Days 15 and 16 How to Talk Money With Your Partner

Full On 365™ took it to the mountains, and it was awesome! However, the most full-on part of the past few days was going deep with my partner. We spent our first Valentine’s Day together, even though we’ve know each other for years (12, to be exact!). We both had to take big risks to take action to finally be together as a couple after all these years, and it has been an amazing journey so far.

Since we’ve known each other as friends for so long, we both knew that we had some – ahem – “differences” that we’d have to work through. One of these is how we perceive money. In my life and in my coaching others with finance challenges, I’ve learned money issues are never about “money.” Money issues are about what money means to you, what it symbolizes for you.

For me: money is energy: I get it, I send it back out, I have fun with it, I create it, I don’t stress about it as much as the average person because I believe I will always have at least enough. Always have. Always will. I’ve lived out of my car simply (and intentionally!) for years, I’ve grown up in a very poor and violent neighborhood, I’ve stayed in 4-star hotels, I’ve stayed in huts where rats ran over my face as I slept. I’ve had lots of it, I’ve had little of it, I worked through the issues imbedded by my father that money makes people corrupt and, well, evil. With money, I know having it doesn’t mean it will make me happy. I’ve been happy with and without it, and I’ve been unhappy with and without it. I know I need it for some basic things, and I know the rest is bonus and can be really fun and inspiring if I use it well.

For him: money is an inconvenient part of life and you earn it to build security and allow freedom. And you don’t really need more of it than what is needed to meet those two needs. Having lots of money and having “things” as a result is excessive (meaning lots in the bank is OK though). Having lots of nice things (and “lots” is a subjective term!) is being greedy, and challenges values of living simply and not buying in to the consumer culture. For him, having a lot of it is somehow bad. There are so many with so little, and having things (especially nice things) ultimately takes more from them. People with less stuff were more…cool. Of course, I am paraphrasing his opinions, but this is about how I perceived it and tried to stay full-on with it all;)

I’ve been in his mindset. Once I became successful, I used to be ashamed of having money. I knew how I perceived people who had it when I had none. I admittedly judged them, and felt they were missing out on the “real” meaning of life because wealth was a distraction to knowing the suffering in the world and learning the truths of life. Wealth was a distraction to being a true participant in humanity. It separated you out. It made you less…spiritual.

But then I learned differently.

I learned that while not having it didn’t mean you were any less of a person, or necessarily any less happy, having it – even LOTS of it – also didn’t mean you were a lesser person, or any less happy. Money is energy. That’s it. What you do with it and how it affects you is up to you. Just because you have it doesn’t mean you need to be excessive or greedy, and just because you don’t doesn’t mean you are more simple or spiritual a person. Happiness and greed and selfishness are ultimately independent of money. I know selfish poor people and generous rich people. I know incredibly giving people living in poverty who went out of their way to feed me in Mexico despite the fact I earned 5o times their income, and stingy peeps who have millions in the bank that made me split a burrito dinner when I lived out of my car. It is about YOU. Not your money.

This difference between us that came up on this trip was heavy duty. We both share values of living simply, striving to create more socioeconomic equality in the world through the work we do and other actions we take, and have both demonstrated that we know “things” don’t make us happy. We first met when we made less than $11,000 a year and we were blissfully traveling the world. Now we are both successful professionals, blissfully traveling the world. This issue was there at both times in our lives!

This is because the issue was in how we perceived the motivation behind what we were doing – not in money itself.

I like my nice reliable Subaru, my condo in Telluride, my small 900 square foot cottage atop a hill in Ashland, my cute clothes that I feel sexy and fun in. He likes his Alaskan yurt with no running water, no “central heating,” his used Honda Civic that he drives through Arctic blizzards, and was perfectly content with one shirt and one pair of pants for 6 weeks in Africa.

Know what? I like those things too. I like it all. I find his traits totally hot, actually. I like how I have a reliable car but don’t need to buy lots of fancy jewelry or fur coats. I like how we BOTH spend most of our hard-earned money on plane tickets and adventures instead of accumulating things. I like that I can live it up with girlfriends in a nice spa, and also have the best time of my life in the Sierra backcountry, with all I need carried on my back.

It was hard to feel that he struggled with my desire to dance in my own version of the middle way. It admittedly hurt that my nice things made him uncomfortable. I felt judged, even though he swore up and down that he wasn’t judging me (hellooooooo, can you say “projection!”).

I grew up REALLY poor, man! I earned these significant luxuries in my life, and I know I am still a good person with them – or without. But what is the 1% truth that is always in what we think is not true? Ay ay ay. I had to go there.

So we talked about it. Some of the things we did to keep the discussion healthy and safe were:

  • Remind ourselves of our shared values – these were the same. The way we perceived money actually didn’t mean we had different values. It represented differences in what money meant to us individually. We both value living simply. We both value making the world a more equal and just place for all beings. We both value being as “green” as possible…and on and on!
  • Remember you don’t have to understand in order to accept. We trust one another, and who we are. I don’t need to understand “why” he feels the way he does. I simply need to do my best to understand as much as I can, give him the benefit of the doubt, and accept him. This has to go both ways, of course. And it did. Oh, and the other part is to let the other person be themselves as well. Not just accept, but celebrate!
  • Discuss shared long-term goals. This helps to keep the Big Picture in mind. You see how your differing styles can still work towards the same goals.
  • Focus on the ways differences are complimentary. He helps reel in my tendency to overspend, and I help him lighten up a bit (and learn to enjoy being comfortable from time to time!).
  • Remember to have a sense of humor. We crack up knowing that we were saying the same thing, but in different ways. We want the same things, and there are just some tweaks in the way we get there that we need to work through.
  • Remind yourself that while it’s important to share core values, mindsets and habits and behavioral patterns are malleable. Having money or not isn’t a core value. How we live – simply, generously, and in consideration of other beings on the planet – is.

We both stretched. We both went into it full on. He told me how he wanted to expand his perception of money and wealth to allow him to be more comfortable both with and without it. He stretched to understand how the way I saw living a life of simplicity, generosity and compassion was in line with his, even though it may look differently for both of us sometimes. And I stretched to admit I could do a better job at living more simply, and that I had moved away from some of those values more than I was comfortable with.

Whew! Sometimes living full on can be exhausting. After having visited friends in 4 cities, skiing in two states (Utah as well!) and hiking in the desert, this was the most full-on part of it all.