11 Years Later...
On Friday, Jill & I will celebrate 11 years of marriage. Hard to believe it’s been 11 years. Seems like just yesterday I was smashing wedding cake in her face.
We've been through a heckuva lot in those 11 years. Obviously we had our gaggle of kids in a short period of time and, I imagine like many other married couples, we've dealt with our share of challenges, too.
To quote my father-in-law, it's been the best 10.5 years of my life! Haha.
Seriously though, we've had more than our fair share of good times, too. Without my wife, we wouldn't have the beautiful family that we're blessed to have. We've shared countless family vacations to the beach, we've taken trips together - without the kids. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her in my life, of that I’m sure!
It's really been an amazing ride.
Along the way I've managed to learn a few things from our marriage and, as I like to do, I've figured out how to relate them our financial lives.
The first two I figured out early on and use quite often in my conversations with clients, presentations, and in my writing so they should sound familiar. The rest I’ve picked up along the way. And at the end, I have a special request so please take a look.
Life Is Not A Straight Line - your financial life shouldn’t be treated like one, either
True fact! If you don't know our personal story, we went from having 1 kid to 5 kids in 2.5 years. Our twins were a surprise. And our youngest, Sutton, well he was REALLY a surprise. We weren't planning for the last three kids. But it happened! And once it happened there was nothing we could do about it. That’s life and we adjusted and adapted.
Your financial life is no different. We are impacted by so many variables in our financial lives, from the markets going down at the wrong time, to a parent or kid moving (back) in, to needing to replace the air conditioner when it goes on the fritz during the hottest week of the summer. We can't plan for the unexpected and it seems like when we expect life to go right, it veers left. Your financial plan should be able to adjust and adapt when life looks more like this ==>
Focus on What you Can Control
Unfortunately we've had some situations in our marriage that were impacted by forces out of our control. And let me tell you, it was a huge challenge to gain acceptance around those situations. When life puts difficult situations in front of you, and you have no - literally none zero zippy - control over the outcome or the actions, sometimes all you want to do is scream. So we've learned - and are still learning - to stop trying to control those situations or people we can't control.
Most of your financial life is the same. Think about the financial factors out of our control. Here's a few:
the markets going up or down
the value of your house
the interest rate on your mortgage
the interest rate on your savings account
Here are a couple of areas you CAN control:
how you protect your balance sheet
where your money goes and why
how much of your money you choose to save AKA your RATE OF SAVINGS
your behavior around your investments.
That's basically it.
Want vs. Need
Sometimes you just have to tell the other person, your partner, whoever what the heck it is you really want. We learned this from our friend, Jim Goldstein. When you tell someone what you want, it's just you shooting your fireworks straight up - not at them. It can be healing and doesn’t require your partner to respond or act. We've also tried to avoid using the word "need." As in, "I need you to do this."
Most of the time, we don't really need that. We may want it to be done. We all have very few basic needs: food, water, shelter, some basic material items. In reality that's it. So we've tried to focus on using the word "want" more often.
Our financial life is actually the opposite. We tend to spend our money on things we "want" more than what we "need". Think about your cash flow. If you're trying to save more money here's a good exercise: do you "want" it or do you "need" it? Most of us don't "need" many of the items we're buying. We want them, but we don't necessarily need them. We hear this from our kids a lot:
"Mom/Dad, I neeeed to buy this [insert shiny new object here]!"
Not sure whether you want or need it? Put it in your "cart" and wait 24-48 hours before hitting purchase. If you forget about it, you know your answer.
Cut Your Losses
Sometimes in a marriage you have to know when enough is enough. I don't mean throw in the towel, walk away, and serve your partner with divorce papers. Rather, know when you've held your grudge or your position long enough that it's starting to have a material impact on your relationship. Jill and I have disagreements. It's true!!! And I haven't always been the best at putting my pride on the shelf and making our relationship - getting on the same team again - the number one priority. So I've had to learn how to "cut my losses" - in this case spending less time on opposite sides and more time trying to get back on the same team quicker. Because when Jill & I are on the same team, life is really awesome!
Financially, cutting your losses can have the same impact. Perhaps you've made an investment that isn't working out. You thought for sure it was going to be a homerun, but it's looking more and more like a strikeout. My wife will (typically) forgive me if I don't cut my losses in a reasonable amount of time. Your balance sheet probably will not. So if you find a financial decision isn't working out and you're feeling stubborn/prideful/etc, stop. Set your ego aside and work to get back on the same team as your balance sheet.
“The investor’s chief problem—and even his worst enemy—is likely to be himself.”
– Benjamin Graham
Work At It
I don't believe anyone who tells me their marriage is 100% easy-peasy. Humans, especially those that live in close proximity like the same house every day, will have their disagreements. See below: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. And when you have five kids, two jobs, and you coach your kids’ teams, schedules can get out of whack. So we work at our marriage. We work on making each other a priority and spending time together, just the two of us. It might be taking a walk together - one of Jill's favorites. Or a date night. Or doing something you used to do when you dated. Be present in your relationship. If you don't work at making your marriage the best it can be, it will probably get stale and I'm guessing the end result won't be fun for anyone.
Guess what? We also have to work at our financial lives, too. In order to be successful financially, you HAVE to present in your financial life and your financial decisions. You can automate a lot of your financial life and decisions - and you know how much I love that decision - but revisiting and paying attention to those decisions can help keep your financial life from going stale. And just as I wrote above, I'm guessing that end result won't be fun for anyone, either.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
I borrowed (stole?) this saying from our kids. Above I talked about working to get back on the same team as my wife. Our life is busy: we both work, we have 5 kids plus sports and extracurriculars, we like to coach our kids' teams, and we also like to spend time with our friends and family. I need a nap! When we aren't on the same team, life is hard. Like really hard. Our weaknesses as people and parents become exposed. When we're on the same team we feel like we are literally unstoppable; our combined strengths cover up our weaknesses. And our chaotic life is just smoother.
Also, being on the same team keeps us accountable - to each other, to our kids, to our family, and to ourselves. When we’re accountable to each other and we’re following through, we’re definitely on the same team. And I already told you what kind of super powers that gives us!
Teamwork on the financial side can have a similar impact. Teaming up with a financial advisor can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. From there you can plan for when life isn't a straight line. Or just implement everything above. And having a financial advisor also means you have another team member to help you stay accountable for your actions and your goals, financially.
I'm Not a Mind Reader
Saving my favorite for last. Love you Jill!
Early on in our relationship, Jill used to joke that I should just "read her mind." It was cute…for a while. Then it stopped being cute when I literally couldn't read her mind. As with most relationship problems, it's rarely one person to blame. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. And so we've worked on improving our communication so NEITHER of us is left wondering exactly what it is the other is trying to say or really wants.
Applied to our financial life, I'm not talking so much about communication - though that's an important aspect. In this case, "I'm not a mind reader" talks to predictions. You see, as much as Jill wanted me to read her mind and figure out what she wanted or was trying to say, I just couldn't. It's one superpower I'm lacking. And guess what? We're all lacking this superpower. We all suck at predicting the future.
When you're thinking about your investments and you hear the talking heads on TV or you see an article proclaiming the market or this stock is going to do X…stop. Remember: I'm not a mindreader. You're not a mind reader. And none of us can predict the future. Then head back up and re-read #2 above: focus on factors you can control.
And there you have it. Some of what I’ve learned - both marital and financial - over the last 11 years.
I’m sure there’s a bunch of areas/topics I didn’t cover so I’d love to hear from you - email me and let me know one or two lessons you’ve learned from your marriage that can also apply to our financial lives. I’d love to post a follow up blog and share those with everyone too. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but it would make my day if you did!
Oh, and Happy Anniversary, Jill!