I’m going to say a name and I want you to give me your reaction to it. Ready? Donald Trump. I suspect that you immediately felt something when you heard The Donald. This is not important because he’s running for President, rather because it emphasizes the point that our first reaction to something tends to be instinctive. Now let me give you some other words for your reaction: Risk. Security. Loss. Debt. These words also triggered a response.

In the book, “The Righteous Mind, Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” author Jonathan Haidt describes through his research how, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

Uh-oh. Think about your money decisions. Regardless of how carefully you may think things through, if Haidt is right, your decision starts with your passions and you use your reasoning for justification.

When clients talk about their money, they are espousing their versions of money truths. And these truths are often immutable. For example — kids need to support themselves, borrowing means we’re living above our means, I deserve to spend because I work so hard.

When couples are arguing in our office about money, they are generally doing so because their passions are not aligned, not because their reasoning isn’t. One of my clients was going through the costs of maintaining a rarely ridden horse with their teenager. While that approach is logical, it won’t connect as well as if she worked with her child around how they can build a better life for this horse that they love. Can they sell the horse to someone who can take better care of it and have a provision to occasionally ride it?

I was talking to another long-married couple who have always treated their money as joint, but created a small separate account for the wife as potential getaway money. Since he was generally running the shared finances, he had more power over them. This special account gave her the security to know that if she needed to escape for a brief time, she could simply do so. This solution won’t work for some couples because one spouse may feel passionate about things being equal. In any financial relationship, things are never equal.

Haidt says, “When discussions are hostile, the odds of change are slight.” When in money conversation, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. While it may not change your position, it will help you see the truth behind theirs.


Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina.