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The Low-Tech Secret To Joint Decision-Making

Joint Decisions

We all struggle with decisions. Sometimes there are too many choices, and sometimes there are too few. Sometimes options need to be sorted into different categories or listed in a different order. Then sometimes, somehow, magically, the answer becomes clear.

Yes, I’m sure there’s an app for this nowadays. But old-fashioned pen and paper, or Sharpie and index cards, can be just the trick to cut through the haze, especially when other people are involved. 

Step 1: Brainstorm

When I first got married, I was used to making decisions on my own. So when it came to deciding how to spend time and money, moving from ‘me’ to ‘we’ took some practice.

Learning to communicate well is essential, and some topics are difficult to broach. Bringing up debt repayment when the other person is excited about taking a big vacation or building a pool can make you seem like a wet blanket.

Instead of interrupting or shooting down ideas, put all the options on the table from the get-go. Give each person a stack of cards and a different colored marker and go to town. Label each index card with one idea.

It doesn’t matter if you or anyone else thinks the idea is ridiculous, out of reach, or boring.  Write with abandon, and do it in your favorite color. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. If a thought pops into your head and makes you smile, write it down. You can thin the ranks later.

Step 2: Discuss

If a card says “Student Loans,” does this mean you’re not willing to have any non-free fun until they’re gone, or do you just want to pay a little extra on the loan? If you have a huge loan, consider making a stack of “student loan” index cards that each signifies $500 or $5000 that you’d like to work into your priority list.

If a card says “Vacation,” does this mean a three-week trip to Thailand or a three-day trip to Kansas? The Presidential Suite at the Four Seasons or an Airbnb apartment?

Step 3: Prioritize

Index CardsWhen you’ve had a chance to discuss the expectations associated with each card, it’s time to prioritize.

Start by setting aside any cards that are clearly not at the top of your list anymore. Only discard ideas that were yours to begin with, and only do so with your partner’s agreement.

With your new, smaller pile, set aside cards with items that aren’t currently appropriate. Your “Summer Trip to Alaska” wouldn’t be ideal for a weekend trip in February, so move it to the side for now.

Step 4: Compromise

CompromiseFinally, look for win-win scenarios. After your discussion, is one card the clear favorite for both of you? If not, can you find a way to make both of your favorites happen?

We took turns choosing cards and made a stack in decreasing priority, We rotated through chunks of debt payoff, home improvements, and vacations to visit family. The top card was our first goal, and once we reached it we moved on to the next card. It was a good balance and we both felt that our preferences and concerns were understood.

Step 5: Repeat

This technique works for almost any decision, from deciding who does which household chores to what to do on date nights.

Gather up the cards you set aside and put them back in the mix for discussion the next time you’re making the same decision, and always keep some extra cards and markers on the table for new additions. Your wants and needs will change over time and as your circumstances change.

How do you make family decisions? What are some of the best choices you’ve made together?

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Comments 10

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  1. I like it, Julie! And the sharpies – they make this process even more fun! My husband and I go through a very similar process when prioritizing and making decisions, but it’s always just through conversations. I will give this a go (and maybe do it myself when deciding how to prioritizing my time).

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      Thanks, Amanda!
      A great thing about using cards is that you can keep the ones you don’t choose and use them again the next time so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and remember all your ideas every time.

  2. I love the idea of using the cards to put down some of those “not so popular” topics. They can often be triggers that shut down discussion and this method seems like a way to put ideas out there that might not get the same reaction. We’ll give it a try!

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  3. Low-tech is very often the right tech. A few months ago, Mrs. Groovy and I created a household cleaning schedule in Word. It lays out who will do what on each day of the week. We hung the schedule up on our refrigerator and we are very satisfied with the results. On most days our cleaning chores only require a half hour of work. And if we miss a day, it’s no biggie. Most things can go week without turning nasty. As long as we generally abide by the schedule, our house is clean and we have a lot more free time on the weekends.

    In the very near future, we’ll have a lot of decisions to make. We want to buy or build a house near our family in Wake Forest. We want to get our current home ready for the market. And we also want to travel. So setting priorities and moving these desires along will require some thought–and discussion. Index cards strikes me as a fitting tool. We’ll let you know how things go, Julie. Thanks for reminding us that low-tech solutions have their place–and appeal. All hail the humble index card!

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  4. Awesome step by step guide to making joint decisions! This is actually something that scares me about marriage – making joint decisions especially about money. Luckily my boyfriend and I seem to be on the same page about most things, it will be different to consult eachother. Thanks for the guide that we can follow in the future!

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      It’s definitely an adjustment to go from me to we in all ways, isn’t it? But if you both care about each other and want what’s best for you as a team, it’s easier than you think. 🙂

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