We're not perfect

Even the experts have work to do, including us.

Hi. Heather here.

A safe way to kick off a brand-new newsletter would be to lead with our credentials. Between the two of us, we’ve got a handful of degrees and designations, two daughters, a wealth management firm, a book, a forthcoming book, a house, some newsletters, and a couple hundred thousand followers (mostly Doug’s). That’s all well and good for LinkedIn, I guess, but it’s not where we should start.

If the purpose of The Joint Account is to help couples talk about money, then we should start with talking–err, writing–about ours.

Almost a decade ago, two 28 year olds with six figures of graduate student loan debt got married and started their joint lives together in New York City. We were at the beginning stages of our careers, each with our own fair share of false starts. Money was tight. Lunches were packed. Dinners were cheap (most of the time). But Doug managed to convince me of something that no parent, career counselor, or mentor could: that we could be in control, if we wanted to be. We were both earning less money than expected, but we had finally settled into work environments we felt comfortable growing in. We could account for our loan payments. The Great Recession was over, along with the chaos it wreaked on our Twenties.

We made such great progress after that. We set goals, like buying our first home, and achieved them. We wrote our first book. We had our first daughter. We worked our own systems and heeded our own advice. We checked in often with each other, making financial decisions largely in sync and working through the ones we couldn’t.

But we’re not perfect. To be honest, we’ve let things slip.

The pandemic put us in triage mode. I assumed the role of Director of our Cruise Ship to Nowhere, responsible for procuring the Instacart slots at 5am, organizing a full slate of activities for the kids, and working through our decision tree of risks on the daily. We didn’t discuss the breakdown of household labor–it just happened, because the opportunity cost was greater for Doug’s business than my in-house law job. I had more bandwidth, too, because the courts were initially closed and deadlines were getting pushed. He always patched in for Daddy Daycare when he wasn’t on client calls or doing media, but he needed that time more than me.

Naturally, given his profession, Doug managed our finances. As with most small businesses, the firm has income and expenses that fluctuate from month to month. Doug has years of experience understanding its ebbs and flows. Our cash flow is much more dynamic now than when we were both W2 employees receiving stable paychecks and budgeting around them.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal suggested that marriages need a CFO and a COO. That’s what we thought we were doing.

Plus, things were good. I was earning my full corporate salary without any commuting expenses, the markets were up, and the firm was growing. Our lifestyle was well within our income, and we were saving thousands of dollars a month. (Trust me, I recognize our privilege in this regard.)

But in turn, I replaced actual knowledge of our financial situation with the comfort of knowing we had “enough.”

Then, the comfort ran out. As it often does.

My company wanted us back in the office four days a week. It’s a story for another day, really, but I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t want to. We always dreamed I could join the firm full-time–it’s been on our list of goals since before we had kids. And honestly, coming out of the pandemic, I had reached this inflection point where I either needed to aim higher within my industry or swing for the fences as an entrepreneur. I just couldn't return to my old normal.

When I first came on board at Bone Fide Wealth, I thought I’d immediately be making money for us. I had very specific ideas of how I could monetize Doug’s social media platforms and committed myself to those ideas. But that’s not how improving a business works. I lost whole days trying to make small dollars, while realizing my time was better spent building infrastructure, revamping our compliance systems, deepening existing relationships, and brand building for the future. We agreed to write another book, which is a huge investment of time and energy that we won’t reap the rewards of for several years. Even these great things made me feel unproductive; perhaps because I was seeking validation from an outside world that came off skeptical of my decision.

I’ve never been a full-time entrepreneur. It’s fair for me to worry that nothing I’m doing makes sense.

Truthfully, not contributing a salary to the family has been much more of an emotional challenge than I expected. Our lives are not as comfortable as when we had two six-figure incomes, and the discomfort over redefining my “contributions” brought about discomfort around the business, around everything. I shamed myself over not knowing how the finances of the firm work, since my business is now the family business, which is the entire backbone of our household. I started worrying about what happens if something happens to Doug, which was a fear I buried deep for a long time that began to claw its way back into my mind.

Emotions can consume facts, if you don’t allow the facts to fight back.

I keep going back to that article in the Journal, maybe because people keep sending it to me, or maybe because it’s hitting home.

Your marriage can have a CFO and a COO, but the executive leadership team still has to meet on the quarterly financials. Communicate about known risks. Know how to execute its business continuity plan. Make sure everyone’s goals are aligned and understand the time horizon for achieving them.

Somehow, we allowed this to stop happening. And as our marriage becomes our business, we have to be relentless in fixing it.

I didn’t really share this with you to explain how we got here. I share it because we’re here.

Communicating with your partner about money isn’t something you just win like a stuffed animal at the fair. You don’t put in a decade of work and get to say, we’re done! We did it! We’re good now! As adults, life’s challenges aren’t chronological, the way they often presented to our younger selves when we chose a college, refinanced our debt, began our careers, and considered getting married. We wrote our first book this way: as kids, achieving our version of adulthood. But in a committed partnership, circumstances shift all the time and require you to reconsider your priorities. Life is fluid. People change.

Many of the couples offering to share their stories with us for our new book are financial professionals, and they aren’t all success stories. Experts struggle, too. Even the best can get it wrong.

If you’re here and starting from a place of ignorance or tension or anxiety, don’t be ashamed. Be hopeful. We’re all working on it. The work never stops.

We want to hear from you!

Do you have a money question you’d like answered in a future issue? Nothing is too icky. Let’s go there.

AND…a source call for the book: How does your origin influence your relationship with money? Origin = geographic location, religious or cultural background, socioeconomic history, etc. This is a super important topic and one we’re trying to tackle from many angles.

Please email [email protected] and help us out, if you’re willing! Thank you so much!

Are you a brand or business interested in reaching The Joint Account’s audience of 11,000+ subscribers? Email [email protected].

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