Communicating effectively about money is just about the most important thing you can do on your road to financial success.
And no, I am not talking about analyst reports, shareholder communications, or strategy newsletters. I am referring to the ability to speak the same language about personal financial matters to the people who matter most.
Take the most mundane topics, such as spending, insurance, or investing — if handled poorly, you might have a thermo-nuclear reaction. The problem is we rarely take the time to understand what another person believes; and whether it is the same as yours.
When two money lives become one, it’s critical to take this valuable time to communicate. I hate to say it, but the majority of consumers haven’t really thought out what they believe — and why.
Let’s take the topic of life insurance as an example.
How much coverage is appropriate? What is enough and what is too much? The answers are not necessarily quantifiable. Through analysis, you might discover that enough protection is $500,000. But the beneficiary — the one who will rely on the policy should some tragedy befall the owner — might not feel safe unless the amount is $1,000,000. You see, it’s just not as simple as “the formula says X.”
It takes so much more than analysis or online research.
Our feelings, beliefs, and fears play into how we produce an outcome with which we can live comfortably.
The same is true for how we communicate with each other. Our unique experiences as children set the stage for a money mindset that formulates our feelings of comfort, security and valuation. It’s fair to assume that, since everyone has a unique upbringing, we all have unique money mindsets.
Let’s look at the topic of spending. Here’s an example of a discussion that I have witnessed countless times.
“We need to spend less money.”
“I agree. Where should we cut?”
“Well, we can get rid of the premium cable, it’s a fortune.”
“Hey, but I really like the shows I watch. I don’t want to give that up.”
“What do you suggest we cut?”
“Your car lease is coming up in a few months, why don’t get a less expensive car?”
Here’s another iteration.
“We need to spend less money.”
“Absolutely. Where should we cut?”
“Gee, I am looking at the bills and the cost of hair care, nail salons and makeup is extraordinary!”
Need I go on?
Rather than making your money conversation a test of wills or worse, a battleground, here are 9 tips to create money success:
1. Agree on a time, place and time limit to talk. Make it somewhere without interruption and private. (Your local coffee shop is probably not the best place.) Don’t make the conversation open-ended – agree on a time limit before beginning. And remember, less is more. The longer you go, the more the conversation will probably lose its focus or turn into blame and shame.
2. Agree on an agenda. Pick one topic on which to focus; not two, three, or seven.
3. Center your conversation on sharing and clarifying your values. Focus on where you both are in agreement for a more productive conversation.
4. Acknowledge that everyone judges based on individual points of view; and try and stay away from negative judgements.
5. Begin the conversation with an agreement that you will both commit to listening without interruption. If you hear something that pushes your buttons, you are liable to react, which will undoubtedly make the rest of the conversation tenser.
6. Ask questions that begin with, “Help me understand,” or “Can you explain that a little more?”
7. Avoid hot-button issues; begin with the easy stuff and rack up the victories for positive energy.
8. Celebrate the victories, no matter how small. (Your favorite cup of coffee or a walk in the park both count.)
9. Expect setbacks; there’s no such thing as perfect. Avoid blame at all costs.
Communicating effectively about money can move you to positive changes, living your values, deeper intimacy, and understanding. Great communications can make your life happier and your financial life more successful because you can work through obstacles.
Money doesn’t have to be a mystery, a taboo topic, or a source of conflict. It’s up to you and your partner(s) to forge a positive pathway in a loving and supportive way. It begins with a mutual decision to engage through listening and communicating your values.