Each December I spend a full morning writing down my financial goals for the following year. For the past four years, I have taken the time to do this in order to better understand my spending habits. This is the second year now that I get to complete this process with my amazing girlfriend where we find common values. We dive deep into areas where we want to improve. The most important part in our entire analysis is our mentality towards money.

Having this conversation has historically been difficult because money is a sensitive issue. Our combined student loan debt is over 120k and presents us with quite a bit of anxiety. Despite the anxiety, we both know that we can regain control and certainty of our situation by understanding where we are and plan accordingly from there.

It took the better part of our first year asa couple to come to this realization and to make the decision to look at our finances together rather than apart. If you and your significant other are nearing this phase of your relationship, my advice is to have patience and create an open space for communication.

Brace yourself for a difficult conversation.

Discussing money can make people feel uncomfortable or act evasive. We keep in mind that our goal is to create a better future for ourselves and our future family. And remember that no strategy, budget, or plan is going to hold up if there is a disconnect between where we are and where we want to be.

What is your financial goal?
Is your goal to pay off your credit card debts or student loans? Is your goal to save enough for a new hire at your growing business? Or is your goal to invest new earnings into your favorite stock this year?

In our case, our big goal is to save enough money in 2016 for a down payment in 2017. To achieve our goal, we need to more than double our post-tax savings rate* from 2015’s 23% to a rate of 50% in 2016.

Setting Our Mark
The first stage of developing any goal is identifying what we value. The most critical aspect of coming up with a goal together is that our goal needs to be something each individual finds valuable and meaningful.

Having this conversation leads to two great benefits. The first benefit is that we learn to communicate better with each other. For me, this means having to translate my accounting language ofpure number analysis into an easy to read and digest format that my girlfriend can understand and contribute to. The second benefit is that working together to achieve a common goal creates a stronger bond. The idea of, “I want to buy a house some day”, is one thing, but taking action and making conscious decisions with purpose brings an altogether different level of trust, accountability, and intimacy to a relationship.

Speaking of accountability; another important aspect of setting a goal together is understanding our share of accomplishing that goal. In our relationship, my girlfriend and I do not split responsibility 50/50. We’re both approaching this with the mindset that ‘I am 100% responsible’ if this goal succeeds or fails. Less than 100% is a sure fire way to see ourselves fall short as a couple.

This last aspect of our relationship goal may be the most important. As with any goal, the end result is not as rewarding as the growth we experience through the process. By becoming more conscious of our buying habits and living a more frugal life in 2016, we come closer to achieving financial independence.

Keeping Up With Our Benchmarks
The easiest way to accomplish big goals is to decompose them by setting up benchmarks. Our benchmarks should tie into our quarterly goals and lead up to the larger milestones. This way, we can feel good about the little accomplishments and gauge how far we’ve come. If — or when — we begin to stray from our path, we can course correct or reexamine if the initial goal was realistic to begin with.

Master Distiller

*There are several definitions to “savings rate,” so here’s mine: Savings rate includes contributions to investments, cash used to increase our cash buffer, and principal payments on loans (in our case, student loans). I do not include interest paid on loans.

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