The day of my engagement (just last month) was the best day of my life. After a day of anxiety awaiting the proper moment, the time finally arrived. I got down on one knee and she said “Yes.” The 48 hours following my proposal and her acceptance were a whirlwind of awesomeness – countless phone calls, texts, Facebook messages, Snapchats, Instagram posts, Twitter mentions, and even a couple handwritten “Congratulations” cards in the mail (by far the most memorable, by the way). By the time a week had passed, I was finally getting used to seeing the ring on her left hand, and we decided it was time to really start planning our wedding.
All gender bias aside, there are two types of people in this world: those who have been looking forward to planning their wedding since they were a child and those who have not. My fiancée is the former, and myself, the latter. I am very analytical – things either fit or do not fit in the puzzle. So naturally the first thing I did was open up Microsoft Excel and start making the first draft of the budget and guest list. She, more artistic and visually creative, picked up the latest edition of Bridal Guide Magazine. I was researching how much photographers cost and she is asking me if I like coral and ash grey for wedding colors. Not that it’s a bad thing, but there was a difference on where we each wanted to start. I cared more about the lists and data gathering, she more how the day will look and feel. This difference in personalities isn’t a compatibility disconnect or even negative, it’s a good thing! We are just naturally drawn to different bits and details (I’d probably pick blue, grill food, and everyone would be wearing shorts, so thankfully for everyone involved I’m not planning a wedding alone).
Planning a wedding is often the first major project a couple will embark on together. It sure was for us. Sure, we have planned trips and coordinated smaller events, but nothing of this magnitude. It is the first time I’ve had to put actual energy into details my fiancée usually just takes care of, and the first time I’ve been called on to provide feedback on colors and table settings. It’s also the first time she’s had to stay awake as I show off the way-too-intricate budget spreadsheet I made. Don’t be misled, my fiancée is incredibly intelligent, financially disciplined, and has already made many great decisions in her life (she found me, after all). But as we were alternatively looking at the budget and the table settings, I realized this was the first time we’ve done something like this, the actual first time we’ve really spent time in the other person’s “lane”, so to speak, and this got me thinking.
When we are married, we will fully merge our finances and I will be the individual primarily responsible to manage them. That doesn’t mean she won’t have a say or won’t be involved, she will be an equal partner and fully be in the know. It means that I’ll be the one to monitor the escrow account and gather tax information every spring. That’s my lane. We’ve already talked finances a lot. I am, after all, a financial planner. But through this process of discovery, we found that there was a lot I didn’t know about her and a lot she didn’t know about me. For instance, we’ve talked about kids, but we haven’t talked about our views and ideas regarding paying for college. We’ve talked about retirement savings philosophies, but never how much we actually want to save or why. We’ve talked about a budget, but we’ve never made one together. Engagement opened new doors for us into making each other’s plans real.
My next thought was if I, a young financial planner, was just now delving into conversations with my significant other of 3 ½ years regarding personal finances, then what did that mean for people in other professions with different interests finding their way into those conversations? The 70 million hits on the Google search “Money and Divorce” leads me to believe that plenty of these vitally important conversations simply aren’t being had. Which makes me wonder, why not? We all know that money can cause stress. If we knew ways that we could avoid that stress, or at least minimize it, wouldn’t we use them? I believe the conundrum lies in the taboo that is discussing finances.
As millennials, we as a group just haven’t participated yet in too many financially related conversations. And of those that we have been a part of, we probably haven’t been the lead but were rather listening for advice. Suddenly, as young people entering the life-long commitment of marriage, we needed to take the lead. We needed to have the difficult, but necessary, conversations. And hopefully, as we found, the conversation actually becomes fun.
We are no longer being told what to do but rather we are exploring our own opportunities. Sure you get to hash out the boring parts like credit cards and car insurance and rent/mortgage, but you also get to discuss what you want money to do for you. You get to figure out, together, what trips you want to take, what future home you want to live in, or what future car you want to save for. Through planning, you get to fast forward into the future and think about how you want your children to go to college, where they might go or what they might study. Once you get over the slight hump of the financial awkwardness, I think you’ll find the conversation a good one. And even if it isn’t enjoyable right away for you and/or your partner, it’s an on-going conversation that you’ll have for the rest of your life, either formally or informally. You’ll have time to practice. And as you do, you’ll find yourself able to handle the fun subjects, as well as the topics that aren’t always as delightful.
Planning for this new chapter of our lives made me reflect on advising others. As you embark on these vital exploratory missions with one another, I recommend searching for engaged/newlywed couple financial questionnaires, reading through a handful and then discussing one or two of them together. In this way, you’ll find that the conversation will begin to form on its own and after a while you’ll be going on tangents learning things you never thought you’d know about each other. Let the planning begin!