Updated on 07.10.10

Setting Goals with Your Partner

Trent Hamm

As I’ve said many times on here, my wife and I have a small handful of major goals that we share going forward in our lives.

We both want to eventually live in the country with some wooded area and a small barn.

We both want to focus on raising our children as well as we possibly can.

We both want to achieve complete debt freedom (we currently just owe on our mortgage) to give us even more career and personal flexibility in the future.

Here’s the interesting part: these goals do not reflect everything I want to do in life, nor do they reflect everything Sarah wants to do in life.

Instead, they’re the goals we share together and because we both share them, there’s a lot more power and mutual motivation and mutual benefit in achieving those goals.

How did we get there from each having our own goals? Here’s the process we went through – and are still going through.

We each sketched a picture of what we wanted our future to look like. What did I want my life to look like in five or ten or twenty years? I spent some time really thinking about that question. I made a list of some of the things I wanted to happen in my life over those timeframes. I had career dreams and family dreams and personal goals I wanted to achieve.

We compared our pictures of the future. What we found is that some of our goals overlapped, some of them did not, and some of them were personal goals that affected our partner in various ways.

So, for example, we both had a dream of living in the country with woods and a small barn. I had a dream of building a fully self-sustaining farm there (with wind power, geothermal heating, and so forth), but Sarah didn’t share that vision as strongly: “It’d be cool, I guess, but is it really worth the cost?” I also had career goals that impacted Sarah a little bit (because of the time and energy investment), but not too much.

We agreed to focus on the larger goals we both shared. I listed those above. Those goals are not a list of the goals I came up with – if I listed all of the things I wanted myself, the list would be longer and have a much different flavor.

However, a big lifelong goal that your partner is not on board with is not only much more difficult to achieve, pushing hard for that goal can put problems in your relationship. On the other hand, sharing a goal and both working towards that same goal encourages an environment of mutual support. Focus in on the goals you both deeply share – and you identify those by coming up with your own list of goals on your own, then sharing and comparing them.

Our next step was to settle on a small handful of key goals that we both shared. For us, this was very easy. We had three very obvious key goals that we each individually wanted – a house in the country, complete debt freedom, and strong parenting.

If you find that you’re coming up with a lot of shared goals, that’s a good thing. I recommend settling on just a few – the ones that are most deeply important to both of you.

If you find that you’re not able to come up with shared goals, I would suggest spending more time together and focusing on building your relationship with each others. Not having shared goals is a sign of being on diverging paths in life – and that means if you take your relationship seriously, it needs some work, whether you can see that on the surface or not.

Once you’ve figured out those shared goals, work together to keep them front and center. Remind each other regularly of the goals you share and the little steps you’re both taking to make it happen. If you’re not both engaged with a goal and working towards it, it’s hard to do it alone. You’ve got to be together, and if it’s a goal you both share, reinforcing each other and helping each other should come somewhat naturally.

A final tip: revisit your goals on occasion. We talk about ours all the time. Usually, it’s motivational. Sometimes, we refine the goals a bit – for example, we’ve been thinking about the location we’d like to move to. The key thing, though, is that we talk about it together, cement our bonds to each other, and motivate each other to move forward.

It’s a lot easier to reach for something great if you’re doing it together.

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  1. Brittany says:

    What if you have your shared goals, but one partner doesn’t have the financial gumption to see it through? I’m not married, not even engaged, but I’m in a relationship that looks like it might be heading for the long term. But my partner is awful with money and even worse with savings. We have a few shared long/medium-term goals (and one is a life goal of his, so I’m positive it’s not my goal I’m just calling “ours”), but my partner isn’t making any progress towards the goal. He’s far more likely to make a bunch of little frivolous purchases now (“Eh, it’s just $10… its just $20… I’ll save when I have a reasonable amount to save.”)

    Normally I try not to push the “gospel of frugality” on anyone, just live my example and take satisfaction from people’s faces and questions when I get to say things like, “Yeah, I know my car (a PT cruiser) is a bit silly-looking, but I paid cash for it when I was still working for minimum wage, so…” But I also don’t have a vested interest in others’ financial futures.

    Everything else in the relationship is great, but I can’t see myself becoming financially involved with someone who doesn’t share my financial views (even though this seems like a silly reason to break things off). How do others handle their partners not being on the same financial page as them?

  2. little by little says:

    @ #1 Brittany

    Break it off! The number one cause of divorce is over money. If your financial goals are not even close, the relationship will only be strained, especially when the man is not the one to strive toward goals or save money.

    Great post, Trent. Thank you for the reminder to discuss our goals. The strongest years of our 34-year marriage have been when we are discussing our shared goals often.

  3. Kestra says:

    I would think very carefully about making a further commitment with this person. And if you did, I think separate finances are essential.
    You have to decide how important financial security is to you. It sounds like he has significantly different views on money than you do, and money can be a deal-breaker issue and cause so much stress.
    Do you live together? Does he have lots of debt? Trouble paying his bills? If it was me, I would not live with or marry someone like that, as they would probably pull me into their financial blackhole. A bit of diversity about handling money is expected, but this sounds like too much.

  4. I also think it is very important to have a partner who will support you on your personal goals. Without that support, accomplishing anything becomes infinitely more difficult but with the support you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

    Partners don’t have to share all the same life goals or interests, I think there are relatively few deal breakers (such as children, or not) as far as personal goals are concerned. Most everything else can be worked around.

  5. Barb says:

    Trent, I;m going to disagree with “However, a big lifelong goal that your partner is not on board with is not only much more difficult to achieve”. Shared goals are extremely important, and a united vision on certain things are important, dont get me wrong. But individual goals, including big ones also have a place in a long term relationship. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that in the long term, if each person doesnt have some individual goals of his or her own that are fairly large, there can be a problem. The same is true of individual interests, and individual space

  6. moom says:

    My wife just isn’t interested in thinking about financial goals and delegated me to look after all that. So far it’s working. Lack of shared goals doesn’t neccessarily mean that there is something wrong with your relationship.

  7. Marinda says:

    My husband wanted to pay off the house note, and we had been married 8 years and he asked “honey, how can we do this?” I didn’t know but I told him I’d find out and I did. 13 years later, we did. We refinanced, added extra payments, sometimes two a month. And it happened. When he could start his 401K at work, we started with the 3% contribution, but with budgeting, we got to the full 6%.

    He’s retired, not yet 60, because of the plans we made together. It wasn’t easy, but it worked to get us where we wanted to be.

    By the way the house we paid off, it’s four bedrooms, three bath, with a three car garage.

  8. Leah says:

    It seems to me like the type of goals influence whether or not you can do them without the participation of a partner. Goals like Trent is talking about — house in the country, kids — really do need the other partner to be onboard. It’d be rough for the relationship if Sarah’s goal is to own a luxury penthouse and Trent’s is to own a country house.

    But if your goals are to run a marathon, or to visit several different countries, or become a great cake decorator, you can do those without partner participation. You don’t have to travel with your partner (altho your partner would have to be onboard with your use of money) or run with them or anything like that. But where you choose to live and how many kids you have does seem like one of those “let’s be on the same page” type of issues.

  9. Matt says:

    As the only worker in my family, I tend to do a lot of the financial work myself. My girlfriend, who is scared of math and is bad with money, has no interest in personal finance, just in the “I love shopping!” aspect of money.

    I’ve been trying to get her to slowly help and understand, but is there anything specific I can do to help ease the pain?

  10. deRuiter says:

    #1. Brittany, dump him unless you want to live a life of paycheck to paycheck. He’s irresponsible, not good material for helping support a family and build a good retirement. He will take out loans in both your names by forging your signature on applications. He will shred your credit and your FICO. He will take out loand in the names of your minor children suing their social security numbers and ruin their future credit. You will be married for a while, and divorce with a pile of his debts. No matter how cute he is, he’s not for you.
    #5 Moom, Congrats on being resonsible, but what will happen to wife if you die? She will be unable to manage and all the money you’ve saved will vaporize. If there’s a way to explain the basics without making her eyes glaze over, do it. Otherwise jot down all your information in a notebook, and how to manage financially in case you should die. Sounds grim, but none of us get out of this life alive.

  11. Paula says:

    @Brittany: I’m saying this with gentleness: Is your boyfriend’s goals really goals if he isn’t working towards them?

  12. Emma says:

    Maybe this is more appropriate for a relationships blog than a financial one, but:
    What to do when a cultural factor is standing in the way of making long-term plans? I give as an example myself (American) and my fiancé (Hungarian). Due slightly to cultural upbringing and mostly to personality, I am a planner. Due mostly to culture and slightly to personality, he is not. If I pose a question like “where do you see yourself in 5 / 10 / 20 years?” he is simply unable to answer. So how to mesh our future plans when he can’t have any?

  13. Amy B. says:

    Brittany – I don’t know if you will find this helpful, but I made the leap with someone who shared my financial goals, but not my approach. I only share this to demonstrate what things might be for you 10 years down the road.

    What I’ve found is that I’m now the person who is the “coach.” I’m the one who budgets, saves, and plans. He’s okay with being on an “allowance” of sorts, but this doesn’t mean he won’t spend twice his allowance because he either saw something he really wanted, or simply didn’t realize how much he spent that month.

    I’m the one who orchestrated meeting one of our first financial goals – buying a house. And it seems sometimes like I’m dragging an unwilling mule with me.

    Is it frustrating, yes. But, I just remind him twice a month of our goals and our plans. I find people of a similar mind in my girlfriends and through forums like this. I just keep up my motivation using my own tools, and don’t rely upon him to buoy me when I feel that we’re not going to meet certain goals.

    But, he’s a great provider and father, and he has some qualities that I’d find it hard to live without. ;-) So, think things through and see what you are willing to live with, and if those things are balanced by all the goods, then you’ll know how your relationship stands.

  14. Amy B. says:

    P.S> Trent. Good post.

  15. Rachel says:

    -Matt (#8)- Sit down and have a chat with her ASAP. Be kind about it, not confrontational. Explain to her that you love her so much that you want to make finances a joint effort. Ask her to slowly start becoming a part of them: Have her help you grocery shop. Tell her, “We have “X” dollars to shop, let’s see if we can do it for less.” That will help her feel like you want her input and help.

    She really needs to become a part of the finances if you two get married. It will only cause resentment down the line if she is not on board with you and wants to spend all of the money you earn.

    Hang in there! :-)

  16. Claire says:

    My husband and I are for all practical purposes debt free including our home. We owe about $5000 on our sons truck, trying to establish his credit and a little on a TV only because it was 18 months interest free. We have the cash to pay it off. It took us 8 years of due dillagence to get debt free and to stay debt free and at times it was very painful. We are very furgal. We have put is a 4.3 Kw solar panels and will put in another 4.3 system this year. Our electric bill in May was $25.00 The one for June was $250.00 that was with 108*F temps.
    My husband and I have common goals we vet all of our purchases with each other. We also pool our pay checks and pay all of our bills from the one account.
    The leading cause of divorce is money so If your future spouse does not have the same money views or displine chances are they won’t change so save the money o the wedding and the divorce and look else where. Divorce is another topic all together on financial distaster.

  17. Matt says:

    -Rachel (#14)

    Thanks for the response. I’ve been trying to have her help me, but a lot of the times, she feels as it’s money I made myself, it’s solely mine, and she has no control over it. I try to help her as much as I can. I give her money to shop for herself, and try to help her make her own money too.

    Shes upset, as recently, she got $100 as a gift, and was proud of saving it up. Turns out, someone broke in and stole her money, leaving her with none, again. This crushed her spirits, but I’m trying to help her keep trying.

    As for the shopping, I have her help me a lot. I’ve been teaching her basic tricks to finding the best deals, and not just going with the cheapest price on the sticker, because thats not always the best value.

    She has learned quite a bit. When we buy ground beef, I’ll have her help me find the best deal, and she’ll go oh, how about this one? And most of the time, it’s pretty good.

    I appreciate the help, and will continue to further her interest in making us rich!

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