How our weekly family meeting helps us tend to our time, money, relationship and goals
Writer Laura Leavitt shares the structure of the weekly meeting with her husband that’s helped them stay in sync through new parenthood, check off major financial goals and donate $10K+ to charity.
Guest author: Laura Leavitt is a writer and editor who is passionate about relatable financial content and loves a cup of black coffee.
I see my husband many times a day. With both of us working from home, you’d think it’d be effortless to make plans, collaborate on financial choices and generally optimize our lives together.
Maybe for some people that’s true, but for us, it never really has been.
Even with a lot of time together, we could disagree on when we need to talk about the upcoming birthday party we want to throw, or how we want to save more to donate to charity but haven’t gotten around to it yet. While we manage emergency repairs and ongoing maintenance fine in our 100-year-old home, we’d sometimes put off needed maintenance and updates that would make our house the best it could be; it’s just never quite the right time.
There are always discussion points that seem just out of relevance, since there’s also dinner to eat right this minute or a call to take for work in half an hour.
The best habit we’ve instituted as a couple — and now that we have a kid, as a family — is a weekly meeting.
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How we structure our weekly family meeting
It felt quite silly at first, because we talk all the time. But then we realized the very valuable way a weekly meeting structured our conversations.
If something comes up that isn’t relevant right then but we want to deal with it, we no longer say “We’ll talk about that soon.” We instead say, “We’ll talk about that on Saturday at noon.”
We aren’t free every week at the same time, but by having a standing meeting, we can flex to when we go for an early morning walk or when we happen to be at a restaurant that’s taking a while with the food. With this structure, we have a specific place to hash out all the beyond-the-moment decisions we always wanted to make.
Anyone can choose the structure of their family meeting, but this is what works for us:
We start with the calendar. For the seven days until the next family meeting, what do each of us need to do beyond our totally routine work commitments? We talk about things like how we want to find time to meet up with a friend, but aren’t sure which nights are already spoken for. By talking it out, we’re able to make sure each of us has time for what we need to do while saving space for what we want to do.
Next is finances. This is a chance to talk about any changes we want to make to our saving, spending and investing habits. It’s also good for making sure someone is officially in charge of stuff like rolling over money from a past job’s retirement accounts, actions that are surprisingly tedious but need to happen.
Once a year, my husband presents a spreadsheet of our net worth and how it’s changed since last year, including investment growth, reduced debt and any other changes like buying a house.
After that is a segment called relationship. While we don’t particularly have things to work on, this is a great catch-all space for giving each other encouragement or praise and asking for things to run differently in the house. It’s helped us distribute labor and ensure that we’re both feeling heard.
Finally we have a “goals, first things and legacy” category. For this, we brainstorm and check in on our bigger long-term goals. These have included preparing for a child, creating a nest egg to move to our dream place to live and giving a high percentage of our income to charities and other organizations that matter to us.
Consistent progress toward our big goals
This might sound rather ambitious. But a lot of weeks we don’t have much movement on a lot of these things, and the meeting is just a check-in. Still some things have moved more quickly because we were talking about them every week.
We’ve been able to check off big financial to-do list items more quickly. For example, when I saw that I’d been consistently earning more as a freelancer, we decided together to put a percentage of the increase into retirement savings. I would have always intended to do this, but there’s no guarantee I’d have gotten around to actually logging on to the website and setting up the transfer if I hadn’t committed to it in one Sunday meeting and gotten to say I’d accomplished it the next Sunday.
Family meetings demonstrate an important quality of a healthy relationship with money: It’s about consistently showing up.
In many cases, financial health isn’t about saving a big chunk of money right now, but rather learning to consistently design your life toward your goals. It’s not about “some day” learning about investing; it’s about the individual to-do list items like picking a kind of IRA or brokerage account, depositing money and reading about the kinds of funds where you want to invest.
Big successes from little moments
What I’ve loved about family meetings is that the big things we’ve accomplished have all crept up on me because they happened in smaller moments throughout our lives together.
I loved the moment when, over enchiladas at our favorite Mexican place, my husband and I first committed to doubling our monthly donations to charity and figuring out how to live without those extra dollars. Little things added up for the years after that, and we’ve now donated over $10,000! We’re glad we’ve been building this charitable giving habit.
When life is hectic, the meeting gives us a chance to regroup. I remember sitting on the back porch with our toddler when he was 2 months old, napping in my arms while we chatted over where to buy our next batch of formula and whether we had any more thank-you notes to write for gifts people had sent us.
Getting those thank-you notes out is a challenge on little sleep, but having a moment of normalcy to remind ourselves of the few tasks to get done (besides “take care of the baby”) really helped with making sure we showed our gratitude to those who loved us.
I don’t know that every family will get the same financial boon from a family meeting that we have, but a communication boon is likely to be a financial boon in many cases. We all benefit from understanding each other a little better as a family, and there’s something really exhilarating about helping each other to achieve big goals, one week at a time.
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Love these tips, Laura! And I’m so happy to see how you were able to find room for generosity by being intentional with the money you had coming in.