by Roderick Givens
In the last 4 months, we’ve really broken through a lot of the social taboos. When I was growing up, I was taught never to talk about sex, politics or religion in social gatherings. Those walls have been broken through if not trampled upon. But there is one conversation that people are very hesitant to talk about: Marriage and money.
As a financial planner looking for a group that really needed my services, engaged couples seemed to keep fitting the bill. If you ask any married couple about conversations around money, they will tell you it’s a top 3 if not #1 source of disagreement. If money management is such an issue, why don’t engaged couples regularly seek out third parties to help them through these difficult conversations?
- Conversations around money cause anxiety.
- We don’t want to find out we are not doing well.
- We assume that income equates to financial wellness.
- There is a gender bias in our industry that does not cater to women.
- Specifically in the Puget Sound area, the economy, jobs, and real estate are doing pretty well right now so at the end the day, many people tell themselves, “Finances don’t matter, everything is going to continue to do well and I’m going to be okay.”
But if we really are interested in preserving relationships and fostering a solid foundation based in communication and trust, then there has to be a conversation about the financial aspects of the marriage.
Part of the reason why I started the Marriage and Money: Planning Your Forever After WorkshopTM is to go beyond the numbers of budget and retirement. Why are we silent about money? If we (those of us who are married) don’t talk about it, then who’s going to tell engaged couples that it takes more than a joint checking account, funded 401k, and good FICA scores to have a good financial plan?
Some workshops highlight the challenges of marriage and money. However, I find them very much what you should do with little direction on how. For example, a well-known checklist item is to create a budget. However, with today’s couples coming together both parties owning established careers, 401ks, real estate, and sometimes owning businesses, the budget conversation can be highly complex. In our Marriage and Money workshop, we distinguish cash flow analysis from a budget and dig deep into other topics that need more attention to execute successfully.
I talked to a behavioral psychologist about the reasons why people don’t do what they know they should do when it comes to money and they brought up some interesting aspects. One of them said that the power of inertia is nearly unstoppable. In other words, if they haven’t talked about it until now, then nothing is going to cause me to break this code of communication other than an equal force – like a major problem.
The second point suggested is that it usually takes a third party to facilitate these conversations. Third, by nature we are taught to put out fires and the only way we deal with these issues is when it causes enough anxiety to force us to act or address something when it goes wrong. However, even when we address these situations, we usually find a short-term solution and get on with our day. Talking about money is usually not a life-or-death situation for most people. But I will say it’s kind of like brushing your teeth, you know you should do it but the results don’t manifest in the short-term. Yet the consequences of not brushing tend to show over the long term.
It’s clear there’s a knowledge gap when it comes to what pieces we need to address in our total financial picture even beyond Investments. My guess is that less than 10% of our population has a real financial plan beyond their retirement account.
The good news is that when talking to Millennials, I’m hearing more proactive conversations about how their financial picture looks together either before or shortly after marriage. I created a workshop to make this transition easier more pleasant and more impactful in the long run.
To make Marriage & Money: Planning Your Forever AfterTM workshop unique, I needed to add missing pieces. First, the workshop is more than an investment guy telling people to communicate and save. This workshop addresses the legal and behavior aspects by including an estate planning attorney and a couple’s therapist. People also have a major trust issue with financial firms. It’s like walking into a daycare with a hook for a hand and eye patch. You might have the best intentions but people are leery. So second, we pulled the plugs for RainierView Advisors. I mention RainierView Advisors 2-3 times for compliance purposes, but this workshop accepts the fact that some people just want an outline of what they need to know and they’ll pursue it on their own – DIY. Third, we will even give people the top 10 things they should ask of their financial advisor/planner.
Fourth, no investment product or insurance sales pitch, just advice from professionals in their respective fields.
We want people to walk out with items they can use that night. Not a thick workbook that is put on the bookshelf never to see the light of day. Fifth, we also include a worksheet to go through different money values that couples may have and lastly, an outline of a complete financial plan.
The ultimate goal of the Marriage and Money workshop for engaged couples to become as fundamental as taking a prep course before taking the SAT. You can do without it, but most people would benefit from at least knowing the format.
We have a very challenging goal of exposing several aspects of financial planning that engaged couples don’t think about without discouraging them. We also want to highlight aspects where they are doing well. This is clearly not a doom and gloom presentation. But we make sure we end the session with a call to action. Do something, talk to a third party, talk about this workshop afterwards, draft up a joint cash flow and balance sheet. Just do something or this last taboo will stand in the way of your financial success.
Roderick Givens, is the founder of RainierView Advisors, has nearly 20 years of experience in financial planning and asset management. A Certified Financial Planner® and Certified Investment Management Analyst®, he serves individuals and small businesses with an approach that focuses on understanding people and helping them comprehend, evolve and ultimately succeed in meeting their goals. Givens has held roles as an investment analyst, manager, business development director and investment sales director with some of the largest financial firms in the world. He recently was named “Best Financial Advisor” in the 2016 Best of South Seattle Awards. Questions for this column can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
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