Have you ever been talking to a friend about her husband and she says something like, "He got me a Fitbit for Christmas. Can you believe that?!"
And you totally want to agree with her, but you have no idea if she means, "Can you believe how insensitive he is?" or "Can you believe he got me exactly what I wanted?"
Have you ever been talking to a friend about the FitBit her husband gave her and she says something like, "It cost $150. Can you believe that?"
And you totally want to agree with her, but you have no idea if she means, "Can you believe this little plastic insult cost so much?" or, "Can you believe this thing that's totally going to transform my life was such a great deal?"
For the record, I'd love a Fitbit, but I think $150 is a lot of money.
So I got to thinking about how our romantic perceptions are as different as our financial perceptions.
I have friends who think $50 is not an expensive lunch. I do.
I have friends who think it's romantic when their husbands take them to nice restaurants. I think it's romantic when my husband laughs because I accidentally sneezed Froot Loops onto his hoodie (and, no, that is not a euphemism).
But even with such different ideas of romance, experts say that healthy relationships have common thought patterns and basic behaviors.
I recently discovered this article on the keys to a healthy relationship, and several of the keys stood out to me as being just as applicable to our relationship with money.
Show interest (in your account balance)
Remember that cool guy in college who was your Chem lab partner and you might have been dating but you weren't totally sure because he never, you know, asked you a single thing about yourself? And you were too scared to ask where you stood because you feared the answer would not be what you wanted to hear?
Yeah, don't take that approach with your money.
Sure, it's kind of fun when your finances are aloof. Then you have permission to spend $20 on a glass of wine because you're not sure you can't afford it. And you don't have to feel guilty about putting that Vegas weekend on your credit card because you don't know that your APR went up to 15.99%.
If your current financial philosophy is, "I'd rather not know how bad it is," then I'm here to break it to you. You were never dating that cool guy in college. You wasted your time and your meticulous chem lab notes. Don't waste your shot at a sound financial relationship because you're afraid of the truth.
G.I. Joe was right: "Knowing is half the battle." When you know where you stand, you can make informed choices about your future.
Know exactly how much money you have and where it's located. Know exactly how much debt you have and where. Know how much you are paying in interest on your credit cards. Know your APRs. Know your monthly budget.
Practice acceptance (of your current financial situation)
You've probably heard this: "He's a really great boyfriend--I've just gotta get him to communicate."
And you probably responded, "You have to accept your partner at face value. You can't marry his potential."
Now apply that advice to your own finances.
You can't spend your potential money. Of course you wish the $10 bill in your pocket had another zero, but it doesn't.
You could put $100 on your credit card and hope you have the money to pay it off later. But it'll be like your friend's situation above, and everyone will be placing bets at your wedding about how long it'll take for you to accept the truth.
And you can't divorce your financial situation, short of bankruptcy (and sometimes not even then).
There's real, genuine power in acceptance, in claiming, This is who I am, and this is where I am financially--because then you can give up wishful thinking and put together a realistic plan of action.
Give respect (to your goals and your budget)
Respect is more than a general attitude; it's the way you approach decisions you make multiple times a day, every day. And, like dieting, it doesn't lead to positive long-term results if you're only practicing it two months out of the year.
You can't be a good partner on the weekends only (when you're not so stressed about work) and expect to have a healthy relationship. Similarly, it doesn't make much difference if you're putting $100 a month into savings if you're also charging $100 worth of crap on your credit card each month.
Respect is a constant practice. It requires a consistent effort. It's in the details.
Nobody wants to wash the dishes or call customer service.
Just like nobody wants to live on a budget or have to say no to a fun weekend trip with friends because it's too much money.
When you respect your partner, you do the thing you don't want to do because you're more interested in having a successful partnership than you are in satisfying an immediate want.
When you respect your finances, you do the things you don't want to do because you're more interested in having successful finances than you are in satisfying an immediate want.
When you want to just buy one lunch out, or order those shoes online that are only $35, you have to prioritize your higher financial needs – like keeping a roof over your head or feeling good about your money situation.
Be mindful of using words like "just" or "only". They forward a perception that there is such a thing as an insignificant amount of money.
Every dollar has value.
Show positive regard (for the things you already have)
So your co-worker always has negative things to say about her husband, and then you meet her husband at the office holiday party and he's the most wonderful human you've ever experienced. (You actually like him better than your co-worker.) And you think, "She has no idea what she's got."
Your friend keeps complaining about money. She just never has enough. It's always so stressful for her. Then one day you find out how much she makes and it's twice what you make. And you think, "She has no idea what she's got."
It's all about what we choose to focus on. If our perception is that our partner isn't good enough or that we don't have enough money, then those things are true.
When we appreciate what we already have, like the ability to pay our bills or enough money to feed our kids, then what we don't have doesn't seem so worthy of our focus.
Photo: Rafael Gonzalez