We asked four couples who work in personal finance to give us a peek into how they hash out their own household budgeting concerns. The way they deal with personal finances might teach you a few things about how to deal with your own finances.
Money might make the world go ’round, but it also makes couples go around and around trying to figure out how to save it and spend it.
Money triggers many domestic disputes and even ranks as one of the top causes of divorce.
But just imagine if you and your significant other worked alongside one another to help folks, including other couples, get a handle on their finances.
In your day-to-day professional setting, you’re talking almost nonstop about money. At home, you also wind up chatting about financial matters — credit card bills, mortgage payments, vacation budgets and so on. Your world revolves around the almighty dollar.
So, how do couples who work in the personal finance field practice what they teach? We asked four couples to give us a peek into how they hash out household financial concerns. The way they deal with personal finances might teach you a few things about how to deal with your own finances.
See related: Don’t let money anxiety cause trouble in your relationship
Garrett and Claudia Pennington, publishers of the
Two Cup House personal finance blog
Garrett and Claudia Pennington
Garrett and Claudia Pennington believe in keeping things simple.
Back in 2015, the Penningtons downsized from a 1,500-square-foot home to a 500-square-foot home. That minimalist approach carries over to their finances.
“Before we spend money, we ask ourselves if spending this money is going to make life easier or more difficult. In the situations in which spending money could make life easier, we’ll see if our budget can accommodate it,” Claudia says.
They also simplify their financial lives by maintaining joint checking, savings and investment accounts.
“This level of transparency makes it easy to keep track of our typical expenses, so we don’t have to discuss every dollar we spend — just new, recurring expenses or big purchases,” Garrett says.
On top of that, they have only one credit card, which they use for just about every purchase so they can rack up Amazon points. Each of them also has a backup credit card in case of emergencies (such as losing a card), along with one credit card for business expenses.
All of this simplification doesn’t mean, though, that the Penningtons avoid tussles about money.
Recently, they squabbled about credit card rewards. Claudia wanted to apply for another credit card to earn a sign-up bonus and use that card to pay their taxes. Garrett, on the other hand, opposed the idea. They ended up not adding another card to their wallets.
“To some degree, applying for a credit card only to cancel it later adds unnecessary complexity, which is a violation of our rule about simplicity,” Claudia says.
Money and marriage experts Talaat and Tai McNeely of His & Her
Talaat and Tia McNeely
As personal finance educators and as a married couple, Talaat and Tai McNeely stress sharing their finances instead of keeping them separate.
“This is nothing that we have written down, but it is something that we established together from the very beginning of our marriage,” Talaat says. “We believe that where there is unity, there is strength, and personal finance is an area within marriage that needs all of the strength that it can get.”
While the McNeelys don’t always see eye to eye on spending and saving, they’ve learned to talk it out and reach an agreement on making a purchase or stashing cash. “We do give each other the grace to try and see the situation from the other’s person point of view before making a final decision,” Tai says.
In coming to collective conclusions, Tai crunches the numbers and prepares a draft of the monthly household budget. They then get together to hammer out a final spending plan. Through this process, they’re able to hold each other accountable, Tai says.
Their financial advice for other couples aligns with how they approach their own finances.
“Operate as a team,” Talaat says, “and let no outside influences come in between what your financial goals are. Have each other’s back in all seasons. And never lose sight of how important each one of you is to the overall equation that makes up your family.”
Philip Olson and Julia Lorenz-Olson, co-founders of financial advisory firm The Art of Finance
Philip Olson and Julia Lorenz-Olson
Every month, Philip Olson and Julia Lorenz-Olson’s household budget is practically set in concrete. The budget, which they track via an app, is the “final word” for that month when it comes to spending, investing, donating and so forth, according to Philip.
“If the money’s in the budget for something, it’s fair game. If not, we honor that commitment. And if we have to change the budget midmonth, we negotiate where that extra money is coming from,” Philip says.
Spending outside the budget is a no-no.
“We do have some categories for fun and personal spending, so it has a little built-in wiggle room,” Julia says. “But the budget is really our holy scripture for navigating our financial lives.”
Part of that scripture dictates carrying no debt outside their home mortgage — no auto loans and no credit cards, for instance. This way, they avoid buying big-ticket items and sliding into “lifestyle creep,” Philip says.
Another rule: They earmark 10 percent of every dollar they earn for charitable causes, such as animal shelters, public radio and TV stations, and their church. They also set aside 10 percent of their income for retirement.
“We really only argue about one thing — what to do with extra money,” Philip says. “After our needs are met, and we’ve given money to charity and saved for retirement, there are often extra discretionary funds. Julia would always love to put more toward travel. I’m more inclined to invest that money.”
These days, Philip and Julia adhere to what they call the “50/50 compromise rule” to resolve such differences. If there’s no single expense that they’re both committed to, they split the money between “yours” and “mine” pet projects, Julia says.
“The budget is the law in our financial world. We set it and agree to it together,” Julia says. “To knowingly break the budget without a discussion would be a huge breach of trust in our eyes, so we just don’t do it.”
Eric Roberge, founder and lead adviser at financial advisory firm Beyond Your Hammock, and Kali Roberge, chief content officer
Eric and Kali Roberge
Eric and Kali Roberge haven’t established rigid ground rules and haven’t put anything in writing as it pertains to their personal finances. Rather, they have a “mutual understanding” and shared vision about their financial goals, Kali says.
“That commitment includes understanding what actions we need to take to get us to our goals,” Eric says. “So while there aren’t necessarily rules, we both agree to stick to a budget that we developed based on our income, the savings rate we need to hit and what’s most important to us.”
The Roberges regularly communicate about what works (like saving at least 30 percent of their gross income) and what doesn’t (failing to pay bills on time or overspending, for example). While they don’t quarrel much about money, they do get frustrated with each other about long-term financial planning, Kali acknowledges.
“I get stuck in a scarcity mindset more easily, and therefore start worrying about, ‘Are we saving enough, or are we going to run out of money?’ Logically, I know we’re on the right track, but emotionally, it’s hard for me to believe it and not worry,” Kali says. “So that’s frustrating for Eric, who can look at the projections and the plan, and feel confident that we’ve stress-tested things and considered worst-case scenarios and things will be OK.”
Kali says they’re constantly striving to communicate more effectively about money.
One issue the Roberges agree on: steering clear of debt. They aren’t interested in buying a house; therefore, they won’t be taking on a mortgage. They plan to buy their next car with cash they’ve deposited into a special fund. And they’ve set up a fund to cover emergency expenses.
To stay on track financially, they create an annual household budget that takes into account their goal of squirreling away at least 30 percent of their gross income, and includes fixed expenses they anticipate throughout the year (items like housing, groceries and transportation) as well as expected discretionary spending.
The budget isn’t rigid, though; they allow themselves to tweak it along the way. In fact, they sit down every month to review their recent financial activity.
“We don’t often make big changes [in the budget],” Eric says, “but the point is we have the conversation so that we’re making a mindful decision about money.”