Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Handling Financial Hardships as a Family When Options Are Limited

Financial rough patches will happen in life. Money fights are one of the top three reasons that drive couples to divorce regardless of your socio-economic status. 

A friend of mine recently asked what advice I would give on handling financial hardships as a family when options are limited. In my blog post, How You Got Fat?!, I shared a little about the financial hardships my family faced between 2006 and 2011. While I cannot give advice on how to build wealth (yet), I can definitely speak on what Olivia and I do to strengthen our own marriage when financial times are rough. We've been told by marriage experts and pastors that a just a fraction of what we endured would split up couples.

This is how Olivia and I handle financial hardships:

Remember Whose Team You're On
First and foremost, Olivia and I remind ourselves that neither of us is the enemy. We refer to ourselves as one flesh...with two equal but very different minds. Kinda like the movie "Pacific Rim", but with a much better plot.

Many couples see money crises as a great opportunity to blame each other for spending too much money on stuff they don't need. We used to be very good at that, too. Spending Blame Level - Expert!

My advice here. Don't go there. The money is gone, and it's not coming back (unless it's not too late for a refund/return, then get that money back...and give up the service or stuff.) Blaming your spouse is abusive and not uplifting for your marriage, and it's a great way to kill the next vital piece to getting through a financial hardship.

Communication, Communication, Communication
Olivia tends to react to a financial hardship verbally and emotionally while I tend to respond with introspection. I want to solve a problem. She needs reassurance that we'll be okay. Communicating our reactions to each other is crucial. 

I later learned that Liv took my silence to mean that I was angry with her for some reason. The reality was that I went into problem-solving mode. My mind begins working facts, options available, outcomes for failure and success. In moments like these, I need a lot of wall space I can write on. Olivia needs a hug, reassurance that she did nothing wrong, and that no matter what I love her. I used to mistake this for panic, and an immediate need for a solution I didn't yet have. 

Twelve years into our marriage, and we still go through this process like it's the first time we're facing a crisis.

Have a Plan
Nerd Plan, numbers on
spreadsheets (Jerry)
I love having a plan...even though plans never survive first contact with the enemy (the financial crisis, not my wife).

Answer the following questions:
  • Is the financial hardship a short-term crisis (a vehicle repair, ER co-pay), or a long-term issue (college tuition, large medical expense, spending habits, credit card debt)? 
  • How much is the financial hardship?
  • Where is your money going right now? 
  • Where can you make immediately cuts that will free up money right now? (short-term solution) 
  • How can you create extra money both in the short-term (garage sale, Craigslist, eBay) and the long-term (extra jobs, new job/business solution)?
  • What are your payment options?
These are hard to talk about, but they need to be discussed.

Once a plan is put together, it's just a matter of trusting the plan and keeping the communication lines open among family members.

Normal People Plan,
Checkboxes and numbers worked out
on a scratch piece of paper. (Olivia)
Bring the Kids into the Conversation
Kids are smart, observant, and typically want to do what is right for the family. Olivia and I used to disagree on how to involve our kids in our money troubles, but ultimately decided that keeping them informed was best for their own development. Eventually, they will be adults having to make their own financial decisions. What better way to teach them then to let them see how their parents handle money the right way? 

What we found is that our kids would actually suggest sacrifices they could make to help out! It made saying "no" a lot easier. Your kids may even make suggestions on how to help raise money. If they want to do a lemonade stand, go for it! Garage sale, same, just keep an eye on what they want to sell off. It might be your stuff instead of theirs.

Revisit the Plan
When you're lost in the woods, it's important to constantly check your compass and map to see that it matches where you are at that moment to stay on course. In the same way, you're in crisis mode and need to continue checking where you are presently with where you are on your plan. Adjust the plan if needed, but keep checking the plan, and keep making updates.

Keep Communicating
Even today, we are not rich nor wealthy...yet. In fact, our family's 2013 gross income is below the median salary for Corpus Christi (so please buy my eBook on Amazon, Use Your Smartphone to Lose Weight!) Communication remains the cornerstone of our financial strategy. I know that the better we get at communicating about our finances the stronger we become in our marriage and the better our financial outlook in the years to come.

Money is active according to Dave Ramsey, therefore married couples need to stay active in their communication about the family finances. If you don't, those "Gotchas" will get you every time.

Olivia and I look over our finances together every payday, and we discuss how much we give, how much goes into savings, and how we spend the rest. It's during this time we also discuss how to handle one-time expenses that are coming up. I even strike up the Christmas gift conversation around August, because I realized that Christmas always happens in December. 

You have to practice healthy communication to be able to have this kind of discussion every week.

Keep Learning
As we get older and transition into different stages of life, it is important to continue learning about healthy communication in marriage and managing our money. The more we know the more prepared we are for whatever life will throw at us.

Recommended Reading
Books worth reading (notice the emphasis on communication in marriage)
Web resources

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