Personal finance experts Julien Saunders and Kiersten Saunders at first almost didn’t make it down the aisle after their first money conversation following a trip. “I was very frugal. I was focused on paying off our trip as soon as possible. Kiersten had the opposite viewpoint — she wanted to enjoy her life now, and not worry about the consequences,” Juliann explained. “Sadly, our disagreement led to us breaking up.”
But not permanently. The co-creators of Rich and Regular.com eventually got back together and they learned how to discuss money in a calm, rational way, showing the rest of us that even financial experts have to work at love and money.
Money talks: How to make budgeting as pain-free as possible
“Money is cited as one of the top reasons couples part ways, so it is very important to have an open dialogue around it,” said Danielle Harrison, a certified financial therapist in Columbia, Missouri. “As a foundation, it can be very helpful for each partner to understand the other’s money story.”
That can range from understanding how money was handled in a partner’s family growing up to what their feelings are toward money. Your partner may have very specific money memories they vividly remember that informs how they manage money.
“It is also important to gain a clear picture of where you stand financially,” Harrison said. “This may sound like a no-brainer, but many couples don’t know for sure how much their spouse makes or what their net worth is.”
It’s also important to create common goals. Start with long-term goals and make sure you both are on the same page when it comes to five-, 10- or 15-year goals. Having concrete goals for your savings — a house, college funds, dream vacations — can help you stay in the game when it comes to everyday budgeting.
To the spreadsheet and beyond: Practical tips for any couple
Andy Baxley, a financial planner based in Chicago, created a system with his wife to ensure that their short- and long-term financial goals are being met.
“We early on decided I would be the household CFO, since I enjoy it,” Baxley said.
He created a spreadsheet that shows what the couple owns and every debt they owe. It also tracks their credit score. Baxley uses Personal Capital, a money app, that scans bank statements and tracks their spending.
“My wife and I sit down together once a month for about five minutes to review our budget,” Baxley said. “On a more macro level, each year we look at the coming year and compare the actual income and spending to the budget, and we set our monthly budget for the coming year.”
They have also built in a discretionary budget — for luxuries and fun stuff — that the other person doesn’t have to approve. They use an app called Daily Budget to track that.
“If you’re avoiding doing a budget because it’s scary, it’s time to seek professional help, and that’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. A lot of people bury their heads in the sand,” Baxley said. “If you’re feeling anxiety about money, definitely reach out to a financial planner. Even financial planners need financial planners.”
Finally, it’s not a bad idea for couples to plan for the worst especially if one partner primarily takes care of the finances. Couples should hold a “fire drill,” so that the other partner knows crucial details like passwords and key documents, said Peter T. Palion, a New-York-based financial planner.
“This is where I keep the bills, the tax returns, in case I am hospitalized,” Palion said. “Even young people, three years ago, would not think of this, but sadly it’s a reality [with covid].”