Your money. My money. Our money mindset

I remember that feeling of dread as the post arrived. It was always bad news - another bill, an exceeded overdraft letter, or some other miserable financial burden. Let’s just say that my adult relationship with money started off pretty badly. I did not grow up with lots of money around me, and I had no relationship with it at all until I left home for university in 1991 and had to fend for myself. And even then I treated money in an off hand manner, hoping (praying) that it would look after itself.

I blame my school eduction for this - where no money education took place. And my parents (disclaimer: this is no blame game really, but rather a sign of the times and a bloody good learning opportunity for me and my family).

In short, I had absolutely no financial education. Growing up when I asked my parents questions about money I would get vague answers;

‘How much money does Dad earn?

‘£100’

How much does a car/house/holiday cost?

‘£100’

And so on and so forth. Literally.

It was as though money was a subject not to be discussed.

And so we didn’t.

I remember when my student friends talked about their job ambitions and that they hoped to earn £14k after graduating (the 1994 average graduate wage), I had literally no idea what they were talking about. And so I did not know what to aim for, what I should look for, what I was worth.

And later, when my husband Nick and I first met (as graduate students), he shared a nice 2 bed flat in leafy Surbiton with a college friend and drove an old Volvo, and I, on the other hand, shared a skanky flat in Wandsworth above a 24 hour taxi cab office (the noise! the smell!) with a couple of girlfriends and relied on the bus everyday.

I had gone through university on student grants and loans, low paid bar work and babysitting, and a wing and a prayer. Nick on the other hand had had a bit more help and guidance from his parents, and had experienced well paid and interesting part time student jobs.

I was used to scratching around to find money to pay bills (literally counting the coins to feed the electricity meter), Nick had absolutely no desire to live that way. Whilst I was in debt to my student loans (which scared me), trying to balance studying with a few teaching hours here and a few research hours there (which stressed me out), and no clear plans or vision for the future but rather a sense/hope/intuition that it would all work out (which I realise now left me so powerless), Nick had some savings, a reasonable salary from the university where we both taught and studied, and visions of setting up his own business.

And more than that, he challenged me on my approach to money (and life). Sometimes his perspective annoyed me (as I had no answers and had a sense that I had a LOT of work to do here), but mostly the questions and conversations inspired me.

For example, I can remember a holiday in Turkey back in 1996 (thankfully paid for by his parents ;) where we sat together on the beach and dreamed about designing our perfect future home... and this was enough for me to start to shift my mindset. The idea of planning for the future, of having a shared dream and going for it set us off on our shared (money) journey. We had big dreams to aim for! We were aligned (mostly) and had a clearer sense of where we were heading - together.

Slowly I managed to pay off my debts and the anxiety inducing letters stopped coming. I got a better paying job and started to see how much more powerful I felt when I was in control rather than at the mercy of other forces (lack of vision, crippling indecision and lack of self worth being powerfully against me here). But my tenacity and self belief, some serious work around my money mindset, added to Nick’s support and inspirational start up biz journey gave me powerful momentum. We were creating our future reality. And things started to shift for us.

Nearly 25 years later we both have our own businesses (Nick’s business is now 22 years old). And on the way we have had many seriously lean times, scattered with some financially explosive times (the very nature of working for yourself). We have had some luck, but we have created many of the opportunities that have come our way. More importantly we have ALWAYS talked about money. Not in an obsessive way, not in a greedy way, but in ways that have enabled us to communicate and learn and grow together. We have had a shared vision that has enabled us to grow and to leap forward, and to buffer and support and push through the lean times. And appreciate and enjoy the more comfortable times.

Today we have very similar money mindset, and we are a team when it comes to finances; meaning that we talk regularly about money, and we openly share our incoming and outgoing financial situations, we have similar ideas on what we want to spend money on and how to save and invest, we both have pensions, and most importantly we have a plan for our financial future. We share clear boundaries on spending and respect for each other when it comes to big ticket items for the home and family, always discussing (sometimes over months!) before committing. We are shrewd, but not miserly. We are brave, but not risk taking. We are generous, but not stupid.

In fact, we talk about money all the time. Although not directly; Money comes up in so many ways - in our lifestyle choices (where we live, the cars we drive, the clothes we buy, where we can afford to grocery shop), choices around our children’s education, their busy social lives, their futures (school choices, clothing, parties, friendship groups), and so on.

Not a day goes by without a discussion that reflects the financial choices we are making.

And so I am glad that I was forced to think differently about money. I am glad that we have gone through difficult, lean times and difficult conversations as it has created the freedom and openness that we have today to discuss money without it being a flashpoint or sparking a row. That’s not to say that we never disagree on money but it is more likely that we will agree a plan and move forward together, which is great for every aspect of our relationship, not just our finances ;)