Chuck McCutcheon and Liisa Ecola live in Washington, D.C. He’s a freelance writer and editor; she’s a transportation policy analyst. Here, they share their strategy for managing their money—and their marriage.
Every Sunday night, we engage in a little 30-minute ritual that has saved our marriage—the “management meeting.”
It sounds like an office staff meeting, which can fill many an employee’s soul with dread. And it kind of is. It’s evolved over time, but we have an agenda divided into categories—money, household, car, travel and social. Other categories have come and gone—wedding planning, kitchen renovations, caring for aging family members.
While we agree that the management meeting serves a valuable purpose, we come at it from different angles:
Liisa: I’m sure no wife sets out to be a nag. But we fell into that stereotypical pattern early on. While we were planning our wedding, Chuck expressed interest in finding the band, and he said he would make a few phone calls. So I asked him one night, while walking home, if he had done so.
Big mistake. He exploded, right in the middle of the sidewalk: Stop nagging me. I’ll get to it. Why don’t you trust me?
Then I got angry too. You’ve never said anything since then, so how do I know if you’re putting it off, or if you just forgot, or what? Should we wait until it’s too late to get another band?
And there was the pattern in a nutshell. I hate not knowing if Chuck has done what he’s promised to do, and he can be a terrible procrastinator. So even when I ask in what I think is a polite way, all he hears is nag, nag, nag.
Chuck: I’ll admit to procrastinating. Opposites attract, right?
Liisa: Not long after the wedding-band debacle, somebody suggested a solution so simple that we felt like idiots for not coming up with it ourselves—Why don’t you have a weekly management meeting?
It works for us, because it lets me follow up to my heart’s content, while Chuck gets the rest of the week off from what he perceives as nagging. If I have a difficult topic to broach, I wait until Sunday, and Chuck agrees to talk about the necessary business of managing our shared life.
I’m in charge of the agenda and we tackle each topic, big and small, in turn. Have you made that doctor’s appointment? Which weekend should we buy those theater tickets? Don’t forget, the plumber is coming Friday between 8 and 10. How should we go about remodeling the kitchen?
And at the end, I make a to-do list for each of us.
Chuck: The to-do list is helpful to me—I’m a procrastinator—and I always know that any items that don’t get accomplished during the week will get brought up again at the next management meeting. Conversely, it’s fulfilling to report at a meeting that I’ve ticked off something on the previous week’s list.
Having fixed categories also is helpful. They keep the discussion focused, and it makes for an easy way to remember things that come up during the week that you might want to raise later at the meeting.
Liisa: The management meeting might not work for everybody, but it works for us. We make decisions, even painful ones, we argue but reach compromises, and we keep another week free for talking about politics and movies rather than taxes and prescriptions.
It’s a safe place to bring up emotionally loaded topics or those that everybody knows you should discuss when you’re married that don’t really work over dinner. Are we spending too much? Should we update our wills?
Chuck: I’ve discussed this idea with friends, and some of them have said that they’re too busy to sit down for even half an hour. My advice would be to break it into chunks. Discuss money matters over breakfast one morning, than talk about house stuff later in the day.
But you should still try to carve out time for a comprehensive discussion of the topics at hand. For example, it helps when talking about money not just to deal with the day-to-day issues but the related longer-term questions. What’s our annual goal for charitable donations? What do you want our IRAs to look like in a few years? Those issues can consume some time.
Liisa: One last bit of advice: It never hurts to end with a big hug.