Support groups are a proven way for people to eliminate harmful habits and make positive changes such as eating healthy and exercising. The secret to why this works is the powerful influence of a social network – especially one that shares common traits. Studies show that, just as bad habits spread in social networks, healthy habits do, too. In fact, they could even be considered contagious!
This principle can apply to finances, as well. While we see plenty of health-related support groups, there aren’t many financial accountability groups. My theory is that this has a lot to do with the money talk taboo — people either consider it improper or uncomfortable to talk openly about their finances (sometimes, even with their spouses!).
Just as accountability groups have made it easier for people with “shameful” habits to take the first step to recovery —admitting there’s a problem — those of us with financial skeletons in the closet have the best chance of finding the strength and motivation to make necessary changes with the help of a friend.
One of the key advantages of finding a personal finance friend or support group is this: it reminds you that others have similar struggles, even if everyone around you seems to have their financial act together. At the same time, a friend’s differing experiences, responses, knowledge, and perspective can offer insight to your situation.
I’d like to offer four tips for choosing a personal finance friend and making the most of the accountability this type of partnership can bring.
1. Choose Someone You Can Trust with Similar Values and Goals
There’s comfort in anonymity — sometimes, too much comfort. You don’t want it to be easy to just walk away when the going gets tough. While some can intuitively trust a stranger who sympathizes or identifies with their struggles, most people find it easiest to trust someone they know.
The second part is important. Just as weight loss transformations are most successful when people partner with someone who shares a similar fitness level, you will see the best results when you choose someone who can identify with your financial situation and shares a similar commitment to improving.
2. Meet Regularly (Make It Official)
The problem with having a friend as a financial buddy is that your scheduled meetings can get too casual, to the point that they’re pushed out by other activities. Set a regular time to meet each week, every two weeks, or once a month and make sure you treat the event like any other important meeting. If you can’t meet in person, at least set up a Facebook or Google Hangouts chat, FaceTime, or Skype. Don’t let it slip.
3. Have an Agenda
If you don’t decide ahead of time what you’ll be working on or discussing, finance talks can quickly digress to catching up on other topics that are more comfortable and fun. It’s not a bad idea to leave 10 minutes at the end of your meeting to shoot the breeze, but guard the majority of your time together for discussing money topics. Here are a few suggestions:
- Work on your budgets together
- Create a financial planning calendar
- Assign books and articles to read, then share insightful excerpts
- Share struggles and offer each other advice and support
4. Be Honest!
Even if your personal finance friend is someone you trust, it can be hard to be completely honest about embarrassing money mistakes. Make a point to be brutally honest so you will have the opportunity to gain the insight and wisdom you need to change — no one can help you with a problem unless they know about it. It’s also therapeutic to confess money struggles because it forces us to admit their reality and deal with them more directly.
5. Give and Receive
A healthy accountability partnership involves a balance of both giving advice and receiving it. While there will be seasons when you can share wisdom and others when you need more help than you can offer, a consistent imbalance can be draining and unproductive for either partner.
There really is strength in numbers. I encourage you to find a friend with whom you can achieve your financial goals, together. The results are worth the effort.