How to Set Joint Financial Goals with Your Partner

When my wife and I got married last September, one of the first things I resolved to do was to create a list of questions and topics we would need to discuss in order to arrive at a comprehensive list of goals for our life together. I think my wife is used to my organized nature by now, so when she received an email request for a “meeting” with the list of questions attached, I’m sure she was not surprised. Actually, I think she rather enjoyed it.

Just as goal-setting with yourself is important for achieving what you want out of life, when two become one, your goals must also be compatible, or at least non-conflicting, in order for the marriage to succeed. The wonderful thing is that you can build goals on your partner’s strengths and take them to levels never before thought possible.

The Basics of Goal-Setting

I’m sure that you’ve heard the SMART acronym used at least once before when talking about goals. It’s defined in different ways, depending on who you ask, but essentially drills down to the five major qualities that all successful goals should have:

  • Specific – Having a very defined purpose and end in mind
  • Measurable – Being able to apply a means of gauging progress
  • Attainable – Not too far out of reach
  • Relevant – In alignment with your life’s mission and overall goals
  • Time-Constrained – Having a set deadline

If you can manage to set goals that address each of these five key areas, you are five steps ahead of the average person trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

Why Time Frames are Important

I believe the most critical component to goal-setting is a time frame in which you want to achieve your goal. Without time frames, goals are just wish lists that may or may not ever happen in your life. A time frame, defined both for the end result, and for intermediate checkpoints, allows for you to understand that not taking specific and measurable actions day by day or week by week would result in falling behind and negatively impact your ability to reach the goal. Try doing that without a deadline!

Back to Partners – What Questions Do I Ask?

Here is a list of questions that you can use to start a comprehensive conversation with your partner about your joint goals. It’s based loosely around the list I used with my wife, but I’ve made a number of additions that I believe are relevant, and removed a few items that were very specific for our family:

  • Where do you see your career going?
  • What kinds of jobs would you like to have in your lifetime?
  • What hobbies will you pursue?
  • Do you intend to further your education, and if so – where?
  • Is home ownership a desire?
  • Would you like to have kids, how many, and when?
  • Would you like to donate your time and/or money to charity? Which ones?
  • How do you see retirement? How long do you intend to work?
  • What importance do you place on health care? Do you want to invest in preventative care? Vitamins? Gym memberships?
  • What are your views on borrowing money to make purchases? Would you borrow to buy a car, boat, etc.?
  • How important is travel to you? Where do you want to travel and when? How elaborate do you envision the trips?
  • Are friends and social interactions important to you? Do you like expensive outings or affordable entertainment?

Okay, now what?

You’ve read about why goals are important, the basics of setting goals, and some of the questions and topics to cover when discussing joint goals with your partner. Now, create a list of your own questions and set aside some time to have a heart-to-heart with your loved one. It may not happen during the first session, but you will soon create a shared feeling of trust and excitement as you realize that you are laying out your new life together for the first time. Enjoy the experience!

Photo by ganesha.isis

8 thoughts on “How to Set Joint Financial Goals with Your Partner

  1. My wife and I struggle with this. One of the hardest things about personal finance within a family is managing the personal nature of that finance. We have such different histories with money that its oftentimes hard to reconcile them.

    1. @Greg – The same is true with our families, but we give and take on each side, and we eventually come to some sort of agreeable compromise. I’ve learned to see things “her way” and in return, she has learned to see it “my way.” We’ll swing back and forth sometimes between our two styles, depending on the situation.

  2. Thanks for the post and the questions to ponder. My question is this: I’m in a relationship with someone, and we openly discuss these topics even though we don’t discuss marriage at this point. Wouldn’t you want to know these things about the person that you will spend your life with BEFORE you marry them? In essence, maybe sitting down after your engagement or before you even before you get engaged would make more sense? The way I see it, since I’m very financially oriented, this is something that you want to share with your partner, and you want to know that you are sharing it with them before you have committed yourself to them for life. Did you wait until you had already gotten married or was it before then that you sent her the email and wanted to discuss these ideas?🙂

    1. @Meghan – I totally agree with your point – I think you should definitely be clear about many of the topics I’m talking about here before you commit to someone. Many people get married and then realize that what they thought were compatible goals are actually very different ways of looking at things. For example “I want to travel” may mean completely different things to two different people.

      The email I’m specifically referring to was after we got married. However, I had been with my wife for 5 years prior to getting married and knew the answers to most, if not all of these questions in detail.

      For us, the process of goal-setting as described in my post was more about setting aside the time to sit down and take pen to paper on ideas we had been discussing for many years. This may be awkward to do if you’re still in the “dating” stage – after all, you haven’t really committed to anything. That’s not to say, however, that you can’t talk about financial and life issues and take mental notes.

      Setting joint goals has enabled us to become more focused on what we want out of life and ensures that we both have a “blueprint” to help each other reach our individual and joint goals.

      In many ways, you question drives at the core of setting individual goals as well – many people “know” what they want out of life and can recite it to you in pretty good detail. But until they write things down and create a plan for getting to their goals, it’s hard to figure out how to proceed.

      I hope that gives you some more to think about!🙂

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