I remember going from residency to real money quite well. The year was 2006. My last day of residency was Friday, June 30th and I started my first locums gig on Monday morning, July 3rd.
Not only was I paid a whole lot better, I was also well taken care of. Nice hotels and condos. Doctors’ parking and doctors’ lounges. I was making real money and my living expenses were covered, too. It’s what I would call living better than a resident (while spending less).
I was engaged and soon to be married, and we traveled together as a couple. The paychecks were impressive and they almost didn’t seem real. But it was real money.
Most of the time, we spent wisely. We did get a limo on my birthday, though. And then there was the three-week trip to Europe that Spring. I worked hard for it, though, and my bride recognized that. Fortunately, we were on the same page. Not everyone is so lucky.
Adam Kol of AHK Coaching is familiar with couples who don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to money. He offered up this guest post from the perspective of part of a couple with similar high-income potentials. Enjoy!
From Residency to Real Money: Making the Transition as a Couple
What do you do when your income doubles, triples, quadruples? Heck, this might even happen for you and your spouse or partner at the same time. How can you two navigate these massive shifts?
Grad school can be a kind of strange, fluid state. A sort of suspended reality. As someone with a law degree and a master’s in tax law, I remember it well:
My wife (at the time) and I had access to plenty of student loans. And with well-paying careers promised to a Duke Law and UNC Dental grad, we didn’t worry about things too much. We couldn’t work outside of school, anyway. So, merrily we rolled along.
Doctors, you eagerly await the long-promised pot of gold at the end of the residency rainbow. It’s similar for lawyers, CPAs, etc. Your hours might improve, too, but either way, you’re definitely be making a whole lot more.
First, let’s start with why this matters. Remember the immortal words of Notorious B.I.G.: mo’ money, mo’ problems. While this isn’t categorically true, we can struggle around this topic even when we have plenty of income.
Financial stress is often reported as a (if not the) top cause of relationship stress and divorce. See CNBC and Business Insider, and Marriage.com, for example. That’s why I’ve built a coaching practice entirely around helping couples who love each other make sure that the money conversation doesn’t get in the way.
If you’re like most couples, you two may be opposites in many ways. A common pairing is a saver with a spender. Maybe your families had very different finances. Maybe you want kids and a house ASAP, while your partner prefers enjoying kid-free life now that you finally have some income.
So, how do you find common ground?
Well, the short answer is honesty and compromise. But if it were that simple, you’d have done it already.
Below, I’ll share what’s worked for my clients and what I’ve learned as a Mediator and Couples Financial Counselor. (Note: Does this feel like too much right now? Then start with my Free Guide to Start Getting on the Same Page with your Wife/Spouse about FIRE.)
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Discover your money story, and share it with your partner.
Explore your experiences and mindsets around money. Consider how your socialization affected you. Of particular importance here are usually gender norms and roles. Even if you disagree with them, they’ve still penetrated your subconscious.
Familial financial status and experiences growing up are key, as well. And be sure to look at how money stuff has gone in your past & current romantic relationships. Think through the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Client Story: As a child, she was thrust between a divorced, feuding mother and father. Her mother dispatched her as the emissary to deliver their bills to her dad. She endured her father’s ire as he scribbled and tore out a check.
After exploring and resolving this, she was able to set firm boundaries with her husband. She also restarted the dream business she’d shelved out of financial fear. Then, she got a very generous job offer. And amazingly, she had the courage to turn it down to commit to her dream pursuit.
Sort out your personal & financial priorities, and share them with your partner
Client Story: It can be vulnerable to share your priorities. This is especially true if you’ve gotten used to restricting yourselves, as is common in grad school. With one client, the wife worried about their finances. Her husband was more the “it’ll all work out” type.
So, he always did what he wanted. Retreats, coaching, acupuncture. And due to their uncertain situation, she refused even to consider what she desired. Telling her husband was out of the question.
It took several sessions to break through. But once she felt safe to open up, their whole relationship shifted. Shared happiness and satisfaction became available to both of them.
Her resentment dissolved, and she got the new couch she’d wanted for years. This was a big deal for an interior designer with a ragged couch! And he rested easily knowing his wife felt supported, cared for, and happy.
Have regular “money dates.”
Put dedicated, quiet time on the calendar to talk about money. Turn off the devices, get connected, and dig in. Share about your current finances, your fear and worries, and your hopes and dreams.
This allows you to tackle tension and head off potential fights before they fester. I recommend starting with once a week. As you get on the same page, you can move toward once a month.
Client Story: They’d fight often when money came up, so they stopped discussing it altogether. The wife was out of the loop and afraid. The husband was resentful and frustrated.
I asked them how would things go if nothing changed. The wife acknowledged that if nothing changed, then when the kids were a few years older, she’d walk out.
Right in front of her husband. For the first time.
That week they committed to discuss their finances each night. By the time they got on our next call, their entire demeanor had changed.
Within weeks, they had a debt payoff plan. By the end of our time working together, they were back to being best friends. They’d paid off $26k of debt. The husband got a surprise bonus. They had sent their special needs child to the appropriate private school. And the wife restarted her business.
BONUS Step!: Support each other in your personal and shared financial goals.
At the end of the day, your money is a tool to support you in your life’s plans and goals. If handled well, they can be a beautiful expression of your partnership. This will create greater love & intimacy, and your finances will improve, too!
Client Story: When I reviewed their finances, I suggested it seemed they each were underpaid at their jobs. They acknowledged that they agreed, but they didn’t know how to approach their employers.
As I often see when it comes to finances, an uncomfortable topic is easy to avoid in any given moment. But then, that moment becomes a month, a year, a decade, and often nothing has changed, at least not for the better.
As they explored their money fears, they saw that the next step was for each of them to speak with their employers. The wife was afraid she might even have to leave her job, as there were some dynamics that weren’t working for her.
They committed to support each other and hold each other accountable.
Next thing they knew, the wife had gotten a $16k raise and a promotion. Soon after, the husband got a $17k raise, too! He also started the process of expanding his team and taking a more central role in the business.
This was a 22% increase in their household income, with the opportunity for much more.
And when they each stepped up, you could see the stars in their eyes for their spouse.
Now, they have higher income, an emergency fund, and a plan for moving into their dream home. And their young daughters stand to reap the benefits.
Navigating big financial changes, even positive ones, can be a challenge. Getting on the same page with your significant other is essential. To do so in light of a large income shift, I recommend the following:
- Learn each other’s money stories
- Share your priorities
- Have regular “money dates”
- Support each other’s goals
I hope you got a lot of value out of reading these tips and stories. As always, tailor them to your particular life and relationship. They should have you well on your way to financial peace, in addition to your financial independence and early retirement.
For personalized support in navigating your own financial relationship, schedule a complimentary Financial Harmony Consultation here.
Finally, I’d love to hear from you. Share what you learned, your questions, or any other thoughts you may have!