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The Financial "Must Do" List for You and Your Spouse

February 10, 2017

Having a partner should provide an opportunity for reaching more goals because you can support each other in ways you could not do on your own.

There is an old saying that a good marriage is made up of many compromises.  When it comes to the day to day things like taking out the garbage, what to eat for dinner or sorting the laundry, I think the saying has a lot of merit.  When it comes to our larger, more important goals in life, I think the saying falls short.  Having a partner should provide an opportunity for reaching more goals because you can support each other in ways you could not do on your own.  The problem is that many people do not take the time to share their goals and create a unified list.  Here are some helpful steps in creating your shared values and goals:

  1. Write down all the goals you want to accomplish in life on index cards, one goal per card.  This should include things you know you are going to do as well as things you desire.  Items on the list could include a degree, buying a home, having a vacation lake house, learning a new skill, or keeping up on a fun activity you already enjoy.  Now that you have your list put the cards in order of most important to least important. For the time being keep your list separate from your spouses.
  2. On a separate set of index cards write down all your values, those things that you want to live your life by.  Obviously this list, just like the goal list will differ between people but you might end up adding things like raising kids with grit, experiencing different cultures, eating healthy or giving to others.  Again keep your list separate from your spouses and put them in order of importance.
  3. Now that both of you have your separate lists, work to combine your goals into one list, again ordering them from most important to least important. Do the same thing for the values cards.  This is not necessarily an easy task because there are two different opinions coming together so go slow and be open to discussion.  Perhaps take turns reordering the cards and discussing why each is important.
  4. Now that you have two lists, one for your joint goals and one for the joint values, it is time to add dollar amounts to the goals cards.  Write down how much it is going to cost to obtain that goal.  If it is a goal that is a number of years away, you might need to discuss this with a qualified financial planner in order to get a true sense of what it will cost adding inflation and producing income from the asset.  The other important part about cost is to figure out how much you need to save each month in order to accumulate the necessary amount.  Once all the cards have dollar amounts on them we move to the next step.
  5. As a couple, it is time to go down the list and figure out what you can afford.  Hopefully the first few goals are going to be fairly straight forward in terms of being able to reach them based on having enough income.  The further down the list you go together the more challenging it will become to confidently say that there will be funds available to pay for the goal.  You may in fact, realize that there are goals that will be unfunded.
The entire point of this exercise will hit home here because you might realize that you ran out of money for something important to you.  If that happens, feel free to reorganize the cards, just remember that something will most likely be out of reach.  It is better to know that now, than trying to accomplish everything and not make progress on anything.  Because there are two of you doing this together things might get very real and hopefully a deep and open conversation ensues.
As you go through the organization of the goal cards you will want to have your values out where you can see them.  The purpose is to remind you of what is important as you organize your goal cards.  Be thoughtful and make sure you don’t order your goals in a way that negates your values.  Don’t just go through the motions of life, live it to the fullest.  Remember, you can do anything you want, but most likely don’t have the time nor money to do everything. 
For most people it helps to talk these types of things out with someone knowledgeable as to the costs of goals.  In many instances a financial planner can help you go through your budget and find ways of obtaining more of your goals, or at the very least, help you increase the odds of getting to the most important ones.  

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Written by: Tom Elkins

Tom Elkins is a financial planner and the regional VP based out of the Boston office of Trilogy.  As a former teacher Tom makes it a point to help his clients learn more about the various financial bridges they need to cross so they can make informed decisions.  Over the past 15 years he has built a successful career working with high net worth families and closely held businesses.  Tom is also an outdoor enthusiast who regularly mountain bikes, seeks adventure hiking with his family, or can be found camping under the stars.  On rainy New England days Tom will often spend time in his woodshop building furniture.      

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