A swipe echoes through the air, you grit your teeth, break into a sweat, and begin exploring new vocabulary for what has just happened. You are either a golfer or have just entered level 3 buyer’s remorse after purchasing something on your credit card that was expensive and completely useless.
But things could have been different. Someone could have been there to warn you, to guide you, to give firm nudge in a better direction. It’s much like the time when my college roommates and I took a road trip to So. Cal. When we got to the beach we unknowingly took a wrong turn onto a walkway meant only for pedestrians. We were about to embark on a spree of mass manslaughter when a guy looked at our license plate, shook his head and yelled, “Utah, no!” Little did that Socalian know when he woke up that morning, but he was destined to become our accountability partner, i.e., the only thing standing between us and a spree of vehicular homicide. The minute we arrived in prison, scary jail gang members like the Jets (that’s the scariest gang I can imagine having gone to school in Utah) would start snapping their fingers and burst into song right before they dance kicked us in the tookus. I shudder at the thought.
Where was I? Oh yes, accountability partners are important. In truth, I probably could have used one for the preceding paragraph. And, as it turns out, an accountability partner can be instrumental not only in avoiding jail time, or poorly written paragraphs, but also in many aspects of behavior change. They can be useful for sticking with exercise and nutrition plans, overcoming addiction, and even in baseball! And, of course, they can be great for making progress on financial goals, like debt reduction or saving up for things.
So who should be your accountability partner? I’m convinced that one of the reasons that people seek out financial advisers has nothing to do with the adviser’s knowledge or skills, it’s just that they want an accountability partner, someone who will simply hold them accountable for the things that they already know they need to do.
The good news is that many of us already have financial accountability partners built in for free. The bad news is that we often fail to use them. It’s sort of like the loony pigeons that hang around my office in the winter time. They sit there all huddled and freezing, trying to cover themselves with their wings to keep warm. Hey pigeons, you have wings and the resulting gift of flight! You could easily fly somewhere warmer for the winter, like Arizona, or even Billings Montana, which are both warmer than Rexburg, Idaho, but you don’t! You huddle by the office window, shuddering with cold, wishing life were better, and all the while you could have been basking in the warm Chinook winds of Billings.
My point? If you can fly, you should, and, don’t make things harder on yourself than they need to be. A spouse is an obvious choice as an accountability partner. However, I will admit that some spouses are part of the problem, not the solution. For example, if your spouse has ever talked you into a rent-to-own puppy, you may need to find someone else to be your accountability partner. For those who are spouseless or for undisclosed reasons must turn to someone else, other options include: a good friend, a sibling, a parent, or a great uncle, etc.
The good news is that an accountability partner can be anyone who possesses some level of responsibility. Some online budgeting websites even have online communities that can act as a sort of accountability partner. See my recent article on financial butler’s. It’s a step in the right direction, however, don’t mistake anonymous online confessions for having real accountability.
How it works: Basically the most important thing is to set a spending limit, like $30, for example. You cannot purchase anything over $30 without discussing it first with your accountability partner. With spouses, this is easy, because you both have the same spending limit, and can check up on each other. Making sure that there is discussion, and agreement/compromise over large and even medium sized purchases can really improve lines of financial communication between spouses. It’s also not a bad idea to make it a weekly or monthly ritual to get together with your accountability partner, and talk about financial goals and measure progress on those goals. I’ve found that this works well over ice-cream. While eating it, I mean, not just while hovering over it, like a weirdo.
Having an accountability partner will increase your chances of financial success. Your partner needs to be someone you trust and who is not afraid to get on your case. A shopping partner, or a friend who goes out to lunch with you on a regular basis may not be a good choice. But you don’t need me to tell you who the responsible people are in your life, you already know who they are. You have my permission to go buy some ice-cream take it to this person and tell them, “You have been selected as my ice-cream buddy/accountability partner.” Then eat their ice-cream and see if they get on your case about it. If they do, then you’ve made a good choice.