“The sooner you can sit down and talk about why money is important to each of you, the sooner you can work together towards reconciling competing visions of the future.”
-Carl Richards in The One Page Financial Plan
Goal setting is often thought of as the first step in a financial plan, but it’s not. Before you ever sit down to put your goals to pen and paper, you need a comprehensive understanding of why you want to do what you want to do. This should be easy, in theory.
Financial awareness starts with understanding what you truly value and then monitoring your behaviours to see if they are in alignment with those values. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re usually surprised by what we find.
Your values are in tension with each other
Anyone who has ever tried to sit with their mind in a quiet room comes to understand fairly quickly that contentment and satisfaction is not an innate setpoint of the mind. In a 2018 interview with Yuval Noah Harari, he observes that “The reaction of the human mind to pleasure is not satisfaction, it’s wanting more.”. This is not inherently bad, but if you don’t recognize the truth in this statement, you’ll be forever chasing the next thing that will finally make you “satisfied”.
The most amusing model I’ve seen that explains this comes from Tim Urban’s Wait but Why post on How to Pick a Career where he speaks extensively on the topic of our values being in competition with each other. His 5 tentacled octopus, the Yearning Pentapus, is constantly balancing personal, social, moral, practical, and lifestyle values. To make matters more confusing, these values are not working in concert with each other, but they are all fighting for your attention. If we’re not careful, the values that satisfy immediate needs will override the values that require delayed gratification.
What does this have to do with communication?
I am a huge proponent of spending in line with your values, but sometimes forget that figuring out what your values are is the hardest part. In addition, if you’re not talking to yourself about what’s important to you, what’s the chance that you are communicating clearly to your partner?
It’s very important to have money discussions early and often in your relationships. It will help prevent fights stemming from misunderstanding about what’s really important to you. Don’t wait until you’re forced to have these discussions when you are in a moment of crises or stress. Don’t underestimate money’s role in our relationships. A high percentage of divorces cite issues with money at a factor in the separation. Since discussion about money is considered taboo, we don’t have lots of training or experience with the subject, so most people avoid it altogether.
Image if we all have open conversations about money before purchasing a house? Wouldn’t we be more well informed as to how much we can afford and what implications a large mortgage can have? What impact would this have on our values of security, flexibility, approval, and respect? What about choosing terms for our mortgage? Fixed vs variable? Monthly versus bi-weekly? Unfortunately, instead of pulling on the experience of our parents, co-workers and friends we let the lending institutes guide us through this process.
When we talk about money, we’re not actually talking about money. We’re talking about values. What is important to us? Why? What do you want money to buy you in the end? If you don’t understand the basic value hierarchy your spouse places on spending time with your family, versus enjoying a vacation, versus creating security, then how can you expect not to be surprised when your spending behaviours don’t align?
So start the conversation. Talk about why money is important to you. Create a clear line of sight to your values. From there you can start working on goals that align with them.