Getting On the Same Page About Money

My husband and I often disagree about who is more frugal. He says I am, I say he is. The truth is, we both have our financial strengths and we both have different spending triggers.

The important thing is we’ve created financial goals together, we have extremely open conversations about finances, we have roles and responsibilities (mostly) carved out, and we’re supportive of each other. We’re on the same page.

But it wasn’t always this smooth. And, it takes effort to stay this way.

One of the questions I often hear in talking to other families working toward financial independence is, “Was your spouse/partner on board with all of this?” And, “Who’s idea was it and how did you convince your spouse/partner to follow suit?”

All great questions (and often humorous stories that follow). To help those who may be having these questions or interactions with their partner, here’s how we got on the same page about money and some tips we’ve learned along with the way. 

Prying the Books Open

When Eric and I got engaged back in 2006, we were recent college graduates – living the dream in our new professional jobs, looking at houses to buy, cars to upgrade, and all the things young professionals with new jobs “should do.”

We had talked casually about money and we had a rough idea about how much each other made, and a rough idea about debts and student loans. But there was still a lot we weren’t talking about. In fact, it wasn’t until we started to make financial decisions together (i.e. buying a house and car) that we really got it all out there on the table.

I give Eric all the credit here. At his insistence, we started combining bank accounts and finances – we started tracking a budget and cash flow in Microsoft Money (old school!) — and it was only when we pried the books open that we started to realize where we really stood with debt, income and expenses.

The amount was a little shocking. Combined, we had:

  • $345,000 mortgage
  • $15,000 credit card debt
  • $15,000 student loan debt
  • $25,000 car loan

At the time (2006), our combined income was about ~110,000 a year before tax, so it’s not surprising we were living paycheck to paycheck to live “the dream.” But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

IMG_1495

Baby-faced in 2006 doing our best “American Gothic” impersonation (and remodeling our newly purchased house).

The first step for us getting on the same page about money – and to start really understanding our financial situation – was to lay it all out on the table.

For whatever reason, this was scary for me to do.

I remember holding my breath as I handed over my credit card statement or paystub.

“I felt if I hid it or didn’t talk about it, the debt would magically go away or we wouldn’t have to face it head on.”

But, there was no judgement from Eric.

Realizing that really helped me become more open with money.

Once we got all our income and debt out on the table, it felt like we could put past decisions aside and work together to move forward.

Running it Like a Business

From this point on, we’ve approached our personal finances more like a business than a personal reflection of worth. We didn’t discover the idea of financial independence until 2015, but from 2006 – 2015 we focused on paying down debt, budgeting, and living within our means.

While we wish we had discovered the FIRE concepts sooner, when we discovered it in 2015 we were debt free (except our mortgage), we were on the same page about money, and we were ready to accelerate our savings.

Tips for Getting on the Same Page About Money

I’m not a professional counselor or relationship expert, so take these with a grain of salt, but here are tips that helped us get on the same page about money.

100% Transparency

Know where you’re at financially, combined as a couple, with all income, expenses, and debts. Create a master spreadsheet or load up all accounts in Personal Capital to have a solid view of your combined net worth. Only once you have everything on the table can you start to make strategic decisions.

No Shame, No Judgement 

Many of us feel a certain way about money or past decisions. We may also have feelings attached to our partner’s choices. Release these.

Come to the table without shame or judgement about the past. Your job now is to be open about what is and work together on a plan to achieve your goals.

Your Money (or Debt) is Not a Reflection of Your Value as a Person

Money is a tool. Not a personal reflection of worth. Support each other in reinforcing this.

Set Goals Together

Equally as important as prying the books open, set goals together. As a team, you must be working toward the same goals, or at least in open communication about what those goals are. Try to find goals you’re both passionate about and goals that align.

What’s Your Why?

Why do you want to achieve financial independence? What motivates you to get there? What makes the sacrifices worth it? Understand what motivates you as well as your partner.

Keep Each Other Accountable

Set up systems to keep yourself and each other accountable. We reconcile our budget and finances monthly and track our finances daily in Personal Capital. We call each other out on frivolous spending. We support each other’s goals.

Assign Roles Based on Strengths

Who will update the budget or net worth calculator? Who will call the credit card companies to negotiate waiving a fee? Who will menu plan and shop within budget? Who will research new tactics? We all have tasks we like to do and others we loathe. Talk about who will do what. I love to plan and love the challenge of sticking to a budget. Eric’s a much stronger negotiator and has more kid-free time to make phone calls. Just like running a business, assign tasks based on strengths.

Understand Your Money Personalities

We all have natural tendencies with spending and saving. Are you naturally frugal? Do you impulse buy? What are your triggers? I tend to be an impulse buyer with little extras at the grocery store, so shopping monthly or online helps minimize those.

I also need to see the numbers. It took me a while to really embrace the idea of FI because I wasn’t sure we’d be able to achieve it with our income and spending levels. Seeing the spreadsheet that showed how we could get there (without winning the lottery) really motivated me to make needed changes in spending and saving.

Have a Regular Money Check-in

With young kids, it can be hard to find five or ten minutes to sit quietly and talk about money, budget, and goals. Carve out this time, even if it means getting a family member to watch the kids while you escape to the library to have a money date. We also chat a lot during the day via messages and chats. Whatever gets it done.

Mistakes Happen

Mistakes happen in business and they happen in our personal lives, too. Be understanding of each other but also work together to find solutions.

Set Expectations

It’s a lot easier to be on the same page when expectations are set. For us, this is as simple as having a budget and an agreement that if we purchase something outside of the budget we talk about it before we spend the money.

Have your Own Discretionary Budgets

One thing we’re testing this year is having our own discretionary budgets. This is guilt-free money that is ours to spend on what we need/want. Hair cuts, activities with friends, etc. Since being on a spending freeze, we haven’t used much of the money, but it’s there to spend on personal items, without having to rationalize it or agree on it.

Last thoughts

If you have big savings goals and you’re married or in a long term relationship, getting on the same page about money is vital. Without open books, clear communication, agreed goals, and shared expectations and support, it will be hard (if not impossible) to reach your financial goals.

Are you and your partner on the same page about money? Were you always, or did you have to work at it? Share your experience below!

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