Money Monday!

For this exercise, I compared managing your finances together to flying an airplane. If you haven’t done Part 1-8 of this exercise, take some time to consider the questions I’ve laid out. Set a timer for five minutes per section. Once you’ve answered the questions, take a look at my thoughts below as I serve as “Air Traffic Control”.

PART 1 – The Pilots

  • In your “financial airplane”, who would you say is the pilot?
  • Who is the co-pilot?
  • Or, do you split piloting duties perfectly down the middle?
  • What is the best thing you have in common as fellow pilots of this plane?
  • What would you say are the risks of your approach? 

Thoughts from Air Traffic Control:

I find the pilot/co-pilot arrangement is often successful so long as there is mutual respect. Often, one person either has a more dominant personality and/or is more interested in money management. If the pilot is smart, they will realize the co-pilot brings unique qualities to the relationship that they don’t have.

  • If you are the pilot, what measures do you have in place to know when you are pushing your co-pilot too hard?

The “split responsibilities down the middle” approach sounds good, and I’ve seen it work, but I just don’t see it that often.

PART 2 – Your Training

  • How were you trained as a pilot? Describe how you were raised to think about money.  Consider how that affects you today.

Thoughts from Air Traffic Control:

Respecting how each of you were raised to think about money is huge.  It’s very difficult to deprogram the way you were taught about money as a child.  Take a moment to answer these questions together:

  • Do you feel the amount of money or possessions you have is a significant metric you use to determine how successful your life is?  Discuss how you think that opinion developed in you.
  • For the person in the relationship who is thriftier, are you thrifty because you want to have a lot of money OR because you are fearful of losing the money you have?  Tell your partner where you think that came from.
  • For the person in the relationship who likes to spend more, tell the other person what it feels like when you buy the things you do.  Tell your partner where you think that came from.

PART 3 – Navigation

  • How do you chart the course of this financial airplane?
  • Your plane can only fly in one direction at a time, and there are only so many flights it can make in its lifetime. With this in mind, what “destinations” for each of you are non-negotiable?
  • Which destinations could possibly be trade-offs for you in the name of something one of you or both of you feels is more important?

Thoughts from Air Traffic Control:

Financial management is simply a big game of trade-offs. You may agree on a lot or a little, but certainly agree on something.  Pick one big goal that you both really want.  Whenever there is something you want to spend money on, ask yourselves if it’s worth delaying that big goal. Deciding on a big goal may not be easy but it is a great place to start.  Here’s an example from my own life: my wife and I really want a beach house one day.  As we decide on whether or not to make renovations to our own home or spend money on other things in general, we always ask ourselves if it’s better to spend that money now or add it to the beach house fund. We’ve trained ourselves to realize that anything we spend money on now will delay the beach house, and that helps us to confirm whether or not we really want something now.

PART 4 – Emergencies

  • What do you have in place in case of “engine failure”? 

Thoughts from Air Traffic Control:

Your final destination and how to get there become irrelevant when the engines fail or things fall apart.  I’m normally pretty open-minded about how couples set and approach their goals, however the emergency fund is not something to mess around with.  The general guidance is to set aside enough cash in the bank to cover 3-6 months’ worth of your expenses.   It could be more depending on your risk tolerance and individual situation. Full disclosure… you will probably hate this investment 98% of the time and love it 2% of the time. And in that 2% of the time, it has the potential to change your life.  Emergency funds are SO BORING because they need to be kept in cash or very short-term investments, and they can’t be used for fun things like vacations, bathroom remodels, etc.  But again, they are SO BORING right up until they are THE BEST THING EVER when the chips are down.

PART 5 – Fuel

  • Money is the fuel for this plane.  Often, one pilot feels as if the other pilot uses too much fuel, and that pilot feels the other doesn’t use enough.  Is this the case for you?
  • If so, explain why.

Thoughts from Air Traffic Control:

You both know which one of you likes to spend more.  Chances are, the more frugal person has a tendency to be judgmental and maybe even shames the person who spends more.  For the person who is more frugal, list all the cool things that you wouldn’t have in your life if it weren’t for you partner buying them? 

I’m not expecting that you won’t still squirm sometimes when you see the credit card bill. However, it may help bring you closer by focusing on the benefit, not just the expense.

For the spender, think about the security that’s in your life as a result of your partner’s frugality.  Name some specific things that give you peace of mind as a result of them keeping a close eye on spending.

At the end of the day, neither approach is right or wrong, but you are much better together.  To help foster this togetherness, the foreperson should describe what wasted money feels like, and the spender should describe what it feels like to be criticized for purchase.  After this discussion, make one small rule for how and when you will communicate about the level of spending.

PART 6 – Communication

  • Communication before takeoff and in-flight is critical.  How do you ensure you are hearing the communication of the other pilot?
  • What rules can you put in place to ensure that poor communication doesn’t guide the plane off course or even crash it?

Thoughts from Air Traffic Control:

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”  – Mark Twain.  Chances are, you discuss the same money topics repeatedly.  

  • List the top two reasons you disagree about money. Let’s be honest, what is the one thing you will probably never see eye-to-eye on in your money management? 
  • Name one way (even if it’s very small) where you will choose to accept that difference and move forward stronger together?
  • If you are the pilot, what measures do you have in place to make sure the copilot feels “heard” about fuel usage.
  • If you are the one who uses more fuel, how will you make the other person feel like there will be enough left for them to feel comfortable that you will both reach your final destination?

PART 7 – Maintenance

  • Who is in charge of the routine maintenance of the plane? In other words, who pays the bills?  Or, do you each channel handle certain bills separately?
  • What are the pros and cons of your current strategy?

Thoughts from Air Traffic Control:

It’s always good to have a plan in place so you have a general idea of what’s going on financially…even if one is significantly less interested then the other.  Remember this could be stressful for the disinterested party especially if they are a big spender. It’s not that it’s fun to pay bills, but it really doesn’t have to cause you tremendous anxiety.  Ask yourselves this:

  • What is one small thing you can do to make bill paying time a little less stressful?

PART 8 – Mistakes

  • How do you handle it if a pilot makes a mistake?

Thoughts from Air Traffic Control:

You’re both doing your best and no one is perfect.  I repeat… you’re both doing your best and no one is perfect.  Remember all the great things your partner brings to your financial life, and get creative in finding ways to continuously learn about the other person’s approach and TRUST IT.




Any opinions are those of Wheeler Financial LLC and not necessarily those of Raymond James.