Money dates are great — but not on Valentine’s Day


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Imagine this: It’s the most romantic night of the year. You scored the hottest reservation, bought a thoughtful gift and wore the perfect outfit. You sit down. The waiter decants a full-bodied red. You raise your glass to toast your love — and your partner pulls out a financial statement.

It’s not exactly what you had in mind.

Money dates are becoming a popular way for couples to discuss their finances together. By holding these dates on a regular basis, couples can improve their joint problem-solving skills and normalize tough conversations that might otherwise become a source of festering stress in their relationship.

But when and where you choose to talk about money matters. Spending quality time together on Valentine’s Day might lead to meaningful conversations, but venturing too far into the specifics could not only spoil the occasion, but it could also deter you from having these important dates at the right times in the future.

In other words, numbers aren’t romantic. Maybe this time, leave them at home. 

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“Money dates are not just about keeping the budget in check,” says Maggie Vaughan, founder and executive director of Happy Apple, a psychotherapy practice supporting couples in New York City. “They’re opportunities to reinforce the ‘team,’ practice communication skills and display mutual support.”

Vaughan finds that partners who feel anxious about their money might try to assuage their concerns by tracking every dollar. But in talking about it constantly, they’re losing the plot. “It’s an ironic situation given that the point of money, beyond survival, is to facilitate an enjoyable life.”

Rather than turn a special night out into a detailed meeting, focus on what you already have that’s bringing joy into your lives. Even better, you should dream.

Taking time to imagine the future together can be quite intimate, especially when neither partner immediately pivots into strategizing on how to reach certain outcomes. Concoct a bucket list vacation itinerary. Explore towns to live in someday — if Zillow doesn’t spoil your appetite. Listen without judgment or giving criticism.

Both partners should have the floor to share their vision of how wonderful life can look together. If you both feel good, this meaningful conversation could lay the groundwork for a more focused meeting on achieving those goals at a better time.

How to have a successful money date

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Real money dates should take place once a quarter and after any major life changes.

Hold them anywhere that makes you most comfortable, like sitting down at a quiet restaurant or walking through a park. Make sure you have ample distraction-free time cleared on both of your schedules to avoid anyone feeling rushed or slighted. Mute all your devices to give the date your full attention.

Two technical sources of information will guide a great money date: your net worth table and your budget. They are your North Star, because they illustrate what you own, what you owe and how money flows in and out of your lives.

  • Your net worth is the difference between your assets and liabilities. A net worth table should include all your assets, such as your cash savings and your investments (including the current value of real property, if you own any), and your liabilities, such as your mortgage and any student loan or consumer debts. This is less important as a stand-alone snapshot of your wealth and more for you to understand whether your wealth is growing or decreasing.
  • Your budget exists to shed light and keep tabs on your spending behaviors. Base it on specific data captured over at least six months, but a year is even better. Calculate your monthly lifestyle costs by combining the average balances on your credit cards, withdrawals from your checking accounts, and deductions from your paychecks for expenses such as health insurance. Is your monthly lifestyle more or less than what you’re earning? Dive deeper from there. Examine both of your larger fixed expenses such as housing and transportation and work your way down to smaller discretionary expenses including dining out, clothing and entertainment. Do you need to make changes? Can you both agree on where to spend less? The important part is to listen to your partner, who might have a different opinion on which expenses matter more. Don’t discount them — validate them and leave room for compromise. 

Back to those feelings again. Make sure your money date includes a broader temperature check. Are you both feeling secure at work? Have you incurred any new or unexpected expenses? Are you comfortable with them, or are they causing you stress?

Talk about your goals — maybe even the new ones discussed over Valentine’s Day. Do either of you think it’s time to begin planning for them in earnest? If so, where should they fall on your priority list?

Trying to answer these questions can be emotional. That’s why they deserve their own dedicated time. Just remember the goal isn’t to solve for every single issue at once but to discover your mutual understanding and work as a team.  

— By Douglas and Heather Boneparth of The Joint Account, a money newsletter for couples. Douglas is a certified financial planner and the president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York City. Heather, an attorney, is the firm’s director of business and legal affairs. Douglas is also a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.

Source : CNBC