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Working with spouses, family members requires careful, deliberate conversations

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Working together to build budgets and financially plan for the ranch isn’t always easy, but University of Wyoming’s Cole Ehmke says, “Working with your spouse can be an important part of building a budget. People should have a date night for money.” 

Ehmke suggests regularly meeting with all interested parties to develop the ranch budget, and he says, while a lot doesn’t have to be accomplished at each meeting, it is important to gather frequently to stay on top of what is going on for the ranch’s financial situation. 

“There are several do’s and don’ts to having productive financial conversations,” Ehmke comments.

First steps

As his first tip, Ehmke says, “We should start by agreeing to disagree. We have to work through differences to make things possible.” 

He also notes that one person should be designated as the bill payer. They are responsible for paying the bills and checking finances regularly to ensure it gets done. If the responsibility isn’t designated, Ehmke says families risk the chance of something falling between the cracks. 

“It’s also important to keep separate credit cards and bank accounts for the ranch and personal accounts,” he adds.


Another important part of developing and tracking finances, says Ehmke, is working together. 

“Working together is important,” he says, noting that listening and communicating are both important. “It is obvious to say we need to listen, but there’s a reason that listening is really important. Listening means we make a commitment to not interrupt and are able to repeat back what is said after the other person is finished.” 

Even if the other party disagrees, communication is better enabled when both parties practice good listening skills. 

“It’s also important to say what we mean,” Ehmke says. “Some people will say things they don’t quite mean because they are concerned about something in particular.” 

He continues, “We have to say what we mean to make sure there is understanding of what we mean.” 

He also encourages asking questions, being open and being patient. 

Managing anger

Ehmke says timing is also important when having conversations, especially difficult conversations.

“Not every time is the right time to say some things,” he comments.

Ehmke told a story about a man who was 100 years old and was asked about the secret to his longevity. 

The man was married at 21 and commented, “I made a commitment that I was going to take a walk.”

The man further explained that 79 years of fresh air contributed to his positive relationship with his late wife. When conversations got heated, time apart is often effective in helping to clear the air and frame the next conversation on a difficult topic, he said.

“Pick the time and place for conversations and do it with strategy in mind,” Ehmke says. “When we are angry is not a good time to have tough conversations.”

“We have to be honest with each other, especially when it comes to ranch finances, and it can be painful,” he explains. “But we have to be open and honest about finances.”

Setting goals

Lastly, setting financial goals should be a top priority for all ranch businesses. 

“Our goals should be on paper and be regularly reviewed,” Ehmke says. “Goals keep us focused on what is important.” 

Every goal for the ranch likely has a money component, which should be reflected in the budget. 

“All of our goals focused on improving the operation probably have a financial piece,” he comments. 

Overcoming negatives

Because not every conversation is positive, Ehmke says it is important to overcome negative interactions.

For every bad interaction, it can take up to five positive interactions to counter-act the negativity,” Ehmke explains. “The five-to-one relationship compensates for disproportionate effects of negative interactions.”

Additionally, Ehmke encourages people to focus on verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication when talking about finances, noting that expressions and body language can impact the outcome of a conversation.

He comments, “People respond well to positivity after negative interactions, but it takes a long time.”

In the worst cases, however, he says, “Sometimes in communicating, a third party in necessary. It could be any of a number of different people, but sometimes, there needs to be a another person present when we’re having tough conversations.”

Ehmke presented during WESTI Ag Days, held in mid-February 2018. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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