Financial insecurity. This post is going to be all about the ‘feels’.
Financial insecurity is an area of unrecorded studies that interlaces our feelings towards and about money with the actual money situation we are in.
We all have financial insecurity bags- in some cases, it can be a good thing- like having insurance on valuables. In other cases, it can be a bad thing- like when it causes tension in a relationship.
Charles and I both came to FI after some seriously confrontational conversations about money. Our perspectives and financial insecurity lie on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Charles is the more logical, highly analytical, super saver who refuses to spend money on the little things. On the other hand, I am the semi-logical free spirit who is a super spender and refuses not to live life to the fullest.
While each of these mindsets was put into place for us based on our past, and how we grew up- you can see where there may have been tension. Thankfully we are both able to be logical about things, but what we value and our approaches differ drastically.
Guess what? This is totally 100% OK.
Was it OK that time Charles decided to cancel our date nights? No. Was it OK when I booked us a trip to the Mountain in a cabin with lift tickets when we had depleted savings and virtually no money? No. That is exactly why I am writing this post. We had to make a few things work before we could get to a point where communication about money was natural and based in wholehearted mutual respect for our differing approaches.
The “Big” Conversations:
Most of the time, our disagreements about money had absolutely nothing to do with the actual money. It had to do with self-esteem, ingrained ideas, money pride, and what we found valuable. We need to have several big money talks before we got to a place where we were on the same page. These talks occurred at the start of our FI path and a few places in between as we matured in our money mindsets.
1. Money Worries. How often do you worry about money?
The amount a partner worries about money can cause some serious strain and stress. The levels of stress when money is a constant worry can actually cause your brain to have a bit of a meltdown and even drop some IQ points.
In our case, I was constantly worried about money. Did I have enough, could I pay my half of the rent, could I buy those groceries at Trader Joes? As a brand new teacher, I made very little and our first apartment was $900 a month. My half was more than 1/3 of my paycheck- not including utilities. This caused me to lean on credit cards more than I wanted and feel a sense of being behind from day one.
Did I ever communicate this to Charles? No. Instead, I just pulled out my Discover card and pretended I was fine- even when I was living paycheck to paycheck and barely paying off the last month’s account balance.
Consider, how often you worry about money? Is it due to a lack of communication and need to continue living, the same way as it was for us? Are you nervous to talk about it? I was. Money was taboo and I had felt like a financial burden my entire life- so the shame associated with this led to a debilitating cycle.
2. The Appearance of Money
Keeping up with the Joneses or the Kardashians or whoever the media tells us is cool falls into this category. For some individuals, the appearance of money- from nice shoes to a fancy watch is very important. It can also be catastrophic to the budget.
While this was not something we struggled with, I talked to a good friend of mine who has had this struggle. *Tom enjoyed the luxuries in life. He loved to buy rounds of drinks for friends and wear trendy clothes. He told me that he felt growing up he had nothing and did nothing- so now that he is making good money he wants to show it off, have pride in it and share it with friends at the bar. It became a way for him to confirm his success and live the life he dreamed of as a kid.
Another friend of mine feels the need to have Pinterest perfect parties due to mom guilt. The association of shame attached to those who are “too frugal” is the opposite of Tom’s problem- but still very real. There is an expectation imposed by society to be on trend and essentially be a consumerist. This is a whole lot of pressure rooted in things deeper than buying a watch or a themed bouncy house.
Consider, Do you feel the need to participate in what is on trend? How often do you buy new or feel like you need to? Does your partner feel the same or act in the opposite manner? What does it feel like to have an appearance of money and why is that important to you?
3. Financial Illiteracy
We cannot know what we don’t know. If you have ever felt uninformed or intimidated by money- it is likely due to financial illiteracy. This was something that both Charles and I struggled with, as many young couples do.
We knew the basics and what we were supposed to do. Go to college, buy a car, buy a house etc. The ‘American Dream’ is advertised on almost every street corner. Not to mention the numerous things that we were encouraged to buy to make us look better or feel cooler.
Thankfully, Charles is a researcher and dived into financial literacy early. I, on the other hand, slogged through Tony Robbins Money book with dread and anxiety. Did I learn and figure it out? Yes. Did I have to re-read every page because concepts were foreign to me? Hell yes.
In my case, financial literacy was like learning a language and one that took repetition, time and forgiveness. In Charles case, financial literacy may have come easily, too easily in fact because he would drown himself and get analysis paralysis. We found it was ok to not know. It was ok to take time to understand a 401k and it is ok to reflect and not find EVERY answer before taking some action.
Consider, Do you feel your eyes glaze over when people start talking numbers? Do PPO, HPO, HYS, ROTH and the numerous acronyms cause your palms to sweat because you do not know what they mean? Do you feel like one partner knows more or do you feel like you know what they are, but not what to do? These are all areas important to consider and talk about.
4. What we Find Valuable
I saved this one for last on purpose. I think it is because we had to get through the above conversations before this one was even approachable. Aligning our spending to our values took time because we needed to define our values.
It was also important for us to be ok that we found value in different things and this meant our money would go that direction. We value each other and our thoughts and opinions- so this conversation ended up being fun and fulfilling for us because we had started to feel empathy and understanding for where we were coming from in money mindset.
We both found value in travel, our animals, and eating meals with others (good conversations and good food). Things I find valuable that Charles does not include: cozy and clean home, paper books, photography, art and live shows. Charles finds value in convenience through technology, learning new skills and paying to learn them, bicycling, adventure and adrenaline rushed like dirt biking. All of these things bring us joy and create some kind of positive impact on our lives- so this means understanding that money is directed towards them.
This can also be looked at on a much larger scale. Values within society like sustainability, human rights, and social conventions are ones that have aligned for us, but should still be talked about.
Consider, You and your partner’s values are allowed to change. You do not have to have each value all of the same things. What brings you value? Do your purchases align with your values and serve your life in a way that makes it more meaningful.
What we do to make it work and ease the tension:
Communication is key. I know this is not a novel idea, but talking about money is hard. Being in the right mood, the right headspace and being ready to hear the other partner means that we were going to fight fair.
Fighting fair is hard. That is it. It is freaking hard because it means swallowing pride and putting ego to the side. It can also mean facing the feelings of guilt and shame and being so vulnerable in an area that at first – we were not used to talking about.
Fighting fair played an important role in getting us to even look at things as fair instead of equal. While we are equal humans, we realized that with my lower income and his higher income splitting things 50/50 was not going to work forever and we needed a more equitable solution. This meant we needed to add up our expenses and start a 40/60 ratio instead in order to ease the financial pressures.
We do not have hard and fast rules for these conversations. We did decide on one thing, never to barrel through. No digging in our heels in the middle of the conversation because this does exactly what we do not need and shuts down the conversation.
So I turn this back to you all, what were some big money conversations you feel like you need to have or maybe you have had them already? How do you and your partner manage money? Do you have joint or separate finances? Does one person manage all the money? Why is this?
Thank you in advance for sharing your stories on a topic that can be challenging to talk about.