When I need help getting in shape, I schedule a few sessions with my personal trainer without hesitation. I didn’t think twice about pre-marital counseling. So when my husband recommended that we work with a financial counselor, I didn’t blink. Well, not at first. Logically it made sense. While we did touch on money issues during our martial counseling, it didn’t take long for us to realize that if we were going to land on the “for richer” side of marriage we needed a plan.
When I learned my employer offered free financial counseling, the timing couldn’t have been better—yet I was hesitant. The thought of sitting down with someone talking about “my money”—which was now “our money”—caused me some anxiety. First, I had to quiet my inner know-it-all. I’ve been buying books on personal finance and watching “money tip and makeover” television shows for years. “This stuff should be clicking by now,” I told myself. Fortunately, I was able to get past all that “shouldas” and schedule the appointment.
Truth be told, a whole lot has changed since I purchased my first money book. I plan to continue reading money articles, books, and watching money shows, but I’m also ready to work directly with financial professionals to get more help applying all the great financial information to my personal situation. Team Blakeney has opened joint accounts and closed others. Bill paying is more fun thanks to financial date nights and much easier to track, thanks to really cool smartphone apps. While the here and now part of finances has gotten a lot easier, now it’s time to tackle the longer term goals. So I soon got over myself and my inner know-it-all was silenced (for now anyway).
Fast forward to the day of the session and Team Blakeney is in full cram mode working to complete our homework: an assessment form we downloaded from the counseling agency’s website. Unfortunately, life got busy and we didn’t get to the the pre-work prior to our session. However, having an appointment not only kept us focused on the task at hand, but also made us more accountable. We had a goal, a deadline, and a really good sense of where we thought our money was going. Just having an appointment was making us more productive.
Our assigned financial counselor, called at the appointed time and Team Blakeney was ready. Turns out he didn’t yell at me about every wrong money move I’ve made since my college days (when a free water bottle was a very good reason to sign up for a credit card). In fact, the entire session was a “judgment free zone.” There were even a few lighthearted moments when we got to a line item where one member of Team Blakeney tended to overspend. It’s official: Team Blakeney loves eating out, gadgets, and hair salons (well, that one is mostly me). However, there wasn’t any finger pointing or unrealistic vows to strip our lives to the bare bones. Instead, the focus was placed more on setting up systems that would help us to stick to the budget, save more, and pay down our debts.
Thirty days later, Team Blakeney had a follow up appointment to report our spending—an assignment designed to see exactly how much we’re actually spending when we write everything down. This wasn’t the first time we attempted to track our spending, but having a scheduled follow up session with our financial counselor marked the first time we BOTH stuck to it. Both sessions helped us see that our blended family is anything but cookie cutter. For example, for us, travel isn’t a leisure item. During the school year the girls are in another state with their mom, which means lots of driving up and down the interstate for extended weekends, spring breaks, and holidays. In addition, the majority of my family is spread out over four states, which means flights and road trips are required line items in the budget. While we weren’t going too far over budget, our second session helped us see that we have more line items than we thought and that we need to proactively save for those times when certain line items will spike.
Financial counseling is pretty basic, but two years into blending finances and family traditions, basic is necessary and helpful. Why? Because having information is one thing, while applying it is another. Slowly but surely new habits and goals are forming. Team Blakeney is taking the whole “for richer” vow much more seriously.