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How to Talk about money (Carl Richards - The New York Times)

We have published information from Carl Richards previously - and this special series published in the New York Times seemed particularly relevant to share with you.

Here is the link to The New York Times listing (but you may need to be a subscriber to access it)

How to talk about money (Carl Richards - The New York Times)

At some point, you’re going to have to have a conversation about money — with a spouse, a roommate, your kids, your aging parents — but did anyone ever teach you how to talk about money? Nobody ever taught me! So, here we will help you have this difficult conversation. Not just to give you the tools to be capable of doing so, but also, hopefully, to demystify talking about money a little bit. The next time it comes up, you may even enjoy the conversation, instead of grabbing the check and putting it off until next month (along with the credit card payment).

The rules of the game

If you pay attention to only one section of this guide, please pay attention to this. Following these three simple (but not easy) rules will save you a lot of grief. I learned these rules through very painful personal experiences and after guiding more than a thousand of these conversations professionally.

Here they are:

1. NO SHAME, NO BLAME

Let’s be honest here: Your partner blew it. You said stock market, they said mutual fund, and now look. You guys could have been filthy stinking rich, and you’re not, and it’s all their fault.

Right?

Wrong. Go straight to jail, lose a turn, whatever. The second you start to shame, or blame your partner (or yourself) you’ve broken the first rule of talking about money: No shame, no blame.

Financial “events” like the one described above happen all the time. A decision is made based upon speculation about likely outcomes, and personal relationships with risk and reward. Then time passes, the future becomes the past and in retrospect, that decision is either labeled a success or a failure.

What happens next has probably happened to all of us at least once. One or both of you shame-and-blame the other for the mistake. I’ve watched countless couples do this. In fact one couple I know has been shaming-and-blaming each other for the last decade.

What good does that do?

First of all, nobody has a crystal ball (even the financial networks that pretend to). So wrong guesses are going to happen -- that’s part of the game. They’ll happen to you and to your partner. So it doesn’t make sense to shame or blame one another. But even if it did make sense, what would that accomplish? You and your spouse, presumably, both want to live a financially comfortable life. It’s unlikely that one of you is secretly sabotaging the other. If it was your partner who made the mistake this time, it’ll be you who makes it next time. Might as well extend one another some grace.

To be clear, this is not about avoiding guilt or shirking responsibility. Guilt is part of the process and accepting responsibility is what adults do. Shame and guilt are not the same thing. I love how  Brené Brown, a researcher and author whose work has focused on understanding shame, explains the differences. Shame is something we internalize and we capture it with a statement like, “I’m a bad person.” With guilt, we focus on the action and say “I made a mistake.”

It’s O.K. to point out that your partner (or you) made a mistake, but it’s not okay to shame them for it. Remember, the goal here is to make fewer mistakes. Guilt is adaptive, according to Dr. Brown, because it allows us to learn. But shame just makes us feel bad about ourselves. It doesn’t help us at all.

I know this sounds hard, but don’t worry. I have a trick to help you stick to the rule!

I want you to grab a hat and a marker pen.

No, really. Grab an actual hat and a marker pen. Maybe one of those trucker hats with an oversized crown. Then, across the front, write, “No shame. No blame.” Every time you talk about money, wear your hat. Make sure your partner has one, too.

Yes, wearing a trucker hat with “No shame. No blame.” written across the front sounds silly. But it provides a tangible reminder of the real purpose of the rule: to get better at making smarter (however you define that) financial decisions.

2. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

Years ago there was an empty lot near where we lived in Park City, Utah. My wife and I really wanted to buy it. After talking it over, it was clear that as much as we wanted it, it was just out of our budget, so we let it go.

Seven or eight years later, that lot is worth three times what we could have purchased it for. We missed out on a huge opportunity! To make matters worse, the lot is right next to a park that we visit frequently. So we get to remind ourselves of this blunder often.

It is so easy to get focused on things beyond our control and the resulting conversations are sure to go off the rails. Conversations about investment performance are fertile ground for this flavor of fight. But remember: You can’t control the markets.

With our “No Shame, No Blame” hats firmly on our heads, Cori and I have to remind ourselves that the only thing we had control over was the decision to buy it or not. And since we couldn’t afford it, we made the correct decision. Period. End of story. The fact that the lot tripled in price doesn’t change that.

Was our assessment of our financial situation accurate? If we agreed to sell our cars and only ride bicycles could we have bought it? Could we have looked for potential investors? Maybe. Those are all conversations we could have had because those were things under our control.

But if you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money. And there’s no point in beating one another up about that.

3. THE TIME OUT RULE

You know that feeling when you’re at McDonalds and you’re talking to your spouse about money, and you have a packet of ketchup in your hand, and you’re squeezing it so hard it’s about to pop and squirt all over her  face?

That is the perfect time to use The Time Out Rule!

Given the baggage that we all bring to these conversations, talking about money is sure to get emotional. You will get fired up, you will get frustrated, you will want to spray your partner with ketchup.

But it’s super, super important that you not do that. Yes, we need to get better at having these conversations. Yes, we need to stick with it even when it’s hard. But we also need to know when to take a break.

My wife decided years ago that if she calls a time out, it means I have to go outside and exercise. Go for a run, ride my bike, lift something heavy. Something. Do I feel frustrated when she calls a time out? Of course! But the physical exercise always helps me to cool  down. And that, in turn, helps us keep the conversation productive. During a time out people get a chance to settle down and to see things without the fog of emotion.

But wait — the time out rule isn’t just something you use on your partner. You can use it on yourself, too! With some practice, you’ll start to notice what it feels like just before the ketchup packet explodes and you say something you regret. It can be as easy as saying “now is not a good time for this conversation.” However you do it, remember, this is one of the rules. So no matter how much you want to keep going, you both have to honor it.

In the end, the big fights we really want to avoid are not usually about money per se, they are about something that someone says when they get overly emotional. The time out rule will hopefully prevent that from happening. Knowing that if things get heated you can always invoke it can give you the confidence to enter what might have previously seemed to be dangerous terrain.



 

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