Marriage, Money, and Goals

In business classes, we’re taught to think and plan in terms of SMART goals.  The acronym S.M.A.R.T. stands for


Learning to think this way helps immeasurably when you’re making a plan, especially one that requires several steps and moving parts.  It forces you to put your nebulous vision into concrete terms.

For instance, if you want to ‘find a better job,’ a SMART goal might be to send out three applications every week to companies where you think you’d like to work.

A SMART way to say you want to lose weight and get healthier would be, “By next month. I want to drop one pant size and be able to run one mile further than I can right now.” In my case, when I set the goal of saving money back in December, I immediately jumped to the SMART goal setting process. “In 2011, I want to save at least $100/month by spending less on convenience foods.” I felt like a good little business school graduate with my finger on the pulse of what needed to change and my smarty-pants SMART goal.

As is often the way with me, I chose the wrong move.

It’s true that I had a goal, and it was very specific, measurable, etc. etc., but I’d skipped the most important part – the vision!  Without vision, a goal has no heart, no passion, no steam, no fire. No staying power. The thought struck me in the middle of a spring repainting project, and I admit I felt a bit moronic for not having realized it sooner.  After all, my entire marriage  hung in the balance of this issue some years back…during wedding planning.

If you ask me, any couple that can survive planning a wedding on a shoestring budget and still say ‘I do,’ in the ceremony has a pretty good shot at marriage.  The argument my husband and I had over wedding invitations lives in infamy in our house.  I was a full-time student at the time, working 2 part-time jobs with only 3 months to plan, and $3,000 to work with, I was wracking my resourceful little brain to figure out how to accommodate the seven hundred people my darling husband insisted on inviting.  That’s what I said. Seven hundred. Seven hundred hand-made invitations had to be made so that seven hundred of his closest friends could be contacted.  If they came, I needed to seat them, feed them, and entertain them for the evening. He printed his contact list onto the invitation labels I’d given him.  No stylish font, no forethought, just:

‘Last Name, First Name,

One of the honored invitees was someone he’s never even met or spoken with, but he is (allegedly)  the only other person in the world with the same first and last name, and so he must be invited.

Yes, that’s the man I married. I almost didn’t marry him, though. Our complete inability to agree on a scope for our wedding was so exasperating that I worried we’d never learn to make a life together.

His parents hired us a wedding planner to help. Thank goodness for Flava!  The very first thing she asked us was to, “Describe your ideal wedding in one or two words.”

“Intimate. Elegant,” I said.
He said, “Superbowl!”

And there it was.  We had a common goal (plan a great wedding), but we had very different visions.

What does this have to do with money? Only everything.
So much of what we do involves the exchange of currency that you can hardly separate money from any aspect of your life.  While planning the wedding, three thousand dollars was on my mind every day.  Three thousand dollars, and three hundred confirmed guests (many of the 700 lived quite far away, to my relief), and I needed a decent plan…What could I do?  I did my best. I converted a warehouse-style room in an office park into a ballroom, and we asked each guest to bring a dessert.  It was lovely. Truly.

But, it wasn’t my dream.  My vision got lost the moment we charged ahead with the mechanics of planning.  What we should have done was spend an evening talking about our different visions until we started to dream together. We should have started with broad strokes, and then filled in the details.

I had completely forgotten this important lesson about the distinction between goals and vision.  Then it struck me that I haven’t been motivated to save recently because I don’t have a vision for it. I have a goal – spend $100 less every month on convenience foods than last year – but…..why? A retirement account isn’t enough of an immediate reward.  I need a different kind of payoff.

What I need is a vision of this new me – the one that doesn’t just save on junk food, but saves a full 20% of her after-tax income, no matter what.  What does that me look like? How do I feel?  The specifics I need at this point are not specific mechanical goals. What I need to do is to fill in the details of the dream I want to dream for my life.

Once I’ve fallen in love with a vision I have, I’m a very hard worker.  I pay attention to detail, accepting nothing less than my personal best in every way.  Without the dream, I don’t have the will to push against fatigue and misfortune when they come.

Did I learn to make saving into a game this week? No, I didn’t. (See previous post for context). Instead, I figured out that I’ve missed an important step along the way, and I want to back up, and spend some time dreaming.  What better time for hatching new visions than Spring!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Nancy Marks
    Mar 24, 2011 @ 15:13:15

    I have to assume that your then-fiance’s announcement of his Superbowl vision was accompanied by arms raised in the universal sign for a touchdown?

    In my family we say that if you can hang wall paper together, the marriage will last.


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