Set a date.
A comprehensive mission statement isn’t something you can just whip up while you’re eating dinner after a long day at work.
“Conversations about money—no matter who they’re with—can be uncomfortable,” Mueller-Lust says. “So choose a time when you have each other’s undivided attention. You want to be completely present to really listen and hear your partner’s perspective.”
That said, feel free to lighten the mood and make it fun, Gilmour says. Pick up some wine and cheese—or whatever sharable treat you enjoy that’ll put you in the right frame of mind to kick off a productive conversation.
Discuss your common life values.
Even though the goal of this exercise is to nail down a money mission statement, your first assignment is to brainstorm a list of life
“[That’s because] your beliefs should drive your money behaviors, not the other way around,” Gilmour says. “If there’s misalignment, you could experience some internal friction.”
Start by jotting down the first words you think of, says Washington, D.C.-based money therapist Dominique Broadway
. This could be family, friends, travel, education, community, charity, home—or all of the above.
“Do this on your own first, then compare notes,” Mueller-Lust says. “You need to understand each other’s wants and needs very clearly before deciding on combined priorities. This way, you’ll prevent misunderstandings and disagreements down the road when you’re confronted with a new money issue—which will inevitably happen.”
Gilmour says it’s normal to start with a list of 20 or even 30 values, but suggests whittling it down to the top five you want to build a life around together.
RELATED: Your Money Values Roadmap: 6 Ways to Budget for What Matters to You Most
Pinpoint your joint financial goals.
Now it’s time to nail down your main money priorities—for both the short- and long-term.
To get this conversation rolling, Broadway suggests answering these big-picture prompts: Will we live in the city or suburbs? Will we rent or buy? What world destinations must
we visit in our lifetimes? What are our dream careers? When do we want to retire, and what might a happy retirement look like?
Out of these discussions, you should be able to identify several large financial goals that can help you accomplish those dreams, such as paying off debt, saving up for tuition for a master’s degree or starting a baby fund.
Just remember that these aims should relate back to the life values you just defined. So if you notice a key priority isn’t being addressed, make sure to work it into your financial goals before moving on to the next step.
Start shaping your statement.
Ready to put pen to paper?
The best part about this to-do is that you’re totally free to structure your statement however you like. Love the ease of bullet points? Go for it. Prefer paragraphs? That’s O.K., too.
What’s more important is finding the right balance between making the content general enough to apply for years to come, but specific enough that you can still suss out actionable to-dos.
For some goals, that might mean keeping the language vague. “A statement that says you want to minimize debt could always be true,” Mueller-Lust notes. “A desire to own a home can remain valid, as well, even if you change what type [of property], or where you want to live.”
Other priorities, however, may lend themselves to specific numbers, in which case you should spell them out. For instance, if giving is one of your main priorities, you can easily stipulate that you’ll both carve out 5% or 10% of your paychecks to donate to charity each month.
RELATED: How to Budget for Giving All Year Long
Divide—and conquer—key to-dos.
This step is like figuring out who’s responsible for taking out the garbage—only with higher stakes.
To avoid inaction—or unnecessary conflict down the line—pinpoint which spouse will take responsibility for certain items covered in your mission statement.
“A good example of an individual task might be signing up for benefits through one person’s employer, like getting disability insurance or enrolling in an FSA account,” Gilmour says. While these to-dos may not be directly outlined in your statement, they may contribute to greater goals, such as saving money wherever you can or being financially secure.
Of course, not every task will be something one person can do alone, but when appropriate, scribble your name next to the ones you’re tackling, so nothing falls through the cracks.
Sleep on it—then edit as necessary.
Once you’ve hammered out a first draft you’re happy with, hit the pause button. While you may be anxious to wrap up the project, research
from Lancaster University has shown that your mom’s wise advice of “sleeping on it” can actually encourage problem-solving.
After a few days, revisit the statement together with a fresh perspective—and don’t worry if you feel the need to be a little heavy-handed with the red pen.
“In the moment, you may think something sounds good,” Gilmour says. “But then upon further reflection, you might want to make adjustments to ensure it’s a statement you both agree on.”
Put your mission statement on display.
With the finished product in hand, it’s time to designate a prominent spot for it in your home.
“Keep your statement front and center,” says Mueller-Lust, who recommends digitizing and saving it as your desktop background, tacking it up in your kitchen or even framing and hanging it in your bedroom. “The key is just not to lose sight of your goals.”
So when you’re contemplating life’s major decisions as a couple, you’ll know exactly where to look if you need a quick reminder of what you’ve decided is most important to you.
Ask for help putting your plan into action.
Now it’s time to get cracking on your objectives!
To help you work through the list quickly and efficiently, Gilmour suggests asking for a trusted professional, such as a Certified Financial Planner™ or certified public accountant, for guidance.
“A good planner should take your values into consideration, and can help you navigate various investment products and tools, so you can achieve the goals you’ve outlined,” he says.
A CPA, on the other hand, can help you better understand key tax laws and use them to your advantage. For instance, a CPA can give you the low-down on short-term action items, like whether to file your 1040 jointly or separately come April; advise on how to track and deduct your charitable contributions; and explain why stashing away more money in your 401(k) is a good move for your future and
lowers your tax liability.
Bonus points if the professional you’re working with helps you identify a financial goal you hadn’t even thought to include in your mission statement!
RELATED: 9 Types of Financial Advisers: Which One Is Right for You?
Hold each other accountable.
When it comes to staying on track with your goals, it’s important to touch base with your partner often to ensure you’re both holding up your end of the bargain.
After all, there’s never a time when you’re not making money decisions—even if it’s just the simple act of spending $20 at the grocery store. “Every day, there’s some kind of financial choice being made, so you need to have open lines of communication,” Gilmour says.
This is especially important for those tasks you agreed to divvy up and individually tackle in step 5. “A lot of people tend to procrastinate on money to-dos,” Gilmour notes. “So while you don’t want to nag each other, it’s important to not let anything fall by the wayside. Gently remind each other [by saying things like], ‘Hey, don’t forget to increase your 401(k) contributions at work!’”
Revisit and update as necessary.
Mueller-Lust suggests scheduling regular sit-down meetings to review your money mission statement, so you can compare it to what’s happening in your life at that moment.
It’s during these check-ins—which Gilmour suggests doing annually—that you may realize your circumstances have changed and it’s time to revise the document. “[After some time], something you wrote as a newly married couple might look very different than something you might write once you have children.”
Other notable times to compare your current values and goals to your mission statement: when you accept a new job or leave the workforce; a death of a loved one, such as a parent, occurs; or you finally buy that home you’ve been saving up for since you tied the knot.
“Your goals should always be fluid,” Mueller-Lust says. “Life changes, and so will priorities. Getting used to that idea—and making adjustments when it happens—is critical to making a marriage grow.”