How I talk to myself during a workout
Our family trip to Joshua Tree National Park

How to have an annual summit


Every year around the new year, Chris and I have an annual summit. We reflect on life currently, deep dive into our budget, project finances for the year ahead, and set couple and personal goals. To us, this ritual is emblematic of what makes our marriage strong and happy. During and after these conversations we feel solidly on the same team and excited for the adventure of our everyday life ahead. It's a wonderful feeling and a new year doesn't feel official until we've had our summit.

A reader asked me to give more details about our annual summits and I would be happy to. Here's how they work...

The when and where

It usually works out to have our annual summit during the holidays but after Christmas. We like to have ample uninterrupted time to talk so we usually plan for a day date with a babysitter. We both like to have access to our computers during an annual summit so we set up somewhere with bigger tables, wi-fi, and natural light. We love our local library and also have a certain coffee shop that's great for cozy meetings like this.

How we set up

To get situated, Chris and I will each have our computers open with tabs for our calendars, our spreadsheet budget, and our budgeting software (currently Monarch). I'll start a new shared Google doc where I can make notes of things we say we'll do (like "set up an automatic savings transfer") and the goals we make.

We don't have official agendas for these summits and they start rather organically, usually by asking, "Okay, so what's coming up for us this year?" or, "Okay, so what's going on with our money right now?" And from there we start to work through our budget, what finances will look like this year, big upcoming expenses and travel, and goals.

What we talk about

During our annual summit, our conversation naturally flows between several connected topics. Having the time for the conversation to meander and not feel rushed is key. This is why we have our summits without children present and when we have ample time. I recommend at least two hours but having three will feel really luxurious. Our summits don't necessarily take this long but that way we don't feel rushed at all. While we talk we're usually switching computer tabs between our budget, calendars, and Google doc as needed. These are the things we talk about:

+ Expected big expenses and savings needs. In our spreadsheet budget we have space to capture big expenses like summer camp, travel, or home repairs/updates. Seeing this all in one spot shows us what is feasible during the year, if we need to prioritize and cut anything out, and the costs will need to save up for/work into our spending.

+ What's happening with our money lately. We check in on savings and investment account, and look at our recent spending. By taking a close look at our current spending and savings we can talk about what we're doing well and where we'd like to improve. This also helps us know whether we have savings that we can earmark for travel or expenses or if we need to switch into a less spendy season. We'll usually also touch base on any upcoming needed home and kid expenses that we need to anticipate, like new shoes for the kids, a landscaping service, etc. In this way we both zoom in and zoom out on our money, and always leave our summits feeling like we have a good understanding of our finances in the short- and long-term.

+ Travel. This includes family trips and individual trips for the year. We love to travel so that's a bigger expense for us each year that we capture in our spreadsheet. Plus we want to look at the overall picture for the year and make sure we are spreading trips out. Writing out all travel in one spot and the potential cost helps us see if all the travel we want to take during the year is possible. Our annual summit is also a time when a summer or fall break trip might start taking shape if we don't already have those planned.

+ Home repairs and updates. Another potentially expensive category, we talk through any needed home repairs and home improvements we might need or want to make. By listing travel, home repair, and any other big expenses together we can see what is necessary and what room we have for additional "wants" across different categories.

+ Big things happening during the year. Maybe we have a kiddo starting preschool, or Chris is waiting to hear about a job promotion, etc. We talk about when changes will or might happen, and reflect on how life could change around them. Usually along the way we'll remark on the school grades the kids will move up to during the fall, what family milestones we'll reach or hope to reach during the year, and things like that. This kind of life planning and dreaming is one of our favorite things to talk about. I'll pull up our "the years are short family spreadsheet" which is always fun to revisit.

+ Couple and individual goals. We share or at least start to brainstorm goals for ourselves and any joint goals. We'll ask each other questions about professional and health goals and brainstorm how to work towards them. While we talk about goals we'll usually reflect on how we're spending time together and how to prioritize quality time, such as weekday coffee dates or planning babysitter dates. We also talk about how parenting has felt lately, any challenges we feel we need to address, and any parenting or family culture changes we want to make.


Once we've worked our way through all of these topics, we reach a point where it feels like we've explored and talked through all aspects of our life. And that's our annual summit! We walk away feeling optimistic and in charge of the year ahead (as much as possible). Most importantly we feel connected and ready to tackle whatever the year brings, together.


Do you have an annual summit ritual with your partner? Please tell me how they go if you do! And I'm happy to answer any questions you have about our annual summits as well.