  3. Establish a good time to talk about each issue.
  4. Listen closely for questions, objections and areas of concern.
  5. Enlist the help of a professional to help facilitate the discussion. If you’re working on an estate plan, your lawyer is the best source. If it’s a tax matter that impacts your financial life, meet with your CPA. If it’s about your financial life, your planner is the go-to expert. If you’re having difficulty communicating, seek the help of a trained therapist who can help you talk, listen and work together effectively.
  6. Do check-in’s periodically to make sure that you, your spouse, and any other family members who are involved are all on the same page as you move forward.

Communication and boundaries are necessary in creating a harmonious life together. It might take practice and a shift in mindset and approach. But hey, that’s what life is all about as you make changes—and maybe even take some time for lunch.