This knowledge will help you avoid common financial fights.
A strong relationship with your partner, and a solid, secure financial life together, begins with what you bring to the table. As a money and relationship coach, I work with couples who struggle with this; and, while there’s a lot they need to work on together, they first must start with themselves. And so do you.
Here, I’ve outlined the 10 big ideas that I walk everyone through to get on solid footing with their finances, so that they’re ready to be honest and optimistic about their future, their finances, and their relationships.
1. Know Your Money Type
No one likes to be labeled or put in a box. However, without knowing your own tendencies or “money type,” you can’t honestly evaluate what needs to change. I have used 5 characters to illustrate these types.
- Spendthrift Sally: It’s hard for you to hang onto money because it burns a hole in your pocket. You derive pleasure (and much needed distraction) from shopping and spending. You may not spend a ton, but you spend often and impulsively.
- Cheap Chip: You don’t spend money on other people or yourself. You worry that every time you part with a dime, you’re getting yourself in trouble.
- Overgenerous Olivia: You’re a giver, but you keep nothing for yourself. Meaning, you got your nephews iPhones for Christmas, but you’re wearing a sweater with holes in it.
- Delusional Dan: You live like a millionaire, but you have the bank account of a middle manager. You strive to live bigger because you think it will get you there faster. (It won’t.)
- Avoider Al: You don’t look at your money … you actually prefer not to think about money at all. It just stresses you out, so you avoid it. You bury your head in the sand like an ostrich.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being “yes, this is totally me”), rate yourself on each of these money types to figure out where you fall.
2. Get Clear on What You Make, Spend, and Keep
I have every client fill out a form that gives me a full picture of what their money looks like. In other words, it is a form describing what they make, spend and keep (or save) per month. I call it the Money MaSK™ (make, spend, keep), and it is so important because it provides a full picture of what your habits are.
When you’re unclear about how much you’re using/keeping on a monthly basis, you’re limiting your choices. You’re defaulting to what you owe — bills, rent, and so on. These things then happen to you, and you become a victim of your expenses; you’re not in control. To make smarter choices, you need the info to make clearer evaluations.
Use a spreadsheet to calculate your Money MaSK; how much you make minus how much you spend will show you the amount you keep. Use numbers from the first day of the month to the last to be accurate and consistent.
3. Calculate Your Net Worth
Your net worth is a black and white picture — it shows you, in no uncertain terms, if you’re getting richer or poorer on a monthly basis. Take what you own: your bank accounts and investments, your home if you own it, and anything else you’d be willing to sell, like your car or antiques. Now, subtract what you owe (mortgage, student loans, debt, car loans) and that will give you your net worth. Now, you can really see where you are — not worse than you are, or better than you are. You have a starting point, and now you can play the game of making that number go up and up and up.
Calculate your net worth by adding up all that you own (your assets) and subtract what you owe (your liabilities), and you will get your net worth. Do this as of the last day of the month — write down the values as of Oct. 31st or March 30th, etc.
4. Face Your Issues
Now that you have a clear picture of what you have, between your money MaSK and net worth, it’s time to face the issues that are getting in the way of your accumulation of wealth and stability. For instance, you might have an eternal fear of becoming a bag lady, of not having enough, or you may just get overwhelmed by trying to wrap your brain around your money, period.
Most people think that facing their issues is what causes anxiety; in fact, the anxiety comes from not facing them. You’ll be surprised how relieved you feel once you get over the fear of the financial unknown. You’ll have motivation to take action.
5. Acknowledge Your Limiting Beliefs
It’s not just your money (or lack thereof) that holds you back or makes you scared; it’s your beliefs around money, which have been ingrained in you since childhood, that can be the biggest obstacle.
For instance, if you’re a Spendthrift Sally, you have a belief that someone will ultimately come take care of you, or that you need or deserve this, which can get you into big trouble later. If you’re a Cheap Chip, you believe that you don’t have enough, and you need to hoard your money for fear of losing it. Overgenerous Olivia doesn’t believe she’s worth anything; if she gives more than she gets, she’ll be loved. Delusional Dan believes that living a luxurious lifestyle makes him important. He’s buying significance.
There are many, many other beliefs, but you have to dig down and examine your own patterns, and have courage to face what they are so that you can be free of them.
6. Determine What You Want
You think you just want “more” money so you’ll be: happy, secure, free. But, more is not a goal. You have to know what specifically you want and where you want to be. Now that you have a clear view of where you are and what’s holding you back, you can be honest about where you want to go. Ask yourself what you want, what that thing will give you, and how you’ll feel when you get it.
When you use money to scratch your itch in the present (see step #5), you reduce your ability to achieve what you want later, be it a house, a trip, or a college education. So, decide. Write down a list of the things you want, and next to each thing write down how you’ll feel when you get there. A nice dress may make you feel good in the short term, but gets you no closer to a house on the Cape.
7. Establish and Maintain a System
You’ve done the hard work of coming to terms with where you have been, where you are, and where you’re going, but you can’t just hit the “go” switch. You need to monitor and maintain your focus by staying engaged with your finances regularly. It can be as simple as tracking your money MaSK and your net worth monthly. Your finances aren’t static; they shift and change, and they also stay the same if you’re not motivated to improve those habits.
Keep a simple spreadsheet with two tabs: one is your money MaSK and one is your net worth. You track what you make, spend and keep, as well as trends in your net worth.
8. Set New Targets
Once you see your consistent patterns and behaviors, you now have clarity … and choices. That means you can make new choices. If you know you spend $1,000 a month on clothes, then you can make a new goal to spend less, like $700. You can also set goals for earning, whether that means asking for a raise, beginning a job search, or starting a side business.
No one wants to be on a budget, so get rid of that idea. Just set targets and continue to track your money; you will notice new empowering money habits.
9. Take Action
What do you want to get or achieve next? What’s the smallest, most specific action you can take to get you on the path to achieving it? The next step toward earning more may not be “asking for a raise,” but demonstrating your value at work in a bigger way. Set a date for when you want it to happen by, and then track the date when it happens. Success.
You can do this for all the things you want — the key is breaking every goal down into manageable steps. It’s not magic, but it works.
10. Celebrate Success
You might envision the “day you succeed” as this one big glorious day in the future, when the music starts playing and the balloons fall from the ceiling. That would be great, but if you only think you “deserve” celebration at the far end of all your efforts, you will lose steam fast.
So, celebrate the small victories and achievements as you go. It doesn’t have to be huge; it can be as simple as making the announcement, sharing it with friends, and of course, keeping a record of the good stuff, and how you feel when it happens. When you feel good as you go, it’s hard to feel stressed the whole time. Notice how your emotions change around money, and be proud of the small shifts. They count.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: 10 Ways To Fix Your Money Issues TOGETHER As A Couple.