Money for some has become a taboo topic. Not only is it something we don't speak with others about, but money is off limits even to ourselves. It's no surprise so many people feel like they are struggling financially. What can we do?
It is important to first look and question ourselves and our actions financially. What's done is done, so do not to hold the present hostage to the past. Accept what has happened and to learn from it in order to make better decisions moving forward. We have 6 money questions you can ask yourself to get the ball rolling.
And for those getting into or have existing long-term relationships, it's important to have similar money questions for the partnership. Are you both on the same page? We'll list out 6 more money questions to get the conversations started. Let's dig it.
6 Money Questions To Ask Yourself
1. Do I have a budget?
The budget is the cornerstone of any financial strategy. Most financial literacy starts with a budget.
But what is a budget exactly? A budget is simply a plan for what you will do with your money. Often monthly, but it can be done weekly or yearly. In general this boils down to listing all income and expenses for the given period (week, month), then planning how you intend to spend/save money.
Why is this useful? For one thing, seeing all your expense helps clarify where your money is going. Knowledge is power. You cannot improve your financial situation without knowing where you are, or how you got there. Budgets clarify your position so you can begin to make changes. This is why the first question is asking yourself if you have a budget.
2. What kind of debt do I have?
Debt. We love to hate it. Or is it hate to love it? Depends on who you ask. But what is clear is that American's have a lot of it. According to BankRate, consumer debt sits at a whopping $16.5 trillion dollars. That is a lot of debt. When it comes to assessing your financial situation, you need to find out what kind of debt you have. Not all debt is created equally.
For example, mortgage debt is typically used to purchase a home or land, secured by the property itself. Mortgages are considered secured loans, meaning in the event the borrower cannot pay back the loan the lender can sell the property to recoup some money. For this reason you'll typically get a better interest rate assuming you qualify. Additionally mortgages are seen an appreciating assets, also known as "good debt".
By contrast, credit cards or other high interest loans are typically unsecured. Since there is no collateral in the event you default on the loan, these types of debt have higher interests. They are also considered "bad debt" because what it's used for either depreciates in value or has no value. An example would be a car loan.
To recap, look if you have good or bad debt. Bad debt will generally have higher interest and should be dealt with like an emergency. Pay it off as fast as possible. Good debt can be fine. But it can still be bad if the interest is high. For example, if your mortgage is hurting the budget due to the high monthly cost, consider refinancing or selling.
3. Can I contribute to a retirement account?
We all know how important saving for retirement is. Obviously if available, set aside money for retirement using a tax advantaged account like a 401k or IRA. It's paramount to take advantage of compound interest.
But here is an even more important question to ask yourself: does the company offer you a match when contributing to a 401K? Some companies offer to match whatever percentage you choose up to max to put in your retirement account. For example, if you put 4%, the company matches 4%. That's free money! This is why we recommend at a minimum take advantage of a company retirement match.
4. Do I have an emergency fund?
Emergency funds. We all know we need them. Yet a survey of 56% of Americans say they cannot cover a $1000 emergency with savings. Odds are if they didn't have enough for a $1000 emergency, getting into debt will only result in a vicious cycle of more debt.
Conventional wisdom says you need at least three to six months of expenses. This will vary based on individual circumstances. With no dependents a three month emergency would be fine. If you have kids, six months might make you more comfortable. Either way an emergency fund cannot be overstated.
If you don't have an emergency fund, start with saving $1000. If you have high interest debt, focus on paying that off before beefing up the emergency fund to the recommended three to six months.
5. What are my financial goals?
Creating short and long term goals are an extremely important part of a sound financial plan. Without them what would drive you? Or maybe your spending is high because you don't have a goal to focus your saving. Either way you need to sit down and ask yourself what you need and want.
Some example ideas to get you going:
- Travel more
- New Car
- Donate to charities
- Buy a home
- Save an emergency fund
- Retire early
- Renovate kitchen
- Save for kids college
- Save for wedding
- Be debt free
6. Is my spending and saving aligned with my goals?
It's important to be honest with yourself. What if you spend most of your disposable income on eating out or entertainment. You are young and want to have fun. But you also want to save for a down payment on a home. You also need a car. Maybe you want a big wedding.
This is why creating goals and aligning your expenses with said goals is important. With a plan in hand you can focus on what's important to you while also having fun now.
6 Money Questions To Ask Your Partner
1. What are your spending and saving values like?
I don't need to tell you how difficult it is to deal with a spender when you are a saver, or vice versa. Although this may cause tension, it doesn't have to. Instead choose to be up-front about your money values. Ideally this conversation should occur early in the relationship. But better late than never, right?
Rather than be upset with how someone else is, talk about it to understand them. Maybe their childhood was rough financially. They could have an unhealthy relationship with money. Or the unhealthy one could be you. Talking candidly about money is a great relationship builder.
2. What are your/our financial goals?
Money is hard enough as it is. Adding another person to the mix doubles the fun. Not only must you work on your goals, but you must contend with a partners goals. Each person is equally as important. How do individual goals fit into the family picture?
Unfortunately most people do not have unlimited funds to easily cover everyone's goals. Instead we must work together and create a plan for both parties. Maybe buying a home is important. But traveling is difficult because the other partner wants kids. Regardless of the situation, communicating your goals to create shared ones is important.
Here are some example goals that often overlap among people:
- Buying a house
- Retiring early
- One income household for stay at home parent
3. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
This one may not seem too important if you and your partner's financial goals align. But what if how you get there is not?
Some important questions that change the equation:
- Do you want kids?
- Will one of us stay home to raise the kids?
- Do you want to move to a new city?
- Do you expect to be in the same career or do you want to make a change?
- Do you expect to work a lot more due to a demanding career?
These are simply examples and may not relate to your relationship. But it is important to think about someones plans for the future. Maybe they moved to the city because of work, but intend on moving back to the suburbs or near family later in life. Kids may also affect income due to daycare or one person staying home raising them. Don't only think short term, but long term as well.
4. What are your non-negotiable financial items?
This one is very simple and something to be discussed early in the relationship. Everyone has wants they don't want to give up. Some examples include:
- Latte's on the way to work
- Eating out for lunch on work days
- House cleaning (because who likes to clean)
It's important this is discussed before moving in together. But if it's too late, no worries. If you find you and your partner argue about these things, maybe it's not worth the fight. Make it a non-negotiable and build it into your joint plan. There will be a lot less fighting and more enjoying.
5. Do you have any debt?
There have been stories of people engaged when a bombshell hits. Not cheating. But finding out your future spouse has $100,000 in student loans. That is scary.
It is very important that you and your partner have the conversation about what your financial picture is like. It is a lot easier becoming a union when there are no secrets. With all the cards on the table you can work as a team.
6. Who will pay the bills and manage finances?
This one is important to outline early as well. Who will be in charge of the bills? Will it be split evenly? 60-40? 20-80? The reason why this should be discussed early is because once a status quo is set, changing it could cause big problems.
There is no right answer here. But some things to consider.
- Who makes more? They can take on a greater percentage of the bills.
- Do you not care about tracking expenses? One person can track and take care of pooling all the money together.
- Consider a joint account simply for paying bills, or using an app like splitwise to help track it.
We hope these 12 questions to ask yourself and your partner helped in getting the ball rolling on your financial plans. Regardless if it's with yourself or with your partner, it's important to be open and communicative. That is the first step to a rich life.