Jul 11, 2024

Financial planning, Relationships

How to Set Financial Goals as a Couple - Key Tips and Strategies

Emily Luk

CPA, CFA - CEO and Cofounder of Plenty

The first time my husband and I started setting financial goals together, I felt a mix of excitement and nervousness. We didn’t quite know where to start, and it felt new and uncomfortable to be this vulnerable. I felt like I was relinquishing an independence I hadn’t even realized I valued. While I was excited for this next chapter, it was still new.


In today’s post, I share the things we wish we had known earlier about setting goals as a couple. We learned through many bumps and scrapes and tried many different approaches, but the steps below are what we’ve found work best.



Key Steps to Setting Financial Goals as a Couple


1. Reflect Independently, Then Share

2. Learn How to Visualize Together

3. Remind Yourselves of Your Goals

4. Measure Your Progress

5. Celebrate Along the Way



The Reframe Moment


I still remember the moment Channing asked, “What if we treated this like planning a trip?”


We love traveling together: it brings out our curiosity, adventurousness, openness to new connections, and spontaneity. We’re reminded of how similar and different we are, based on the things that draw each of our attention.


When we travel, we run into bumps, but we embrace that as part of the trip. Maintaining that mindset in everyday life can be challenging, especially when things are stressful, we’re tired, or juggling family and friends.


What if we treated planning our financial life like planning a trip together? One where we’re both excited and engaged. We each have our own interests (I’m the foodie; he’s the transportation navigator), and it all comes together in a journey we both love.



Starting Separately, Then Coming Back Together


When we set financial goals or make any big decisions as a couple, we start by brainstorming a set of questions and then spend some time independently thinking about them. 


Example Questions:

  • What do we want life to look like in 3 years?

  • What do we want to achieve financially?

  • What does financial security mean to us in 3 years?

  • What big purchases or expenses do we anticipate?

  • Is there a financial goal that’s important to me independently?


We set a timeline, sometimes spending 30-60 minutes journaling in the same space, or one of us goes for a walk while the other thinks at home. We form our own thoughts, and then come back together to share.



Ground in Curiosity


Sharing can be hard: it might trigger one partner while the other feels overly exposed. It might bring up old fights or defensiveness.


We’ve found that the most productive conversations require responses to be in the form of questions. To understand each other more:

  • Why is that important to you?

  • Are there fears beneath that?

  • Are there dreams beyond that?

  • Where does this desire come from?

  • How did your childhood influence this?



Learning How to Visualize Together


After sharing, we work on a shared vision of the future. We try to describe and document it, so we know what we’re working towards. For example, if our goal is buying a house:

  • What does it feel like to walk into our home?

  • What does a Friday evening look like at home?

  • Are there smells that make us feel at home?

  • What does the house look like?

  • What does the surrounding area look like?


Visualization is a technique often used by athletes to bring focus and intentionality. We’ve found that visualizing what we want helps us stay on track together. Learn the psychology behind visualization here.



Keeping Our Goal Front and Center


Whenever we’re aligned on a goal but don’t remind ourselves of it, we usually forget it. Now, we remind ourselves of what we’re working towards: in a spreadsheet, a sticky note on the calendar, or a home screensaver. The key is to remind ourselves of the reward of our effort.


Physical reminders help us maintain momentum, especially when we’re tired and likely to stray. For example, a sticky note of our savings goal for the month over the fridge for that moment when we’re tempted to order delivery after a long day.



How to Measure Our Goal Progress


Whether it’s in Plenty, a spreadsheet, or a piece of paper on your fridge, measurement matters.


When we built Plenty’s investment features and made it possible to create goals, our focus was on making it easier for couples to set and reach financial goals together. Being able to see progress, like being 10% closer to our goal, was motivating and helped us keep going. Measuring progress or seeing if we’re falling behind gives us a starting place to understand how we’re doing and if we need to adjust.


It makes us feel like a team with a shared place to check our progress.



Learning How to Celebrate


Researchers have found that celebrating earlier wins helps maintain momentum. Celebrating reaching 10% or 25% increases the probability of continuing more than celebrating at 75% or 90%.


Celebrating matters: recognizing each other and the effort you’ve put in together makes the achievement sweeter. We set future “treats or trophies” for ourselves, like opening a special bottle of wine at 25% of a goal or going out dancing at another milestone.


It’s a saying that’s overused but true: the journey is the destination.

AUTHOR

Emily Luk

CPA, CFA - CEO and Cofounder of Plenty

Emily is the ceo and cofounder of Plenty. Started by a husband and wife team, Plenty is a wealth platform built for modern couples to invest and plan towards their future, together. Previously, she was VP of Strategy and Operations at Even (acquired by Walmart/One) and a founding team member of Stripe's Growth and Finance & Strategy teams. She began her career as a VC, and was one of the youngest nationally to complete her CPA, CA and CFA designations.

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