I've been thinking a lot about money lately.... particularly how people manage it when there are big changes in how income is earned in the household when babies arrive on the scene. How we manage the conversations about the money...
Because it seems like honest, in depth conversations about money (the kind that involve hard figures), are rare. Even with our closest friends, we are more ready to ask them about their sex lives than their salaries. O maybe aversion to money talk is a peculiarly Irish thing?
Where am I at money-wise? I have a lower income than a few years ago, but lower expenses (childcare and mortgage) mainly because if our rural idyll, and flexible work hours that allow us to spend a minimal amount on childcare. It's sometimes a juggle, with schedules, especially if one of us is traveling, but it works for us, for the moment. If we were still living in the city, we would be broke, and/or broken from the commute from the far-reaching hinterland of Dublin.
So, at the moment, money conversations are not a huge source of stress. This is partly because of the actual money coming in, but also because of the attitude to those very conversations. An attitude that I had to change for my own sanity, and so I could have a calm friendly conversation about the grocery budget.
Not long ago, my husband and I bought our first home together. It involved some of the most uncomfortable conversations I have ever had with him. I feel that I handle money well. I've never had any major debt. It's been many years now since I didn't have some savings to fall back on. I leave well within my means. But even with that he is much more frugal than me. He has had to be, working in the arts and not having a regular salary payable into a bank account on the designated day of the month. So he places different values on certain spendings. One man's luxury is another woman's absolute must-have necessity etc etc..
So when it came to totting up our income and expenses, figuring out how much of a deposit we could put down on the house, and getting all those balances and documentation ready for the bank, I found myself wanting to close down, resenting sharing any information on my most intimate financial affairs. The idea of having him see all my transactions laid bare made me feel exposed, uncomfortable and wishing I could hide in the bedroom rather than reveal my credit card balance.
The truth. It's not the credit card balance, not the money spent on a new coat (beautiful, but damn impractical), or having to reveal just how much a cut and colour in a fancy hair salon costs. No, it's something deeper. The laying bare of something shameful. Even as I write here I'm not quite sure how to express it... but something like..
"I should be better with my money"
" I don't deserve to spend money on myself"
" I should be ahead of where I am financially"
"He'll judge me because I spend more than he does on X"
Around the same time we were having these awkward, tense conversations, I happened across an interview with Bari Tessler. She;s a financial therapist (yep, I didn't know that existed either until hearing her speak). She writes about money shame, how to recognise is and get past it. Her book was revelatory, not Just because she made me stop and think about my money story (what I've learned about money from childhood and the beliefs that affect how I deal with it today), but because there were some very simple rituals and practices that made money conversations and money admin infinitely more bearable. It involved chocolate, mindfulness and fancy candles (which I did definitely deserve).
One of the basic tools she writes about is the body check-in- simply a process of noticing what's going on in the body and the head when it comes to thoughts and conversations about money. This is where the mindfulness comes in- the body scan is a basic tool of mindfulness practices. Acknowledging the tension that arises in your body when it comes to the money stuff- that's the first step. You can also use the breath to allow some of that tension in the body to dissipate, allowing you to approach the task or interaction from a more grounded place.
Another thing she suggests is when you have to do money admin, accounts, whatever, you bring some things in to make it a more pleasurable ritual, turn it into a "Money Date". Some soothing tea, chocolate, a glass of wine if you like, maybe a scented candle if that floats your boat.
I have to fight the urge to bury my head in the sand about the money stuff, but once I sit down and figure out my accounts, I discover it's actually kind of empowering and less scary than the not-knowing.
Speaking of scary and empowering... bringing a child into the world usually has a major impact on finances. So this money shame..it's better to get comfortable with it, to square up to it, sit it down on the sofa and have a good heart to heart, because like it or not, once kids enter the picture, the vast majority of us will have less money- more expenses, potentially reduced income.
Babies are not especially expensive. You may want private care for the birth, you may want extra help at home after the birth. But then you'll be at home right? So no need for office clothes, fancy lattes, gourmet sandwiches for lunch. But you'll be at home right? And how many of us get paid a full salary when on maternity leave? You might think it's noble to forgo all non-essential entertainment/treats/vanity/hobbies so you can stay home with the kids. But it's ok (and sometimes necessary for your mental health) to need a little bit more entertainment than the park and lego.. and yes there are lots of free things you can do, but sometimes you want the stuff that costs too, and you'll need to budget for that (and have the conversation about it!)
How many of us discuss the nitty grittty of the finances post-baby while we're planning the nursery or the babymoon? Will we talk about the shift (perceived or real) in the power dynamic when only one wage comes in? Will we trust that it all just resolves itself?
The actual money coming in is one thing. The different ways people approach it, manage it, and talk about it (or don't) is another.
If we are the primary stay home parent, we may need to learn how to ask for the money we deserve for the work we are doing- This goes for work in general, so why should it be any different when the work you are doing is being home with your kids?
The conversation you need to have might be about joint accounts vs separate accounts, how to spend less so you can manage on less income. It might be about why it makes sense for you to have a job that gets you out of the house, even if that job doesn't bring in huge cash (it's your sanity, your mental health, which has a huge impact on your children's happiness too..)
We all have different money stories and circumstances but conversations are fundamental. With your partner, with your friends, with your kids eventually.
So, if any of this resonates plan a money date with your partner. Schedule some time to have a money conversation. Bring in the chocolate, the wine, the relaxing music. Whatever you need to make it a relaxed environment.
Some other tips if the conversation is challenging:
Try to have the money date at a time when you both have enough energy for it.. theres nothing worse than talking about a tense topic when you're exhausted!
Know your feelings- do the body check-in mentioned above. Get your partner to do it too.
Know your story and beliefs about money (and theirs too if possible).
Speak from a place of calm, but know your worth, and the value of the work that you do.
Agree to take breaks if the conversation gets tense. Repeat the body scan or try something else to relieve the tension.
You wont resolve all the money questions overnight but you can definitely make more headway using this approach.
More tips from Bari Tessler here on the money dates with your honey.