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Giving Voice

Mark Eckman  |  September 6, 2019

“WE NEED TO TALK.” How many relationships have ended with those four words? They’re a verbal cue to take the news calmly and move on with life. But I would guess just as many relationships have ended without any words or possibly with harsh words. That’s what happens when we don’t talk about our relationship—or about our financial situation and financial plans.

A few years ago, my wife used those four words after I announced I was reducing our life insurance. I explained that we didn’t need as much coverage as we reached age 60. The reaction from my wife was immediate: “We need to talk.” She explained that her mother thought they would have plenty of life insurance, but found they had none thanks to a vanishing premium scheme that left them with no coverage. My wife made clear how important this was to her by saying, “We need to talk.”

I realized we had not talked. She had no idea why I intended to reduce our life insurance, because I hadn’t shared my plans. This was all on me. As a CPA, I—and I alone—spent a lot of time pondering our financial life. I made the assumptions and decisions, but now realized what was missing. We did indeed need to talk.

The moment was rough, but the talks since have been fantastic. We set up a regular time to discuss issues and make plans. We bought several books to read and discuss together, building a common frame of reference on investing, personal finance and how the world changes from saving to spending when we retire—books such as The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer and Michael LeBoeuf, How to Think About Money by HumbleDollar’s editor Jonathan Clements and Money for Life by Steve Vernon.

We educated each other about the events and examples that had shaped our views on financial matters, exploring the influences in our life from the time we were kids through 40 years of marriage. We shared articles from the internet, with viewpoints different from our own, and discussed them. We needed to talk and we continue to talk.

Approaching retirement, the discussions have become less about learning, and more about sharing and “what if” scenarios. We have talked about paying off the mortgage early, financing a car, buying new investments, when to retire and further reducing our life insurance. The talks have become as much a part of the day as fixing dinner. Incredible as it sounds, these talks have actually brought us closer together. One other result: Our grown children have seen us start and end these financial talks a number of times—and now we see them talking with each other as well.

Mark Eckman is a data-oriented CPA with a focus on employee benefit plans. As he approaches retirement, he’s realizing that saving and investing were just the start—and maybe the easy part. Mark’s priorities: family, food and fun. 

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