Monday, October 19, 2009

Money in A Marriage of Opposites

Joanne and Peter have been married for three years and have just started to deal with the reality of blending their money and making joint decisions. Planning to buy their first house has forced them to face the fact that there are conflicts they've been avoiding--conflicts because they have very different opinions and styles of approaching money.

Peter has no problem spending money he doesn't have. His parents lived beyond their means. They had what they wanted, when they wanted it. The stress of paying off debt was a familiar scenario in Peter's household.

Joanne's parents were just the opposite. They never spent money they didn't have. They saved for the new furniture and the new car. Likewise, she always earned her own spending money and never received an allowance for helping with family chores. She said she was not spoiled--like Peter whose parents never said "no" to him or his brother.

I met Joanne and Peter through Joanne's parents; instead of dealing with the crises in her marriage, she was running to her parents for advice. She was afraid of setting limits on her husband's spending and cowered in any conversations about his spending. Those conversations always turned into confrontations with resulted in her feeling guilty that she was being the money cop.

What I could offer as a third, objective party, was to help them in setting up a joint plan for "their" money. Even in marriages that work well with separate accounts, the partnership is an entity that has financial implications when planning a joint purchase, whether that be a vacation, car, house or for a child. If there is some agreement about mutual goals, couples can usually agree about the steps they will take to achieve those goals.

With their agreement in creating a 1, 3 and 5-year plan that they both felt satisfied them, there would be certain steps they would have to take to assure they would achieve them. It became a joint plan instead of Joanne's plan. They also were asked to include any barriers they perceived might prevent them from holding up their end of the commitment.

This was the part of the exercise that gave Peter the most challenge. It also changed his life, and saved his marriage. With a non-judgmental third party, Peter was able to discuss his style and habit of rewarding himself on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. Perhaps more importantly, in that discussion he was able to see what was previously a blind spot for him: the consequences of his free-spending style.

He had to admit that the thought of having their own home, his own garage and back yard would bring him much greater joy than buying the latest digital camera or stereo equipment. Once he saw the payoff for what he would have to change, he was willing to make that commitment. Once it was his decision and not just Joanne's, it became easier to do for him.

The last I heard, Joanne had very positive conversations about her marriage with her parents. She and Peter had bought their first home, and were already starting to save to landscape their yard.

From the outside looking in, perhaps the greatest payoff for their joint planning is a compatible marriage. Instead of dreading and doubting their future, they will be planning and achieving what is valuable and meaningful in their life together.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Subconscious Savings: Put Savings on Autopilot and Avoid Will Power Decisions

American values appear to be changing from conspicuous consumption to more responsible savings and spending, but we’re all wondering whether this behavior shift will really be an enduring change in our values and behavior over time. Will we continue to save when we feel the tough times have subsided and we’re somewhat back to a normal economic life as we define it?

We’re hoping that we will be able to develop and maintain a healthy savings habit and make better use of our money. But obviously spending habits are a challenge to change. According to the latest survey data (August 2009), it appears that Americans are starting to spend again.

Over the last two decades, I’ve discovered that financial habits and behavior are subconsciously motivated and a result of how we think and feel about money. To make any significant impact in changing old habits and acquiring new financial behavior, we have to focus on our attitudes and feelings about our money as well as how we behave. Attitudes drive behavior and behavior drives attitudes. There’s a reciprocal relationship between the two which enables us to change and maintain that change so we can achieve our goals and realize our dreams.

This was a key part of my message that I delivered last week as I toured five cities: New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houston, Dallas and New York with Capital One Bank who recruited me to educate consumers in how to develop healthy savings habits. It was also my goal to give people an understanding of how to start to save effortlessly and then maintain the savings over time.

Capital One is interested in consumers being able to use tools like their new offering, SmartCents Checking, which is available at Capital One Bank retail locations. The free personal checking account transfers 50 cents from the customer’s checking account to a linked savings account for every eligible online bill pay or debit card purchase. Capital One will match 100% of all eligible customer transfers for the first three months, and 5% thereafter. It seems to be an excellent tool to automate savings and help remove any will power decisions that might sabotage best intentions of saving on a consistent basis.

So, it was my goal in speaking with groups of consumers at each of five Capital One Bank locations to emphasize the importance of understanding how to use our personal financial traits to our greatest advantage and avoid powerful and unconscious emotional triggers which can sabotage our best intentions to change. We all know what happens to our New Year’s resolutions—our best intentions are defeated by our powerful, unconscious and ingrained mind-set or personality pitfalls that trip us up.

We all agree that we don’t want our money to serve our emotions which may not be in our best interest. Today more than ever we have to use this opportunity of the “Great Recession” to focus on what it takes to become more financially secure. As a result, we’ll become more confident and make more rational vs. emotional decisions that will ultimately bring us greater joy and less regret.

In my conversations with some of the people I met last week, it was obvious that they don’t lack the desire to improve their financial situation; they feel they lack the understanding of how to make more suitable decisions for themselves. They whole-heartedly accepted the fact that their attitudes and feelings about money make an impact on their financial situation and they were motivated to learn more about making the best use of their money personality. Couples were particularly interested in how they could use their perceived differences in personality so they could manage their money more harmoniously. All were eager to read my book, “Your Money Personality: What It Is and How You Can Profit from It” which Capital One Bank gave away. Many went a step further and expressed a desire to discover their money personalities by taking the Moneymax® questionnaire online so they could receive a personalized report of their trait scores and how to optimize them.

I was convinced, as I usually am in my conversations with people, that we lack personal education more than personal motivation in making the best use of our money. If you are interested in learning more about your individial money personality and how to profit from it, follow the link:

Remember your money personality makes an impact on how you use your money and the satisfaction you reap from it. To make any positive impact, you have to focus on your attitudes and feelings about your money as well as how you behave.