It’s time to clear the decks and take a deep breath after what was, for many couples, the toughest year they’ve ever had. So many of us tackled financial issues and job uncertainty on the fly and, while there's no guarantee that 2021 will be a bed of roses, it’s an opportunity to right the ship and start being open about what worked in 2020 and what, well, didn’t.
We recommend making Money Dates part of your New Year's Resolution to get smarter about money as a team. Explained simply, money dates are a mash up of a State of the Union and a dinner date. The main goal is to go through your bills, debts, goals, and whatever is happening that month that’s affecting your feelings and your finances.
If you’ve never had one before, this is a perfect month to start.
Get it on the calendar. Whether this is your first Money Date of the year or your first-ever money date, don’t let the month go by without scheduling one. While love and romance benefits from spontaneity, financial matters do not. Plan it and stick to that date.
Agree to come to the table knowing you’re on the same team. It’s okay to be frazzled and frustrated, especially after the holidays. No matter what’s on the agenda to be discussed, agree ahead of the time that you both want a positive outcome (you’re a team after all) -- more transparency into your finances and a clear picture of your long and short-term goals.
Create a comfortable setting. It’s your money date, you do what’s the most peaceful for you. Your money date can be conducted over pizza, glasses of wine, or over iced cream – as long as you feel like you’re both in a relaxed and non-confrontational place to start talking about all the financial issues that may have bogged you down last year.
Do a “year in review”. Lay it out on the table. Without guilt or blame, take turns discussing all the things that happened last year that affected your finances. Whether it was a new sense of income inequality, increased family responsibilities, or that you racked up credit card debt from online shopping (it happens), get it all out there. If looking back on the whole year is too much, that's okay! Start with last month. Then take a deep breath because you both made it. You’re ready to move forward.
Re-establish your short-term needs. Start by understanding your short-, medium-, and long-term goals and focus your conversations on your progress towards getting there. Now’s the time to start talking about actively contributing to emergency funds and larger upcoming expenses, such as home repairs, family obligations, or other things that you know you’ll have to lay out funds for over the course of the year.
Discuss your monthly cash flow. How has your income changed from this year to last? Take a moment to review what you've both earned, spent, and saved this month and what you can project it will look like in coming months. This is a good moment to check how you’re allocating your money and whether it’s going towards the goals you've discussed.
Do a debt check. Last year, Americans worked hard to pay off credit card debt. That said, for those of us who lost income, credit cards were a lifeline during uncertain times. No matter what your situation is, now is the time to put it all out on the table and see what you owe and your plans on how to pay it back.
Get excited about longer-term goals. Now’s the time to think a little farther ahead. Planning on taking a vacation this year? Now's the time to see if you're on track to get there. Re-establish how much you’re both putting away for retirement and how that's going. If you’re planning a big future expense, such as having a child or saving for a down payment for home, take a look at your progress. If you're not happy with it, what can you do to get there?
Toast to your first Money Date of the year. You did it! You bared your souls and your bank statements and, despite any fears or tears, you got through it together. You should feel a sense of relief–you’ve both committed to getting back on track and putting a tough year behind you. You’re both proof positive that with a lot of love, communication, and trust, you’re an unstoppable team.
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