This is what happens when you use a Money Map in your intimate relationship.

written by Bari Tessler September 3, 2014
how-to-remove-money-tension

Welcome to the Community Voices Series! This is a special guest post from community member Arianna Taboada. I’m so pleased to share this with you today. When my team and I read this piece from Arianna, our jaws dropped — in the best possible way! She and her husband have done some truly impressive work on their money relationship, both as individuals and as a couple. And they’ve done it all on their own, inspired by blog posts they’ve read here — and their own open minds and big hearts, of course! This is truly a testament to the shifts anyone can create in their money relationship when they show up, get honest, and do the work. Arianna, we’re all shoulder shimmying and cheering for you two! For more on Arianna, see the bottom of this post.

I remember the look on my husband’s face shortly after I came home with a quote for a new health insurance plan, happy as a clam with what I thought was a reasonable rate for good coverage. When I nonchalantly shared the figure, he looked at me like I was from outer space and asked me if I was serious.  I immediately went into pressuring mode. He immediately went into ignoring mode. Uh oh.

If you have ever gone down this road with a loved one, you know that feeling. It’s like a storm brewing in the pit of your stomach. And even if you keep the storm from blowing up into a downpour of shouting, that feeling is still not a pleasant one. For either of you.

This was not the first time that dollar bills (or pesos in our case, as we live in Mexico) were the culprit of a disagreement about how to allocate our money.  That storm-a-brewing feeling showed up, uninvited, shortly after merging bank accounts and seemed ever-present during our first year of marriage. Every month ended in a disgruntled, jaw-clenching, grit your teeth type of conversation about how to get the bills paid and things in order for the next month.

Now, the picture I painted above is pretty grim. Seriously, I would not want to be around that couple that I described above! They don’t seem fun, or loving at all. Luckily, our money-related bickering was not the center of our partnership. Like any couple, the foundation of our partnership was built on our common passions and experiences. We both come from immigrant families; we both have a daily spiritual practice; we both love food, films, travel, children, and each other!

Of course, we have those differences that make us appreciate each other that much more: one of us is the queen of organization (that’s me) while the other thrives in chaos (that’s him). One of us is a total night owl, and the other an early bird; one loves coffee and the other tea…the list goes on. We recognize and celebrate these differences and they also are part of the foundational fabric of our partnership.  We can joke about these differences, discuss them with ease and laughter.

But there is one difference we never openly discussed until coming across Bari’s End of Year Money Ritual: we come from very different class backgrounds. Yup. That’s it. Sounds pretty simple, and may even seem obvious that we might discuss this. But we didn’t. And that silence showed up in the form of our bill-paying storms when we each desperately wanted to be heard and listened to and have our reality acknowledged, but all there was time for was dry decision-making.

Or so we thought.

With a money map in hand, we were able to revisit our class backgrounds, share how they influenced our childhoods and shaped our individual relationship to money — and how they still affect our partnership and joint money story.

We discovered that those bill-paying storms were not so much about how we agreed or disagreed about money and finances. Rather, they were a symptom of the fact that we did not have a process for sharing our perspectives and making financial decisions that both of us could feel good about.

And while this brilliant money mapping process is useful for couples from all backgrounds, I’m going to go ahead and say it is critical for couples who don’t share the same class background. To that end I am going to share the three major “aha” moments that we discovered the first time we dove into our End of Year Money Ritual, and offer some lessons learned and action steps.

Aha #1: Discuss the meaning behind your “basic expenses”

Your idea of “basic expenses” might not be your partner’s idea of “basic expenses.”

I grew up in a middle class home where annual trips to the doctor and dentist were a regular part of my childhood. I never thought twice about health insurance being a basic expense. My husband, on the other hand, didn’t start having regular check ups and dental visits until he was 18, when he joined the Red Cross as a paramedic and it was required.

Sure, we both agreed on an intellectual level that preventive health care is important — but our experience with having and not having it be part of our family’s household budget growing up made my coming home with an estimate (flashback to the first sentence in this blog post) a big deal. Especially because we are both self-employed, and health insurance therefore makes up a significant percentage of our income.

Up until we were married, I was insured through the university where I was completing my graduate studies, and he continued with his Red Cross benefits. Once we were married, we ended up purchasing private insurance for both of us, even though we could not afford it. Since this post is about bearing the truth, I can honestly say that we primarily made this choice because I was wedded to maintaining the same experience I had during my childhood, and for him it was not worth trying to talk me out of it.

Once we used the money map and took a long, hard, honest look at our budget, we ended up switching to the public insurance (Mexico’s Seguro Popular).

Lesson Learned + Action Step: We all have our own definitions of basic needs and expenses based on our individual or family experience, and can’t make any assumptions that our partner will have the same definition.

To start discussing this, individually make a list of all items that for you each think of as basic expenses. Compare your lists. Then, together you can come up with a “basic budget” that fits where you stand as a couple.

Aha #2: Factor in family obligations

We spent the early years of our relationship (before getting married) living in the US, with “regular” jobs and “regular” paychecks. We had no money map that guided our decision making, but had enough income to cover all our expenses and some discretionary income left over. However, there never seemed to be a trail showing us where that “left over” money seemed to go. When faced with an unexpected expense, we simply weighed the pros and cons, and make a decision in that moment. When family asked to borrow money, if we had it, we sent it. Sweet, right? While the intentions are sweet, over the long term, this pattern became a point of tension in our relationship. Again, this goes back to our own backgrounds and family money patterns as we were growing up.

My husband grew up with money lending being part of the everyday equation. He had a large extended family, and if someone needed money, you gave it, because you knew that they would do the same for you when you needed it. Likewise, I grew up knowing I could turn to a family member if I was having any financial problems. I regularly heard my parents mention borrowing from their family for things like college, mortgages, etc. However, there was a key difference in our family practices: sharing versus loaning.

My husband’s family functioned on the principle of sharing during his childhood. So, as soon as he began working, he sent money to his parents regularly. My family functioned on the principle of loaning, and anytime money was given, it was expected to be returned at some point.

This difference, and not discussing it, was central to the challenges we faced in sharing our income with family. Because my husband and I were the only people in his immediate family with a college education and steady income, we also became the people everyone came running to in emergency situations. We paid for his sister to move across the country to be closer to his parents, sent cash for the emergency C-section of his nephew, paid off his father’s cell phone bill … the list goes on. And while we both were annoyed at times, we continued because it seemed like the right thing to do. Until we look a hard look at our bank accounts. Then it was more than annoying: it was worrisome and frustrating. But we did not know what to do about it.

When we built our money map we decided to have a specific line item dedicated to family obligations – a finite amount we could afford to share each month without it affecting our ability to cover our own costs. However, just because we wrote it down, didn’t make it easy to stick to. We had to have a painful conversation with our loved ones about our own money problems, and let them know that our giving tree now had a limit. It was not fun, but it was necessary. We had to spend a few months openly stating this change, to ourselves and to our family, because, well, behavior change takes time! In the long term, this has allowed us to practice our commitment to family support without sabotaging ourselves in the process. And as a little bonus, our family became more cognizant of not asking for support that was beyond our capacity to give.

Lesson Learned + Action Step: Financial generosity is an important value to hold and cultivate for many couples and families. We found it needs to be accompanied by limits and honest conversations. If your family depends on you (for regular support or emergency situations), make sure family support is a part of your financial planning (e.g. make it a line item in your budget!) and openly discuss your limitations with loved ones. Remember, it might take more than one discussion.) 

Aha #3: Share your savings shame

Our income as a couple has fluctuated quite a bit, but creating a plan for saving has been a constant challenge. When we were financially unstable, we constantly dipped into our savings account to cover basic costs like rent and groceries. It was basically a checking account with a saving account costume on. When we had more stable moments, we would put chunks of cash away into the savings account, but it was a vicious cycle of building it up only to spend it down.

This is a learning moment in progress for us, and while we have not resolved it, we have taken the time to reflect on our pattern and discuss it. In these discussions, guided by Bari’s body and emotional awareness techniques, we began to uncover deep seated shame tied to savings that, again, is heavily influenced by our socioeconomic status growing up.

Every time I looked at our dwindling (or empty) savings account, I felt a deep sense of failure. Growing up, I was carefully coached to put money I earned or that was gifted to me in a “safe place” where I would not touch it. Early on, this was a piggy bank, but later it grew into a savings account, retirement account, Roth IRA. I grew up with the understanding that saving money is simply what responsible, successful adults do – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. When our savings dwindled, I felt that cloud of shame looming above me, and was terrified of my family seeing the long row of zeros in my account.

My husband has similar feelings — but to the opposite situation. The times when our savings account was growing, he was ashamed, because he was taught that any time there is income left over, you are supposed to share it with family.  Having money tucked away for a rainy day or an emergency, much less a retirement account, were actions that were equivalent to greed or being overly individualistic within his family narrative.

In our money rituals, he began to notice his own pattern of self-sabotage around savings, a cycle of spending and giving away any extra money because he wanted to avoid that sense of being perceived as greedy or uncaring. We found ourselves in an unhealthy, vicious cycle of not knowing how to break these emotional and financial patterns, despite our best intentions and genuine desire to save. Like most people, we don’t have it all figured out yet, but we know we want to move out of our current situation, and are committed to doing so.

Lesson Learned + Action Step: Our basic takeaway is that financial baggage comes with emotional baggage, and to resolve the financial challenges, the emotional challenges have to be tackled.

This is nothing Bari does not tell her community already, but it’s one thing to read it and nod your head in agreement thinking, “yeah, money and emotions go hand in hand, I get it,” and another thing to sit with that vulnerability with your partner, and to commit to fully experiencing what emotions arise.

So what’s the action step? We wish we knew. That’s where we want to reach out to you wonderful readers and see what you recommend. What experiences, stories, and processes can you share? We’d love to hear your thoughts! (You can email your thoughts to us by sending a note to [email protected] ).

arianna200wArianna Taboada is a social worker, health researcher, and yoga teacher who lives, works, and plays in Mexico. She specializes in working with healing and helping professionals, with a dedication to helping the helpers replenish their own phsyical and mental strength so that they can continue to do good work. She is passionate about providing the tools and expertise to help people develop sustainable self-care practices for a more balanced life. You can find her at www.ariannataboada.com.

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