Are You More “I” or “We” With Money?

Patrick (not his real name) and I had been on an introductory phone conversation for nearly 20 minutes. He said things like, “I’ve been doing all this research and I’m more confused than ever,” “I want to retire but I’m not sure I have enough,” and “When I think about inflation, taxes, and Social Security, it’s more complicated than I feel like I can handle.” He had told me about his 30-year career, and the great money he was making, but how the stress was taking its toll on him. Some days, he said, he was ready to be done with working all together. 

“I get that,” I said, then asked, “Is there anyone else who might care about your concerns?”  

“Oh, well, my wife,” he said. I was surprised, as I couldn’t recall the last time I had an initial conversation with a married person where the word “we” didn’t come up for the first 20 minutes. So I asked, “How involved is your wife in the financial matters in your household?” 

“Not. At all.” This was not a huge surprise, given the first 20 minutes of “I” statements he had made.  

Many couples I meet lead successful, busy lives. They have had great careers, raised children, participated in their community, and led their social circles. When two people have that much going on, a natural evolution of household duty-sharing comes about. Many times, one person gets the finances, whether it’s paying bills or making the 401(k) decisions. Some households split the bill-paying and the investing. Regardless, without communication, over time, one partner is edged totally out of the loop. The partner in charge might feel it’s all up to them, and they might have messed it up, but they don’t know. 

Some couples readily admit they might have fallen off track and are seeking professional help because it has become more complicated than they both expect they can manage. They have both been talking about it for a while, and they come in with understanding of their own and their partner’s limitations. 

Others couples haven’t talked about it much at all. There might be some expectations/blaming/resentment going on as a result, because, like other taboo subjects, money and money issues have not been openly discussed.  

So I asked, “What will she do if you were suddenly not around anymore?” 

Silence. Then, “Well, I guess she would call my brother.” Hmmm.​ 

When was the last time you had a conversation with your significant other about money? If it’s been a while, what do you think the reason is? Stay tuned for next week’s column on having a 15-minute monthly Money Date. It only takes a little time now to save a lot of potential heartache later.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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