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You, me, and we: how to navigate a financial threesome Thumbnail

You, me, and we: how to navigate a financial threesome

Did you know your marriage or partnership is a threesome? It may sound shocking, but it’s 100% true. Your relationship includes your partner and you—the ‘you’ and the ‘me.’ So who is the mysterious third party? The ‘we,’ which includes your relationship, household, marriage, and more. (This is one of those rare cases where one plus one adds up to much more than two!) While it may sound a bit strange, viewing this medley of money, property, goals, and emotions as a beloved third party—the ‘we’—can make everything in a partnership easier to handle, especially planning and managing your finances.

My relationship with my husband Ed (of blessed memory) and our daily negotiation of TV time is a great illustration of where the lines are often drawn between ‘you,’ ‘me,’ and ‘we.’ That was back in the day when we had one TV, one remote, and a TIVO, which presented challenges most couples today can’t even imagine! Ed loved watching Cops and Jerry Springer, as well as two-day golf tournaments nearly every weekend. Those were his shows, not mine, which he watched by himself. (I loved the man dearly, but there are some things I don’t miss!) When I turned on my shows, dramas like Hill Street Blues and The West Wing, Ed always opted out. Clearly the ‘you’ and the ‘me’ did not share viewing preferences. But when we watched together, the ‘we’ took a seat in the room, and we loved watching anything that made us share a laugh. CheersEverybody Loves Raymond, and Married… with Children topped the list. Because there was rarely overlap between our favorites, we chose to let ‘we’ make the selections during our shared TV time in the evening. And yes, we compromised.

Choosing what to watch on TV is far less challenging today (one of the benefits of multiple TVs, iPads, and laptops!), but in most other situations, recognizing and honoring the ‘we’ still matters. It’s one of the first steps toward joyful cohabitation—and a key to successful and comprehensive financial planning. Here’s how to get started: 

  • Start with ‘we.’
    Recognizing your partnership as a separate entity in the planning process is essential. It means that each party has personal integrity to live and learn, while understanding that the ‘we’ has particular needs and goals. To identify what your ‘we’ needs, start by answering these three questions together:

    What lifestyle do we want?
    Lifestyle is meaningful when budgeting your life choices. How and where do you want to live? What role does status play in your choices? Do you want to live in the best neighborhood, or would you both be happy in a more modest home? Is a luxury car ‘essential,’ or are you comfortable driving vehicles you’ve loved for years? What about a country club membership? Agreeing on how you want to live—and understanding how your lifestyle impacts your overall budget—is vital.

    When do we want to stop working?
    Rethinking retirement has become a popular idea in recent years. For some, rethinking traditional retirement has become a financial necessity. Others may dream of retiring at the same time, or they may find the idea of a second or third career energizing. Deciding upon a shared or independent retirement impacts decisions you make today and sets expectations for the future.

    What do we want to do for others?
    Do you have an obligation or desire to support your adult children or aging parents? What about funding education for your kids or grandkids? Do you support a charity or give to your church or synagogue? While you may not agree on everything, you must negotiate transparently about how much of your budget is dedicated to helping others.

Once you agree on your desired lifestyle, retirement, and how to support others, then you’ve got the ‘we’ covered. How and where you live will dictate your mortgage (often the largest budget item, especially here in Southern California!). When you want to make work optional determines how much ‘we’ need to save for retirement every month to reach your goals. What you want to do for others will determine how much money to earmark for family or charity. Making these decisions can require a little (or a lot) of negotiation. The next challenge is allowing each other the freedom and trust to be ‘you’ and ‘me.’

  • Honor ‘you’ and ‘me.’
    Just like we have different preferences when it comes to television (I never stopped teasing Ed about his appreciation of Jerry Springer, and he always countered my jokes with a comment about my ‘boring’ British shows), most couples I know have very different preferences about what to spend on the non-essentials. One person may choose to spend on a trip to Europe with the grandkids (post-COVID, of course!), while another may see a little nip-and-tuck as this year’s top priority. While we probably aren’t bothered when a friend makes different choices that we do, within a couple, different spending priorities can cause some serious conflict.

    Mike doesn’t understand how his partner can spend so much of their budget on facials and mani-pedis, but he’s perfectly happy spending a bundle on the greens fees at Pelican Hill multiple times a week. Eileen is a dedicated saver and wants to put every extra dollar toward her freedom fund, but her husband wants a dream vacation to Europe. Brenda complains about her partner’s passion for luxury cars, but then she tells me how much she loves her latest pair of Louboutins. In each case, these couples face a choice: spend the rest of their days together being annoyed by each other’s choices (and perhaps set the stage for financial infidelity), or they can grant each other the autonomy, trust, and independence to be who they are because they know that the ‘we’ is covered. As RBG’s mother-in-law famously advised, “sometimes it pays to be a little deaf.” Or put another way: sometimes it pays to mind your own business.

Navigating your financial threesome can be tricky, and the best place to start is with a comprehensive financial plan and a budget that addresses the needs and goals of ‘you,’ ‘me,’ and ‘we.’ Yes, it’s a process that requires a lot of loving negotiation, but by honoring the third party in your relationship, you can create financial peace—and peace of mind—for years to come.  And when you need a guiding hand to make it happen, please reach out. I’m here to help!