A Money and Love Decision-Making Framework: Q&A with Myra Strober and Abby Davisson
The two also founded the Money and Love Institute and recently co-authored Money and Love: An Intelligent Roadmap for Life’s Biggest Decisions. Myra and Abby will be the keynote speakers at Wealth Architects’ 10th Annual Wealth Architects University event.
We further explore their transformative work and insights on money, love and decision-making in the interview below.
Myra, what is the backstory of your Stanford class, “Work and Family”?
I first started teaching this course in 1971 at Berkeley and I called it “Women and Work,” where we primarily explored the ways in which women could combine both demanding careers and raising children. We especially took into account the impacts of personal and professional decision-making on finances. When I moved to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, one of my male students suggested I rename the class “Work and Family” for broader appeal. Once I did this, more men started enrolling and by the time I stopped teaching in 2018, 40% of my students were male. The class and our conversations evolved and improved as we got a wider variety of perspectives.
Abby, what did you take away from Myra’s class?
The course had an amazing reputation on campus for preparing students for life in a way that other classes didn’t and I ultimately found the same to be true for me, too. It was one of the most useful, applicable classes I ever took.
I enrolled with my now-husband, Ross, who I had been dating less than a year at that point. With graduation looming, we were talking a lot about post-graduation plans and deciding if we were going to accept jobs in the same city and move in with each other. Myra shared data that couples who live together prior to marriage are more likely to get a divorce. Ross and I were surprised to hear that and didn’t want it to be our fate. For our final paper, we dug into that data and tried to answer why that was the case and if there was anything that could be done to help prevent that outcome.
We discovered that couples who are more intentional about combining their lives and getting on the same page about things like finances and household chores are more likely to bypass that divorce statistic, compared to those who cohabitated for convenience, for instance. Ross and I did move in together before we got married and our paper in Myra’s class served as our blueprint. We just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary.
How did your teacher-student relationship evolve into a professional partnership?
Abby and Ross were excellent students. After they graduated, I asked them to come back to guest lecture. They did this for 10 years and we developed a friendship. When I retired in 2018, I told Abby that I wanted to write a book based on my course. Soon after, we had lunch together on a beautiful day in Menlo Park and Abby asked me about the status of the book. I told her I still hadn’t started and she suggested that I needed an accountability partner. I said what I really needed was a co-author and I asked her right then and there if she wanted to write it with me. Fortunately, she instantly said yes. The irony is that our book argues strongly that people shouldn’t make big decisions on the spot, but this proved to be a worthwhile exception to the rule.
Can you sum up the framework you two have come up with for navigating high-stakes decisions?
It’s a 5-step framework based on two underlying principles:
- Money and love decisions are intertwined. The traditional advice that people give is that you should make money decisions with your head and love decisions with your heart. We find that the two tend to be inextricably linked and that separating them does not work well.
- People tend to make high-stakes decisions too fast. People often make big decisions without thinking them through sufficiently, partly because decisions can be uncomfortable to make and to talk about and also because people like to get them off their plates quickly.
The framework is designed to slow you down. It takes you through each step of the decision-making process methodically and with intention.
We all have biases when we make decisions. We tend to have a strong short-term bias where we think most about the immediate consequences, such as the pain and discomfort that can come with big decisions. Our framework pushes people to focus also on the long-term benefits and costs of a decision.
The reason we felt a framework was necessary in the first place was because there is no single answer to life’s big questions. We’re not in a position to tell people exactly what they should do because everyone’s situation is unique and specific to them. But what we do know, from our research and experience, is that there are sturdy but flexible principles you can effectively apply to a variety of decisions where money and love are involved.
Does following a decision-making model ensure that you are making the right decision?
Decision-making is inherently uncertain. Nobody – ourselves included – can guarantee that a decision you make will turn out to be the right one. Consulting a consistent, research-backed framework, however, can tip the odds of a positive outcome in your favor. And if the outcome turns out to be unfavorable, you have some peace of mind knowing that you made the most informed decision you could at the time. Our process minimizes regret because you know that you did everything in your power to make the best decision you could during the decision-making process.
Exactly. We don’t pretend to have a crystal ball. Life throws monkey wrenches – the last several years have been a testament to that. But without a framework to follow, there’s a danger of “resulting,” which is relying on the outcome of a decision to determine whether it was a good decision, rather than looking at the process and careful thought that went into making it.
Can you share a bit about what people can expect at WAU?
We don’t like to just come and lecture, we like to give people the opportunity to talk with one another. We will be orchestrating small break-out groups where people can discuss the love and money issues top of mind for them.
We’ll guide participants through these conversations and provide prompts and worksheets to help people dimensionalize the framework they’re learning about and show them how to apply it to their own specific situation. We find that it’s extremely helpful when you can share your situation with someone who brings an outside view.
Wealth Architects was founded on the premise that a truly wealthy life isn’t just about financial wealth, but about well-being, health, connectedness and purpose. Are there parallels between that philosophy and your work?
Wealth Architects is very forward-looking. There are numerous wealth management firms who see their role as simply helping clients grow their money. Wealth Architects goes beyond that to say, yes, of course that’s critical to living well, but there are also other elements that need to be included and we, as your advisors, will help you take them into account. Abby’s and my work is also based on the idea of looking at the broader context and considering the many factors that play into your decisions, to help people get closer to that place of holistic well-being.
One of the reasons we were so delighted about this collaboration was because there is tremendous alignment between us and Wealth Architects’ philosophy. The conclusion of our book is about how the framework can help you find more meaning in your life. It’s not about accumulation for accumulation’s sake.
What do you want WAU attendees to take away from this seminar?
The notion that this framework is one that you can apply now and then return to periodically as new life decisions present themselves. We hope that Wealth Architects clients will feel better positioned to make informed decisions as a result of this training and that clients and advisors will gain value by keeping this framework in mind in their discussions going forward.
When people are grappling with big life choices, they often feel they’re the only ones going through that experience. We know from our work that many people are confronting similar decisions and when you talk about them with others you feel less alone, more supported and more confident and empowered in your decision-making. We hope the tools we’ll be sharing at WAU and the collective experience with fellow attendees will make everyone feel less alone in the decisions they face.
If you are interested in learning more, the Money and Love Institute offers educational resources, including a 21-day online course that helps people find purpose, prosperity and fulfillment by making more deliberate decisions. We encourage you to read their book, which walks readers through the entire framework and includes hands-on exercises and a quiz about your money and love decision-making style. All WAU attendees will receive a complimentary copy.
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