Ramit Sethi, author of the best-selling book ‘I Will Teach You to Be Rich,’ explores the question.
This week on Morningstar’s The Long View podcast, personal finance expert Ramit Sethi dives into money attitudes, how to create your "rich life," and stories from his new podcast I Will Teach You to Be Rich.
Here are a few excepts on Sethi’s personal financial advice and how couples can make peace over money from his conversation with Morningstar’s Christine Benz and Jeff Ptak.
Benz: You’ve often said that people’s financial decisions are often misaligned with their deeper passions and priorities and what gives them a rich life. They care about X thing, but yet they’re spending all their money on Y. To what extent does that complicate the process of getting two people on the same page with respect to their money? And if those deeper passions and priorities aren’t in alignment, how do you help them find their way to a better place with their money?
Sethi: Well, you hit upon something really fantastic, which is that it enormously complicates the situation when you bring another partner in. And then, let’s not even talk about children, which complicates it even further. Most of us do not really know about our own financial use. We don’t. Most people are not particularly sophisticated at personal finance. And that’s OK. I’m not sophisticated at how to operate a car beyond turning on the ignition. I don’t know how anything works; it just does. When we take our lack of sophistication and combine it with our partner’s lack of sophistication, then we overlay these invisible scripts that we grew up with, like: "You should never spend money on that; or oh my gosh, rich people are evil." And when you bring those together, it becomes incredibly complicated.
I will say this: The good news is that you do not have to agree on everything when it comes to finances with your partner. It’s actually an enormous relief to hear. For example, I like nice hotels, I really like spending money, I like going there. My wife does not really care as much as I do about nice hotels. That’s OK. We can live our lives and live rich lives without us having to ever agree. There should be a way, though, where you can either reconcile the two or create some pretty clear boundaries as to like, "If you want to do that, you should; let’s find a way to make that possible." Here’s what I care about, and then let’s come up with a joint process for what we care about in our rich lives. Too often, this is overlooked, it’s neglected. And we just sail through life, spending money as we spend, occasionally getting in fights about spending, papering over the fight, and then waiting for the next fight to occur. To me, that’s no way to live.
Ptak: You believe that our life’s experiences are influential in shaping our attitudes toward money. In the podcast, you often seem to home in on disclosures that people make about formative experiences. Can you share some examples from the podcast of how someone’s background influenced their current attitudes toward money?
Sethi: These are some of my favorites. I love this question. I had a recent couple where the young woman, Monique, point-blank said, "I always expected a fairy tale-type of relationship. I expected the man to pay for me because I’m a woman." And then, her boyfriend, Pablo said, "I don’t want that. I want something that’s fair. I want a partner." That’s just the beginning of the conversation. And so, you can see that they’re approaching their financial lives, as well as their entire lives, from two totally different perspectives. Now, it’s very easy to judge what you just heard. If I told you go listen to the episode, you might already have in mind what’s going to happen. I guarantee you, you will be surprised when you hear that two-part episode.
What I try to do with these episodes, and when I talk to people about finances in their relationships, is to start off by saying, "What caused you to be here? What’s happened in the last 30 days when the two of you were not aligned on money?" I want a specific example. I want details. Then, as I unpeel that, I want to know, how did you grow up? How do you think about money? What word do you use to describe money? And these are huge clues that tell us a lot about how we think about money. You have to remember, again, that most people are not sophisticated about money. So, the way that you find out how they think about money is through these largely invisible clues. They don’t even know how they think about money. That’s my job. So, Monique and Pablo were one example.
I have another example, Chuck and Mary. Mary, in this case, was hiding money from her husband. Turns out, her mom also did the same thing. So, a lot of times, we will find that these money attitudes and behaviors were passed down from parents. There are so many other examples of these different expectations. But a lot of them do tie back, Jeff, as you pointed out, to upbringing.
This article was adapted from an interview that aired on Morningstar’s The Long View podcast. Listen to the full episode.
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