6 Lessons from Golf About Fostering Financial Intimacy

Mar 23, 2023

There are many reasons I love golf. One of them is the many metaphors about life that can be drawn from golf about life. The psychology of couples and money is my favorite topic, especially regarding attachment styles and how our attachment histories impact how we approach love and money. Recently I was in San Antonio, TX presenting to financial planners at the SHIFT Human First Financial Guidance conference about the psychology of couples and money. 


I took a break from the conference to play 9-holes of golf at this beautiful golf course connected to the hotel. As I went out to enjoy myself, I could not help but think about how golf reminded me of many lessons about love and money. Even if golf is not your thing, the point will come across. 


  1. Hitting the long drive


Standing there on the first tee box with no warm-up and rental driver in my hand, I had very little expectation of my first shot. I take the swing, and the sweet connection of a great shot goes off. I watch the ball fly in the air long and straight. The excitement and pleasure of a tremendous first tee shot ran through my body and I thought, “this is going to be a great day.” 


I don’t know a golfer that doesn’t love hitting an incredible drive. There is a sense of perfect connection between our bodies, club, ball, and outcome. It’s hard to describe the sensation fully. You just know it when you feel it. 


We want to have this same feeling with our partners when we talk about money and our lives. We want that sweet connection that takes us a long way down the road of our love and money journey. 


At the conference, I demonstrated how a couple in their fifties, where the husband had just lost his job, and his wife was feeling scared and anxious about their financial security even though they were on track financially, could connect with each other. What I did next may surprise you, but I had each person, one after the other, put their hand on their partner's heart, look each other in the eyes and say, “I am with you in this transition.” Not what you would expect a financial planner to do is it?


Before financial decision-making for intimate partners, relationship connection is the way to hit the long drive in love and money. For this demonstration, she had an anxious attachment, and he had an avoidant attachment. Helping them connect through physical touch helped them open up to solutions that would help them through this time of transition. 


  1. Missing the putt


Two holes later, I am standing on the green, and the ball is three feet away from the hole. I had already hit a longer putt, and it felt good to be within three feet of the hole. I felt confident I would easily sink the putt and move on to the next hole. 


I line up to make the putt and gently tap the ball, which rolls past the hole. Oh no, what happened? My experience reading the green and lining up my body for a simple putt didn’t work out for me. 


Small missed expectations happen all the time in financial intimacy. We think we are close to being in agreement about what to do financially. Then we take the next step to complete the decision, and the metaphorical ball rolls right by. But why? 


Even when we think we have considered everything, there are still variables we can not fully see within ourselves or our partners that cause us to miss the shot. Missing the short put and small financial expectations is normal, and it is okay. 


We need to line up and take the next shot, and usually, we can then get the ball in the hole. Sure, it may go from par to a bogie or a bogie to a double bogie in my case, but either way, the hole is complete, and it is time to move on to the next one. 


  1. Losing your ball


The fourth hole was a doozy for me. I hit an okay drive and was down the fairway's left side. There were trees ahead that were blocking my second shot to the green. I pulled out the five iron, thinking I could hit a low enough shot onto the green. I swing and shank the ball off into the trees. I knew instantly I wouldn’t be finding that ball. 


Losing balls and losing money happens in life. We try to take the best shots possible, and even when we are intentional about what we are doing, sometimes things don’t work out how we expect. Sometimes we will take a slightly risker shot, hoping to make the green in two, and we lose the ball, which is also true with money. 


We have goals in mind for what we want. Sometimes we have to take a riskier shot to try and reach the green. But our partner would rather play the safe shot and get on the green in three. I have yet to meet a couple that agrees on how much risk they should take with money. 


I was reminded of this as one of the presenters at the conference shared a couple's financial scorecards on different ways of managing money. One of them being investment risk. One partner was 93 out of 100 for investment risk-taking, while the other was 4 out of 100. Differences in investment risk-taking are far more common than you might imagine, the gap is not always this big, but there can still be a substantial difference. 


Here’s where you need to play captain's choice in your love and money life. You are working together to determine the best shot to keep the two of you in the financial game. 


  1. Mulligans


Mulligans are a God send in the recreational golfer's game. They are a chance to do things over again without a lost stroke. In friendly play, players sometimes agree that each player gets one or two mulligans. 


Mulligans acknowledge that sometimes we need a second chance to take the same shot. I know this is true for me. We do much better on the second shot as we immediately incorporate the feedback from the first errant shot. 


On hole six, the second shot was so much better for me. I gave myself a mulligan. Yes, I was playing alone in this round, but I still wanted a mulligan on my approach shot of 85 yards over the pond in front of the green. The first shot went plunk right into the pond. I knew If I took another shot quickly, I could correct the swing error, and I did. I hit my mulligan, and I was about 10 feet from the pin—a far more satisfying shot. 


I don’t know anyone that makes perfect shots all the time. Sometimes we need to give ourselves or our partners a free shot to try again on the finances. At the same time, we need to reflect and practice self-awareness to recognize what changed in our swing that led to the errant shot; the same is true with our money. If we don’t take a moment to reflect and figure out what went wrong, then our mulligan with money will be missed. 


  1. Watching the mental monkey chatter


It’s the eighth hole, and I am very aware of the wide range of mental monkey chatter during the round of golf I am playing. I have felt great delight with some incredible shots and felt frustration with the errant shots. I have told myself I am a great golfer and a terrible golfer at different points in the round. I remembered past rounds played in Texas and High School. I have been golfing since I was 16. There are a lot of memories to draw on about golf. 


While every golf shot is a new one and a new chance to make a great shot, each shot is shaped by my long golfing history. We could point to muscle memory being an essential part of golfing. If my body had to relearn how to swing a club every time I wanted to hit the ball, that would be a problem. 


But there is so much more happening than muscle memory. There is implicit, procedural, and autobiographical memory in play, all shaping automatically and mostly unconsciously what happens next with my golf shot. Being present and calm with the shot is ideal and increases the likelihood of a great shot, but achieving that is the real head game of golf, just like money. 


All the same, things that impact how we make and take golf shots are at play when we are taking money shots. As we play a round of money with our partners, we may play the same game, but we will have very different shots to take on each hole. We will be drawing on our experiences to navigate our way down the fairway to the hole. 


The eighth hole is a par three, about 167 yards to the pin. I swing, hit the ball, and the line looks amazing. My mind quickly starts to hope and imagine this will be the day I get a hole-in-one—a golfer's dream accomplishment. My mind races to “wait, but no one is here to see it with me” who will believe me? Who will celebrate with me when it happens”. 


The ball drops on the green 7 yards from the hole. Close, but definitely not a hole-in-one. I take a deep breath and realize maybe another day. I did not ask my mind/brain/body to take me on that journey from shot to ball landing. It happened automatically. I observed it and experienced it, which is what we can do with our money shots.  


  1. The scorecard 


The ninth hole is perched up high on the hill. A beautiful view of the surrounding area opens up, and a long 437 yards down to the hole. I have been writing the number of strokes and puts for each hole in my scorecard. I see the mounting score and from hole one’s hope of having a better than average round to me to the middle of the round, reminding myself I am out of practice and this is just for fun for me, to bring this nine-holes to a close I will play again I just want to have a good last hole. 


We use scorecards in golf and financial planning to track our progress. At the same time, there is no way the scorecard of golf or financial planning can tell the whole story of what this game has been like. It is only a reduced representation of all that has happened. 


As I finish the round and tally up my 9-holes of golf, I realize I played right to my average. This time I recognize at a much deeper level that my score is not what is important to me. It is the experience of golfing that matters to me. If I am going to be a golfer, I want to learn to enjoy the game continually, just like love and money.


I loved being out in nature. I loved seeing the bluebonnets. I loved seeing the wildlife, deer, groundhogs, and ducks colored in a way I had never seen. The smell of mesquite wood. The feel of the wind on my skin. Enjoying the fantasy of being a great golfer. The humility of recognizing that I am a middle-aged father who is happy to golf six times a year because other things are important in my life, including my kid's soccer games and helping my wife with household chores and afternoon dates from time to time. 


So the scorecard matters and doesn’t matter at all. I think this is true of financial planning. We want to use a scorecard to track our money game and see if we can use it to find places where we can improve our financial game, especially in coordination with loved ones. In the end, love and money is a captain choice game where you are picking the best shot between the players for the next shot. 


If you would like help with your golf game, I am not the person for you, but I am if you would like help improving your love and money game. My Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ process will help the two of you play a better round of life together.


Book your tee time with me here to talk about your next round of love and money. 


Your love and money caddy,
Ed Coambs - Therapy-Informed Financial Planner™



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