When we met again two weeks later, Megan and Michael were both looking a little frayed around the edges.
“Honestly!” Megan exploded, as soon as we sat down. “You’d think it was everyone else’s wedding! Michael’s mother has sent us her guest list of 250 people, every last one of whom has to be invited, apparently. My aunt has indicated that we if invite her ex-husband, she won’t come. My sister is saying that the bridesmaids’ dresses have to be a certain shade of blue, because she wants to wear hers for another event, and can’t afford two dresses. When I said “inclusive” I didn’t mean everyone else running the show.”
I glanced at Michael, who was sitting quietly, waiting for Megan to finish. This was not the first discussion of this nature, I surmised.
“And how are you holding up?” I asked.
“I’m not as upset as Megan, but I’m not too happy with things, either. I come from a large, extended family and this is pretty typical of what happens whenever someone gets married. You try to please everyone, and it can’t be done. The more everyone gets involved, the more confused it gets, and pretty soon everyone is mad at everyone else. It’s turning into exactly what I didn’t want.”
“Our job is to make sure it becomes exactly what you do want,” I responded. “Let’s start by taking a look at the assessments you did, and then we’ll review some numbers.”
We went over their respective Emergenetics and VIA reports. As was so often the case with couples, their thinking and behavior preferences were very different. Michael was an Analytical and Structural thinker, and was in the first third for Assertiveness, Expressiveness and Flexibility. Megan’s thinking preferences were Social and Conceptual, and Structural thinking was very close to a preference. She was in the third Expessiveness and in the “it depends,” group for Assertiveness and Flexibility.
Michael’s top five Values in Action were: Judgment/Open Mindedness, Perseverance, Fairness, Honesty, and Gratitude.
Megan’s Values in Action were: Social Intelligence, Kindness, Teamwork, Creativity and Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence.
They had met in university where Michael was studying engineering and Megan was taking a nursing degree. After graduation, they had moved in together and continued with the pattern they’d established when living in student housing: they each maintained their own bank accounts, and split household expenses. They lived in a large suburb outside of the city, where Megan was now working at the local hospital and Michael had a job with a construction company.
Both of them had sent me their Financial Balance worksheets ahead of time, so we pulled them up on the screen:
Once a month Megan wrote a cheque to Michael for half the rent and utilities. While they both pitched in, she did most of the grocery shopping. Michael was still paying down student debt of $17,000 and owed $10,000 on the second-hand car he had purchased two years ago. He had already started making extra payments on both loans, which was reflected in his savings number.
Megan had no student debt, and Michael was surprised to discover that she was carrying a credit card balance of $11,000 and owed money on some furniture. Beyond the monthly exchange of cheques, they’d never really talked about money.
“When we moved into the apartment, we needed a lot of stuff.” Megan explained. “I knew Michael was kind of strapped for cash, what with the car and the student loan payments, so I took care of getting us set up. I kept thinking it would get paid off, but it’s so hard to keep track of everything. Every month I make more than the minimum payment, but then we always need something else. Birthday gifts, we both needed clothes after four years of student life, we eat out a few times a month, and everyone we know is getting married, so there are things we had to pay for.”
“Geez Louise, Megan!” Michael exclaimed, startled and annoyed. “I wish I’d known. Here I am scraping together every dime to pay off debt, and you’re racking it up on a bunch of doodads for the apartment. What’s the point in me busting my butt if you’re throwing the money down the drain!”
“Down the drain, eh? Thanks a lot! You weren’t complaining about the comfortable mattress you’ve been sleeping on, or the couch you flop onto when you get home from work. To say nothing of all the entertaining of your family & friends that we do. Don’t talk to me like that. I’m not an idiot, Michael.”
“OK – Time out!” I said, holding up a hand. “Let’s look at this from a different perspective. Michael, what is important to you about how you manage your finances as a couple?”
Michael drew a deep breath and said, “I need to make sure we can afford what we are buying. I don’t want to be struggling with debt all the time, paying for a bunch of stuff that isn’t worth anything once it comes home. It’s important to me that we are on a sound financial footing, in case something happens. My job in construction can be very up and down. The income won’t always be steady, so I want to have as much paid off as possible, in case I don’t have income for a few months.”
“Megan? Your turn,” I prompted.
“I agree with Michael about not being in debt. I knew he was trying to pay off his student loan and the car loan. It’s why I tried to deal with all the other expenses, but I guess I didn’t realize how quickly things were adding up. It’s really important to me that our home is welcoming and comfortable, and it’s not like I was shopping at really high-end places, either. We didn’t have anything to sleep or sit on, for heaven’s sake, when we moved into our apartment. I thought I’d be able to pay things off a lot faster.”
“All right. It sounds like you both agree that you want to be out of debt and have the maximum financial flexibility for times when Michael’s income may not be available. As well, having a comfortable, welcoming home is very important to you, Megan. Michael, where are you on that?” I asked.
“Yes, that matters to me too, but maybe not as much as it does to Megan. I probably would have been OK with waiting, or maybe making do with second hand in the meantime. I didn’t realize how much all that was costing. It seems like we’ve both been a bit in the dark about the other’s financial decisions,” Michael concluded.
“That’s not unusual at all. You might be surprised to know how many couples don’t talk about money,” I commented. “And I think that’s likely one of the reasons your Dad suggested we talk before you started getting too deeply into the wedding planning. It’s interesting to note how the way you’ve approached things is right in line with your Positive Cores.
“Michael, you’re more about the numbers, and less about how people feel. You like to think things through, with all the facts at hand, and have a plan in place before you take action. Your first third position on the behaviours suggests you stay fairly quiet, and may sometimes be a bit fixed. It might be described as something of a cut and dried approach.
“Megan, you do things more by intuition, and your social intelligence really informs your decision-making. You’re likely to think out loud, and can go either way in flexibility. You’re people-oriented, creative and attuned to beauty in your surroundings. Every Positive Core has an upside and a downside, and often the downside is when we take our strengths to an extreme – too much of a good thing. As well, we tend to think poorly of opposite approaches, until we appreciate what different strengths bring to the table. Knowing this, how do you want to take it from here?”
“I can see now how we’ve come at the financial situation from very different points of view. I guess my focus on getting the apartment together was an example of “too much of a good thing”. From here on in I want us to approach it much more from a joint perspective,” Megan said. “We’re getting married now, and it’s time. I want us to start off on the right foot,” Michael nodded agreement.
“Let’s look at your Financial Balance numbers on a combined basis and come up with a plan.” I suggested. “For our next session, do one combined Financial Balance spreadsheet and see what you think. See you in a couple of weeks.”