The “Financial Review Date” My Husband and I Have Every Month
Money can be a contentious topic in relationships, but it doesn’t have to be. Throughout the course of our relationship, my now-husband and I gradually opened up about our financial realities. While our situations, spending habits, and earning potentials differed, we shared a commitment to maintaining open and ongoing communication around money. This practice has translated into our marriage by way of a money date that we look forward to having each month.
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What is a Financial Review Date?
I highly recommend this “financial state of the union” to anyone with some degree of joint finances, or in the process of merging finances. Standing money dates are not only a great way to take inventory of your bank accounts, but to grow closer as a couple, as they are built upon the very principles of a sound partnership: transparency, communication, and trust. They have the ability to not only limit fiscal feuds, but to maintain alignment between individual and shared goals in a relationship.
While it sounds like the type of conversation that could evoke stress and frustration, I look forward to this date every month for the very reason that it’s not about the money. It’s about the life we want to live — our dreams, desires, and aspirations. Money is just the tool to help us get there.
Why Is a Financial Review Date Important?
Whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly, a standing financial review date is beneficial in several ways. For one, the obvious: It’s a mechanism to take inventory of your progress toward your goals. Dually important, however, is that these dates strengthen accountability, as each partner communicates expectations around what they want to do and what they plan to do with their money. This is where consistency is key — scheduling money dates against a set cadence provides an imperative for each party to stick to their commitments, communicate when they stray off course, and bring an update to the table for the next meeting.
Financial review dates also provide an opportunity for couples to better understand each others’ financial philosophy. Personally, my husband and I each have a different approach to money management. One of us is stringent, the other, more laid-back. Since the purpose of our monthly financial reviews is to reiterate our shared goals and move closer to them, they force us to think tactically about what we spent on, how we feel about it, what we’re saving for, and how we plan to do it. This previous reflection and future planning compels us to examine our own money habits, and consider how we may want to reconcile or change those habits for the overall health of our relationship.
Planning Your Financial Review Date
Pick a time.
While consistency is key, flexibility is just as important when it comes to scheduling a financial review date. Life happens. My husband and I have found that weekends work best, as we both know we won’t be in the right frame of mind to approach the conversation during the work week. We tentatively plan for a given weekend each month, but wait for other plans to solidify before picking a time.
Set the mood.
Whenever our meeting is, we create an environment for a focused and fun conversation. This involves limiting distractions (mute notifications or put phones aside) and sitting down to some sips and snacks, such as a mid-morning coffee or evening glass of wine.
Start the clock.
Next, we set a timer, usually for 30 minutes. It doesn’t sound very romantic, but a time limit will prevent the conversation from going off on a tangent, and allow you to take a break if you find yourself getting frustrated or fixating on a single topic.
Do your homework.
We come prepared with our key topics in mind and any documentation. Oftentimes, the agenda is more aspirational than how our conversation actually plays out. For the sake of the relationship, you must be willing to change your approach. I like to crunch the numbers beforehand for my own sanity, but provide my husband, who gets spreadsheet fatigue, with a summary of main points. This makes for much more fruitful discussion, and I still have the numbers to reference.
How to Have Productive Financial Conversation
Our date typically starts with a comprehensive review of our current circumstances before we delve into the more aspirational topics. We refer to a shared Google sheet, though other tools, like YNAB, are also helpful. A consistent agenda with a few key topics, and requisite questions for each topic, have made financial housekeeping much easier.
Since my husband and I have currently settled on a hybrid approach to merging finances, this conversation is focused heavily on those finances which we do share. However, we do keep each other apprised of our “big picture” financial situation as individuals. It’s what works for us.
The Systems Audit
This includes an overview of our financial infrastructure, including our bank accounts, recurring transfers, and credit cards. As a couple, we’ve embraced financial minimalism, which has radically simplified how we monitor both our individual and joint finances. We consider questions like:
- How are all of our accounts working? Is there anything further we should merge, close, or keep separate? What access is required?
- Is our financial infrastructure (recurring transfers, payments, accounts) currently set up to support our short-term and long-term financial goals? Is it realistic to adjust the amount or frequency of these transfers, or do we need to reconsider our goals?
- Considering both our goals and daily expenses, what transactions do we currently have automated, and are those still working for us? Are there any outstanding payments or transfers we should automate?
This is the part of the conversation where we pull up the budget, as well as any categorized spending reports from our banks. YNAB typically makes this easier, since it contains all within a single tool. We ask ourselves:
- How well did we track to budget? What may have caused us to under/overspend in certain categories?
- Were we realistic in how we forecasted our spending?
- Were there any large, deliberate purchases we made which resulted in overspending? Do we need to shift funds from another category?
- How have our priorities and circumstances shifted from the previous month? Is there anything in our budget we should adjust accordingly?
Since we save a fixed amount every month, we’ll typically focus this part of the conversation on the future — if there are any circumstances we’ll need to consider and adjust for in our savings plan, and their respective time horizons. This is the fun part! We talk about:
- What do we have coming up in the next month or few months? Any events, activities, or expenses we need to prepare for? (This is a great time to talk about any travel plans!)
- Are we on track with our long-term goals? Are these goals still realistic, and do we need to adjust our savings approach or the goals themselves? (We often discuss future homebuying or household upgrades as part of this).
- How can we better align our savings strategy with our goals? Do we need to adjust our recurring transfers, or consider where the money is saved (e.g. Money Market, HYSA, CDs, Bonds)?
Quarterly, we’ll do a wealth review which follows a similar pattern as our regular money meetings, but focuses on examining investments, retirement, assets, liabilities, and large purchases instead.
Ongoing Checks and Balances
While pre-scheduled money dates provide a space to take care of our financial housekeeping, money matters inevitably make their way into everyday conversation. These may include things like seeking input on how to prioritize a potential purchase, spotting a transaction we’re curious about, or examining any lapses in the budget (for example, how did we blow our dining out budget during the first week of the month?). For these more ad-hoc topics, the same principles apply. Be patient, be present, and be purposeful — as a couple, we’re a team, and the goal is to approach our finances as such.
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