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Ask Alina – High Earners, Not Rich Yet

Dear Ask Alina,

My wife and I both work and have been comfortable with our combined family income. We bought a house during COVID time, and have not stressed much about expenses while settling into our new home. Well, as I was doing a financial year in review, I was in shock at how much money we had spent in 2022. I told my wife we need to change our spending behavior this year.

For the first time we are not aligned on a big topic. I want us to create a budget for 2023, become conscious consumers, and create a target savings goal. My wife says we need to maximize our long-term savings, work hard, provide a good life for our children, and should be able to spend without placing limitations on things that make us
happy.

Any idea of how to get my wife to align with me?



HENRY (High Earners, Not Rich Yet) 

Alameda Post - a piggy bank and a pile of coins representing the options to save or to spend in marriage finances

Dear HENRY,

I can help you refocus how you and your wife communicate, but I am not sure I can guarantee that your wife will align with you. What I mean is, through improved communication you two can agree on your goals and values and then find an alignment that will bring happiness to you both.

Invite your wife to a family finance meeting. I would recommend starting off meeting twice per week for 1.5 hours max for each meeting. Do this for one to two weeks and then scale to weekly 45-minute meetings, then to monthly meetings.

I often receive resistance from clients when I suggest this exercise. They say it doesn’t feel natural, it’s too professional, or punitive. But after my insistence, they try it out, and the consistent feedback is that this scheduled time improves couples’ communication.

The first step is to set ground rules. Here is what you share: Our only focus for these meetings will be to discuss finance; we will not argue or place blame; this is a time to understand what each of us values the most from our income; how we want our current life and future life to look financially. Organize and categorize your needs and wants, and then place priority value on each. Lastly, discuss where you align and where you differ.

Step Two. If you have items where you differ but hold in high value individually—and if finances allow—I suggest you add a category for Personal Spending and agree on how much money will go into this category. If the Personal Spending category is not possible based on your finances, maybe create this as a goal for next year.

Step Three. Come back to your list of wants, needs, and agreed-upon priorities. Assuming you cannot achieve all your wants and needs in one year, identify what you will focus on in 2023, and what you will put in the parking lot to bring out in 2024 and 2025. Agree on what your monthly non-negotiable expenses are, how much at minimum you want to save/invest, and what you have left to spend on prioritized categories. For example, maybe Personal Spending will be a priority next year, but this year the focus is to complete home improvements. Or maybe home improvements are a priority, but you know you will need a new car next year, so you can agree on how much to save each month to prepare for next year’s car purchase.

It may take a month or so to become fully aligned, and when you are in this place, I encourage you to continue to meet monthly. Assess monthly if your priorities are still aligned. If they are, fantastic! If not, pull out your notepad to organize and categorize your needs and wants. Go back to placing priority value on each, and then discuss where you align and where you differ.

Conversations about money do not need to be scary. Have fun with it! I would love to hear an update from you next year.

Alina Baugh is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Ask Alina is for informational purposes only. This article does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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