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How To Reconcile Opposing Money Mindsets With Your Partner

Listen to this series via our Date Smart podcast. Episodes are released weekly!

Welcome to episode four: How to reconcile opposing money blueprints. If you’re just now joining us, I encourage you to go back and start from the beginning where we learned how to uncover and understand our money blueprint based on our family’s history with money. The second step in our journey was understanding your partner’s money blueprint, which we covered in-depth in episode three with a long list of questions involving his or her relationship with money, how that relationship was formed, and how it has shaped his or her ways of being. In this step, you also began forming answers to life-changing questions about your vision for the future. In this episode, we also covered how singles can begin having these conversations on their dates to further determine compatibility. Now, this brings us to our third phase: reconciling opposing money mindsets so we can get on the same page as our partner. The most important element throughout this entire process is understanding why you (and your partner) do the things you do, without judgment. And when you reach a point of mutual understanding, you can take control and work toward reconciliation of opposing “blueprints.” So, how do we do this? 

In episode three we touched on the topic of money mindset types, such as the saver vs spender. In Alan & Katie Donegan’s Rebel Finance School, they offer a framework for how to analyze the differences in each partner’s money philosophy. They use four scales to highlight the differences. They include: 

  • spender vs saver
  • past focused/present focused/future focused
  • towards motivated vs away motivated
  • big picture vs detail

As I discussed in episode three, Alan also points out this VERY important caveat: “Identity warning: This is not an excuse for you to "label" yourself a spender so you don't have to change. These are not labels, they are just ways of thinking about our behavior. We all have default positions that we get stuck in that we can work on and change.”

Take a moment to consider your money mindset and the money mindset of your partner, or if you’re single, consider the mindsets of people you have dated in the past. Where did each of you fall on this scale? How did it affect your relationship? What were some reoccurring conflicts that kept arising in the relationship?

To bring this to light, I’ll provide an example. On the past/present/future focused scale, I am very much future-focused and Diego is very much present-focused. And on the big picture vs detail scale, I am very much a big picture thinker and Diego is very detailed-oriented. This is causing tension in the relationship because I feel like I don’t have a partner to help me plan for the future (“he can’t see long-term or big picture”) and he feels like I’m not grateful for what we have in the present (“she always wants more”).

After we verbally agreed this was a source of conflict, we sought to understand why we had opposing values and perspectives. 

Understanding is the goal in this step. The Gottman Institute teaches a very important point in their training: Couples who disagree about core topics - whether it be parenting, money, travel, etc - are probably always going to disagree. The more important thing to focus on is how to discuss, negotiate, and accept your differences. This means you’re not trying to be “right” and prove your point, you’re just aiming to seek a deeper understanding of your partner. In their book Eight Dates, it states, “For most couples, arguments around money tend to fall into three distinct categories: different perceptions of financial inequality, different perceptions of what it means to have financial well-being, and different perceptions about the nature of how they argue about money. Of all the three, the nature of the arguments was the best predictor of whether a couple would break up. What this means is that conflicts over finances don’t need to be a “make or break” issue. What matters most is how a couple talks about their financial disagreements.” Remember, money conflict is never about the numbers, it’s about what money means. The Gottmans go on to say, “Money buys pleasure, and it also buys security. Balancing the two can be work for any couple, and ultimately the goal is to balance the freedom and empowerment money represents with the security and trust it also signifies. Each partner comes to the relationship with their own history and relationship with money and their own set of feelings connected to money. We all have a legacy about money—a story that is handed down from generation to generation about what money has meant to our family.”

You should have already discussed this in episode three “What is your partner’s money blueprint?” but if not, consider asking the following questions for clarification:

  • What did your family’s history teach you about money? What’s your attitude now?
  • What were your family’s values about money? What did you agree with and what did you disagree with?
  • What does money mean to you personally and why?

The reason so many relationships end is because they discuss how to treat the symptoms without addressing the root of the problem. Meanwhile, anger, frustration, and resentment grow over time. However, when you ask the right questions, you can uncover why you both think and behave the way you do, and then a real resolution is possible.

For me, money means freedom and luxury. For Diego, money means security and pleasure. We both grew up with very similar economic backgrounds where money was scarce and future planning was futile. Therefore, Diego adopted the mindset that money is for day-to-day necessities and extra money should be saved or used for experiences such as cycling or travel. I’d say the majority of people fall into this category - you cover your expenses and the rest should be saved or spent. There’s only one problem with this - it doesn’t include any planning for the future. As an idealist and “big picture” person, one of my favorite activities is planning, so you can imagine when I accidentally and thankfully fell into the world of personal finance, I put my planning cap on. However, when I bring up the idea of planning for our future with Diego, his soul travels to another planet to escape the conversation. In his words, “he enjoys living in the present.” And while this sounds nice in theory, it sounds like nails on a chalkboard in my head. However, I have to take my advice, right? I’m not trying to duplicate myself, I’m seeking to understand how Diego’s mind works and appreciate it, while still trying to get us on the same page. So, I put on my “friendly journalist” cap and went into our conversations with a curious mind.

Even though we don’t see eye-to-eye on this topic, we reached a mutual understanding. The goal was to understand each other, not to define each other or to have the same values. From here, we can begin to discuss our options for resolution. 

It helps to create ground rules. This means creating a set of rules that you will both abide by when a specific money conflict arises. For example, while listening to Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich episode titled “It’s unromantic if my boyfriend doesn’t pay for date night,” the woman in the relationship wants her boyfriend to always pay for date night dinners, and he feels it should be a shared expense. Talking about who pays for dinner is “unromantic” in her opinion and they end up constantly fighting about it. On the flip side, he feels it’s unnatural or unromantic when she feels the need to talk about things like housing costs, wedding expenses, and childcare. He believes they should discuss these things as life unfolds. But to her, it causes anxiety to NOT talk about these things. Ramit points out they need to create rules to not have these conversations (aka fights) every time they want to go out to dinner, or down the road when they have a wedding and children. If they lay out simple ground rules now, they won’t have to discuss and fight about who pays for dinner or if they’re going to hire a nanny, they will already know what to do. 

 I love this concept of creating ground rules so each partner knows exactly how to handle specific situations as they arise. Some may think this extracts the spontaneity and romantic gesture of saying “Hey honey, I got this.” But at the same time, if the whole “who picks up the check” conversation is creating conflict to begin with, isn’t it easier to create rules rather than leave it up for a conversation (or argument) in the moment? So, while this notion of setting “rules” may seem unromantic, unspontaneous, or even forced, I promise you it will save you a lot of headaches down the road.

Here’s another example. One partner likes to splurge on luxurious hotels when she travels, and the other partner prefers a more economic option. This causes tension and conflict during their vacations. Here are a few different ways they could resolve the conflict by laying out ground rules: 

  • The person who prefers the economic option will always pay a certain amount he is comfortable with (say $100 per night), while the person who prefers the luxurious option will pick up the rest of the tab.
  • They could open a joint account specifically as a vacation fund and each contributes a proportional amount based on their income. 
  • One person always pays for hotels when they go on vacation and the other person always pays for a reoccurring expense that’s of equal value (but that he doesn’t mind spending money on). 

The most important thing is to openly discuss your options and reach an agreement you are both comfortable with, and check in with each other every 6-12 months to make sure that agreement still works.

Now, I wanted to speak to a couple who has gone through a major money conflict and successfully worked through it together. Again I’m pulling in Alan & Katie Donegan from the Rebel Finance School. Let’s see what they have to say.

Interview with Rebel Finance School Founders Alan & Katie Donegan

Taylor (00:00):

During these conversations that you guys had together, were there things that you guys disagreed on that kept showing up in the conversations? What were some things that you guys disagreed on and how did you reconcile your differences?

Katie (00:16):

I think it was the mindset of possibility that Alan would come and like, we could do this, this, this, this, or this, and my normal response was you are weird. Or I would make a joke out of something that he said and take away all his power and excitement.

Alan (00:34):

And sometimes I would get angry and fight for it. Sometimes I would sulk off in the corner and be upset and moody for a while. Sometimes I'd come up with a different strategy. It was difficult at times. And when we first did the getting to financial independence stuff, you had a thing of, why should we be allowed? Why should you be allowed to do it?

Katie (01:01):

Yes. I had a lot of weird guilt of why should I be allowed to do this thing that hardly anyone does? And you're meant to work for your whole life and everyone's going to judge us. And I projected all my stuff onto other people. Like, they're gonna think this, this, this, and this. And obviously, that was me thinking that and saying that other people were going to think that. I was brought up to be like just like everyone else, to fit in and to do what everyone else does. So when Alan said, let's be weird. I was like, no <laugh>.

Alan (01:38):

And I never fitted in. I got bullied hideously at school. I never fitted in. And I spent a good decade wanting to fit in until I realized I don't, I'm never going to fit in. I don't care. I don't need their approval. I don't want anything to do with it. And people are vicious. Katie was in the newspaper recently. I've been in the newspaper. People are vicious. They write horrible comments.

Katie (02:05):

We're in the newspaper about being financially independent. Just for context.

Alan (02:09):

Yeah, not for weird stuff. It was actually quite a positive story of here's this couple, they’ve reached financial independence. They've retired early. You can do it too. Be inspired world. And then you get all the rude comments of your parasites on society. You are this, you’re evil.

Katie (02:26):

Don’t read the comments.

Alan (02:27):

Yeah. Don't read the comments, but it's interesting that kind of stuff exists. I can understand why people don't want to stand out. They don't want to put themselves out there.

Katie (02:39):

I think in particular, our culture in the UK is very much if someone looks like they're starting to succeed is to pull them back down so that they can be with the rest of us. Whereas I think in the States, it's more a celebration of, oh, this person's done well and they're an inspiration to everyone else.

Taylor (02:56):

Mm. How long did it take you from this initial point to the point of, okay, I'm on board. I'm going to start diving into all of this with you and learning more about all these new concepts, entrepreneurship, financial independence…

Katie (03:14):

10 years. I feel really bad. <Crying>

Alan (03:19):

Don't feel bad. It's fine. Oh, I love you. It's okay. Like we all start where we start and we all do what we do. I was just fortunate someone gave me a book and I actually read it and I was open to it and I was lucky and it starts and like, look where we are now. We've done well, we're happy. 

Katie (03:43):

But I made it really difficult for you.

Alan (03:44):

It's okay. I love you. I just wanted to be with you.

Katie (03:51):

I told you I'd cry. Feel free to keep this in the podcast, by the way. <Laugh>

Alan (04:00):

It took a long time for us to come together. So for anyone listening to this, if you've been working at it for years, don't lose heart. Keep going. Let's build a bright future together. Let's work together. What future would you like? What do you want? Let's build it together. Have a positive focus.

Taylor (04:22):

I love that. I agree. It's so important to have that positive focus together and also to reach a point of mutual understanding of one another, right? I mean, it wasn't until last year when I started diving into the vast world of money psychology that I began to see how money problems go so much deeper than what's on the surface. It's like that iceberg image used in mental health where it shows the tip of the iceberg with a symptom and then it shows all of the underlying causes below the iceberg. I feel like money is the exact same concept. Most people will fight for years about a quote-unquote money problem. When in reality, it might have nothing to do with money itself and everything to do with something that happened in their childhood and now they're getting triggered by it as an adult. 

For example, not feeling like you're worthy or good enough as a child could manifest in adulthood as I don't deserve to earn a certain amount of money or I don't deserve to live a wealthy life. And that can cause real issues in the relationship. I mean, that's why I believe these questions are crucial to ask in relationships and not with the objective of getting your partner to think and behave as you do, but purely to understand why your partner thinks and behaves the way that they do, because only with mutual understanding, can you reach a true resolution to the problem, right?

Alan (05:49):

And that's the start is learning together, asking questions, and understanding the other person. And I think with so many couples, partners try and force their view on the other person rather than understanding. So if I could give one piece of advice to people, it would be to ask questions, and understand the person you are trying to date.

Katie (06:14):

That applies not just to finances, that applies to everything.

Alan (06:20):

Yes. Every single area of life, where they want to live, what job they want, why they're living, where they want to go on holiday. I'm curious. Tell me, where does that desire come from? What do you want to try? Why are you going over there? Like, get curious about the person that's opposite you.

Katie (06:38):

Or on top of you.

Alan (06:39):

Or underneath you.

Taylor (06:43):

Let's make this dirty <laugh>.

Alan (06:47):

It's a natural habit.

Taylor (06:49):

Okay. So back to the topic of curiosity and understanding one another. So Diego and I were able to reach this point of mutual understanding, but that didn't mean that we still didn't have our differences and issues to work through. And a big roadblock that we kept running into is creating a shared vision for five or 10 years down the road. For me, I'm an idealist. I love to dream big and create these seemingly unrealistic goals. And Diego is much more grounded and realistic and practical. So I'm like this very airy energy and he's like this very earthy energy. So when we come together to do or to talk about our vision for the future, it's been a struggle for us because I'm trying to get him to dream bigger and see more long-term and he's more in the day-to-day and thinks more in the present.

So it's been interesting because he comes from a very humble background myself as well. So I don't think he was accustomed to thinking long-term or thinking bigger. So whenever I bring up this topic of creating a vision for our future, I can just see his body tense up. And finally, I just asked him, why do you tense up when I bring up these conversations? And he said, you know, we never had extra money growing up. So I haven't learned how to think bigger than the day-to-day or why I'm saving my money. You know, he's a brilliant entrepreneur and so responsible with his money, which I admire so much but I feel like the last missing piece is learning why we want to save and invest our money. There's no real vision or goal.

Alan (08:29):

The challenge sometimes is the belief in possibility. So people can hear about financial independence, but if they don't believe it's possible for them, they don't want to talk about it. They don't want to entertain it. They wanna push it away. They want nothing to do with it. If you don't believe something's possible for you, you can't entertain it. And especially if you've grown up in an environment where you've never experienced it, you don't even know it. Then you want to try and so my thought is to get around people who have done these things so they can start to sense them, start to experience them, and find people who have achieved what you want to achieve. And I think that one of the biggest moments for us was going to Ecuador and meeting these people who'd done it. We're like, wow, okay. This is real. We're all in. And we set the big FI (financial independence) joint goal that we were both passionate about, and that drove us for five years. That one goal was a five-year vision of we can do this. We can do this. And it was a joint goal. We co-created it. We knew exactly what we were doing.

Katie (09:38):

The power of that joint goal. It’s all we talked about. It fascinated us for decades. We’d walk around the town after dinner and just talk about how could we get a bit more money here and how could we do this.

Alan (09:52):

Yeah. We were inspired together to work on that joint goal. But I think we had to truly believe it was possible for us to get all into making it happen.

I love that one joint goal drove everything they did for an entire five years. But they both had to truly believe it was possible, and that all began with meeting other people who had achieved what they wanted to achieve. I believe the most influential factor in changing your behavior is your environment, and most importantly, the people you surround yourself with. Your social circle and community will define what is “normal” or what is “possible.” Reading a book about entrepreneurship will plant the seed, but surrounding yourself with entrepreneurs will show you it’s possible. Listening to this podcast about creating a conscious relationship with money is great, but hanging out with people who already have conscious relationships with money is even better. 

You are the average of all of the people who surround you, so consciously choose who you spend your time with. It’s nearly impossible to change your financial and psychological behavior if you are surrounding yourself with people who reflect the behavior you are trying to change. Put in other words, to change your financial and psychological behavior, you must surround yourself with people who reflect the behavior you want to achieve. I was listening to a podcast between Morgan Housel and Sam Harris when Morgan said this: “People think they are being objective when they think about money, but our money lens is influenced by the dumb luck of when and where we were born and the people we met along the way.” Meaning that our environment and all of the people in it heavily influence our relationship with money.

Similar to Alan’s family history, money also separated my parents and became a huge motivator for why I wanted money to be a point of happiness and freedom, not stress and conflict, in my relationship. Diego and I are still working toward getting on the same page with our money goals and habits, and that’s OK, as long as we’re both clear on the end goal, and as long as we both continue working toward that goal. In our case, the end goal itself was the missing piece, and we have since created a habit of meeting once a month to discuss our “10-Year Vision." We decided to make this a monthly meeting so we can continually revise and discuss each of our visions until it’s clear, and until we’re on the same page. It might not be perfect but it works for us as a couple and I’ve enjoyed the process of shaping a “work in progress.”

As you heard in my conversation with Alan and Katie, it can take time to get on the same page with your money goals, and in their case, it took them an entire decade! Don’t get discouraged. Be patient and don’t lose sight of your WHY. Why are you saving money? What kind of life do you want to create together?  After you get clear on your WHY, start making it a reality by learning - read books, listen to podcasts, talk to people - and surround yourself with people who have accomplished what you want to accomplish. This will show you that it is possible. Because, as Alan pointed out, “The biggest challenge is the belief of possibility.”

Listen to this series via the Date Smart podcast. Episodes are released weekly!

The Date Smart podcast is hosted by Ambiance Matchmaking’s cofounder Taylor Wade. Twenty years ago, Taylor cofounded Ambiance Matchmaking, an exclusive matchmaking agency that has helped over 100,000 singles master their dating lives. In this podcast, she shares the same tactics and techniques with you. Mastering your dating life is easier than you think –– it’s just a matter of science and a little know-how.

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Taylor Wade

Taylor is one of the founders of Ambiance Matchmaking. She now dedicates her time to curating content for our community through her podcast and blog. Writing and podcasting is the art of great story-telling. As a relationship writer and editor, she has always sought to capture the reality of the dating experience, full of drama, friction, and joy. The best mind is an open mind, so she specializes in asking questions and approaching a story without preconceptions.

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