5 Topics All Couples Should Agree On Financially

Let’s be honest, money is emotional and complex! It impacts nearly every aspect of our lives and most certainly impacts our relationships with our significant other. Since money is still such a taboo topic in our culture, miscommunications can create small cracks in the bonds of our relationships. Like a small crack in a windshield, it can expand over time and damage the entire windshield. However, it’s also true that small cracks can be repaired simply if they are identified and corrected early.
When thinking about finances as a couple, we must understand that we’re partnering two people with different backgrounds, experiences, goals, and values when it comes to money. A couple partnering their finances is essentially entering into a business partnership, with the exception that businesses typically have a formal written contract which stipulates the rules each partner must abide by, most couples don’t have a written contract. In absence of a written contract, we need to come together to have a common understanding of some fundamental questions.
Before we get into those fundamental questions, let’s be cautious about how we set up these conversations. Personal finance is just that, personal. When we’re having conversations about money, they can be extremely intimate and bring up emotions of shame, defensiveness, guilt, and even anger. Do NOT corner your partner in an interrogation room Law & Order-style with a bright light asking intimate financial questions. You want to create an environment that is safe, positive, private, honest, and free of judgment. This is also not just one conversation but should be several and ongoing. Make it a finance date! We’ve created a checklist of items to discuss to make sure you can cover all your bases.
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So let’s get to the questions! The following are 5 topics couples should agree upon financially.

1. What are our financial values and priorities when it comes to money?

As we mentioned before, we have different priorities and values when it comes to money. One partner may view money through the lens of power and control. For example, they may be a meticulous planner and want to maximize every penny. The other partner may believe money enhances their experiences and relationships. They may see money as a means to see more and do more. In this situation, one partner views their partner’s financial behavior as controlling/limiting and the other partner views their behavior as undisciplined and wasteful. If we only view our partner’s behaviors through our own frame, it can create a purely biased and unbalanced view that can create many small cracks in the bond. It’s important to discuss these views openly and come to terms with what your joint values and priorities are.

2. What are our individual and joint financial goals?

After discussing your values and priorities, then you can discuss financial goals. Goal setting is important individually, but it’s even more important as a team to ensure you’re both rowing in the same direction. Your goals have to be specific, written and shared.  An unwritten goal is called a wish. Can you think of any successful teams, businesses or organizations that don’t have specific written goals? Come up with your financial goals individually and then bring them together to set joint financial short, medium and long-term goals.

3. What is our plan for managing debt?

Misuse of credit is one of the largest contributors preventing people from building wealth. Debt is essentially present borrowing against future income. Unfortunately, too often people find themselves in a situation where their future catches up with them, and their new present is unbearable. Living paycheck to paycheck can create ever-present stress because financially they are just treading above water, knowing that one uncontrollable change could cause them to start drowning. Working hard just to pay off debt from the past and not being able to take advantage of opportunities in the present or save for the future can put a serious strain on both the individual and the relationship. Discussing current debts, and being on the same page in terms debt that you may incur in the future (mortgage, business loan, student loan) is vital.

4. What is our plan for handling emergencies/loss?

You know the saying, $%*? happens! The question is not whether it will happen, but rather are you prepared for it when it does. Having an emergency fund is vital for anyone to have, but that’s just a first step. Once you’re in a committed relationship and are partnering your finances, you need to discuss how to handle a situation in which one or both of you are disabled or passed on. If you think those are difficult conversations now, think about how much more difficult it would be in the absence of these conversations afterward. Don’t add financial stress to grief.
Life insuranceDisability Insurance, Living Will, Healthcare Power of Attorney, and organizing confidential paperwork and passwords. These are examples of items you can take care of relatively inexpensively which go to piece of mind.

5. What is our plan to build wealth?

So you’ve sorted your values, set goals, managed debt and planned for contingencies, now let’s talk about wealth building. Most people who work simply exchange their time and skills for money. At some point, they may no longer want to continue that exchange. Some people call it retirement or financial independence, the goal for most people is to amass enough financial resources to have independent control over the use their time and talent. The best way to do that effectively is to plan, save and invest as early as possible. There are a zillion routes to get there; combinations of employment, entrepreneurship, equity investing, real estate investing, inheritance just to name a few, but you and your partner want to be on the same page in terms of what is the end game, how much do we need, and approximately how long will it take?
We created a checklist of items for your finance date and we are also developing an online course with live coaching to help couples dig deeper into some of these topics to get on the same page financially.
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Discussing finances as a couple can be a very tough road to travel. There can be potholes, detours, roadblocks, speed bumps, accidents, and traffic. However, if you and your partner can agree upon where you’re going, how to manage challenges and which routes to take, it’s much more likely that both you will get there, together.
 

4 Reasons Financial Literacy is Essential 

April is Financial Literacy Month! The purpose of Financial Literacy Month is to bring awareness to and promote the importance of establishing and maintaining financial healthy habits. Unfortunately, in our country, financial literacy has not been prioritized as an essential topic of learning in Public K-12 or higher education. Too many are left to fend for themselves when it comes to managing money.

“College graduates spent 16 years gaining skills that will help them command a higher salary; yet little or no time is spent helping them save, invest and grow their money.”
Vince Shorb, CEO, National Financial Educators Council

1. Personal Finance is 20% knowledge and 80% behavior

There’s a big misconception that personal finance is about math. Some people will shy away from financial topics because “they’re not a math person.” This could not be further from the reality. Avoiding personal finance because you’re not a math person, is like avoiding learning to drive because you’re not a car person. You don’t need to know how to rebuild an engine to get a license and become a safe driver.
Personal finance is much more about the habits and behaviors utilized with our limited resources. Some of these are so ingrained that you may not even see them as habits.

  • Do you use cash or debit/credit cards?
  • Do you have a written budget monthly or do you just pay bills as they come?
  • How often do you check your financial accounts? Do you use an aggregator like Mint?
  • How often do you check your credit score? Credit reports?

Many of our personal finance habits are learned when we’re children. In many ways, we model what we see from our parents and older siblings. If you grew up in a household of spenders or if you grew up in a frugal household, you’ll likely carry some of those same habits today. In order to change those habits, we have to have the requisite knowledge of how to properly manage our finances, but knowledge alone isn’t enough. Much like weight loss, knowing which foods are healthy and how to workout is only the first step. Making the behavior changes into consistent habits is what makes the difference.

2. Some of the most important financial decisions you make are when you’re young

Another reason financial literacy is so important is because there’s another big misconception:  ‘We can deal with the financial stuff when we’re older.’ If you talk to just about anyone over the age of 50 about money, they will tell you they wish they had learned about managing their money when they were younger. The chief financial complaint of older Americans is that they didn’t start saving or investing early enough.

40% of Americans are counting on the lottery, sweepstakes, getting married, or an inheritance to fund their retirement
– Money Magazine

Money Management should be a required curriculum in Junior High, High School and College in every school in America. If the purpose of school is to train you to prepare you for the real world, it doesn’t get much more real that how you manage your money.
Decisions such as your level of completed education, financing higher education, choice of career, location, marriage, children, first home purchase are all decisions that can have a serious impact on your long-term finances and for many are decisions made while relatively young. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you’re “all grown” up to take responsibility for your finances, you’re already making important financial decisions.

3. Companies are providing fewer guaranteed benefits and shifting risk to employees

We’ll spare you the history lesson, but companies used to guarantee retirement benefits in exchange for years of service. They’re called pensions and they are extremely rare today. Essentially, if you worked for a company for, say 25 years, the company would fund a percentage of your salary in retirement until death. It was completely managed and paid for by the employer.

46% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.
– 
Employment Benefit Research Institute

Today, you are totally responsible for your own retirement. Which means you have to save enough money so that you live off your savings. If you participate in your employer’s 401(k), you might get some help from your employer in the form of a 401(k) match, but that’s optional.  You choose what to invest in, how much to invest or whether to invest at all. You have to fund your own account and none of the investments are guaranteed, so all the risk and responsibility of funding your retirement is on your shoulders.
If that wasn’t depressing enough, the safety net of Social Security will likely not be enough to live on for anyone under the age of 50 today, if it exists at all. It is essential that we fund and properly invest early and often to manage that big responsibility.

4. Consumer debt is devastating wealth

Another reason it is vital to learn and master your personal finances is that it has never been easier in to spend money we don’t have. We live in a consumerism culture and our natural inclination is to acquire more stuff. In generations past, cash was the major option. If you wanted to purchase something that you didn’t have cash to purchase, you had to physically walk into a bank, convince the banker for a personal loan and fill out loads of paperwork, and/or put up collateral.

60% of Americans spend about equal to or more than their income.
– FINRA Investor Education Study

Today, in order to spend money you don’t have, you can use a piece of plastic in your wallet or swipe your phone. You may never have to physically walk into a bank. Financial products like credit cards, leasing, payday loans, student loans, interest-only mortgages, adjustable rate mortgages are all products created in the last 30 or so years which allow more and more people access to credit. The downside of having access to credit is that if not used responsibly, it reduces the ability to save and leads to crushing debt. We only have to look at the most recent economic recession of 2009 to see the impact of having too much debt.
 
From a financial standpoint, it’s not at all a rosy picture. There’s no sugarcoating the fact that 76% of US Citizens are living paycheck-to-paycheck. 20% of them earning more than $100K per year. That means more than 3 out of every 4 Americans are essentially broke. This is why financial literacy is essential in order to avoid the traps that many Americans find themselves in. Again, financial literacy is essential, but it’s just the first step. One has to use that knowledge to change their mindset and their behaviors in order to be truly successful. Finally, financial literacy is a continuous process, it’s not one course, it’s not one topic, it’s ongoing. We hope you take the first of many steps in that ongoing journey.

Financial literacy is not an absolute state; it is a continuum of abilities that is subject to variables such as age, family, culture, and residence. Financial literacy refers to an evolving state of competency that enables each individual to respond effectively to ever-changing personal and economic circumstances.
– Jump$tart

4 Reasons You Need to Start Investing

Let’s face it, for many investing is a difficult topic. The financial services industry has done an excellent job creating lingo and products that seem overly complex. Part of it is to justify their services; ‘If this investing stuff is too complex, give me your money and I’ll handle it for you!’ Technology is changing that dynamic and people are starting to realize that investing, particularly retirement investing, doesn’t require a Ph.D. in Math or Finance. The first step is to understand why investing is important and then to develop an openness to learning over time. This is not a forum for specific investing advice, but rather to discuss why investing is essential to reach our long-term financial goals.
Before we get into the reasons to invest, let’s make sure we are all on the same page what we mean by investing.

  1. Prior to investing funds in the stock market, make sure you have at least a base level emergency fund in place (in a separate savings account). Many people make the mistake of saving for retirement without building the foundation to prepare for the present. If you have enough money to build both at the same time, by all means, do so, but top priority should be to build an emergency savings foundation to avoid using credit cards or tapping into long-term investments.
  2. For our purposes, when we discuss investing, we are talking about long-term investing. We would not invest funds in the market needed for short-term or medium-term goals (i.e. less than five years). We’re discussing investing for goals such as building a nest egg for financial freedom or retirement.
  3. We are also not referring to the purchase of individual stocks or day trading. While that may be of interest to some, it is not advisable for the vast majority of the public. Investing has different levels and complexities. The majority of adults can develop the skills to drive an automobile safely on the roads, but we can all agree that most people shouldn’t try to become NASCAR drivers.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about why you need to be investing!

1. You Can’t Build Wealth by Spending

Money is a resource, and like fire, it can both build and destroy. In order to be financially successful, we have to learn how to use our financial resources to build. There are really only three things you can do with money and how much of each you do can make all the difference in the world.
Spend – We do it every single day. We use our money to acquire products or services that we believe are of equal or greater value. The problem with spending is that most things decrease in value over time, so after we part with our hard-earned money, we’re left with a product or service that is immediately less valuable. If you use too many of your financial resources to purchase items that decrease in value, you cannot build wealth. This is why keeping up with the Joneses is so poisonous; it’s a race to the bottom.
Give – Interestingly enough, studies have shown that giving actually brings more and longer-lasting happiness than spending. You likely still remember the feeling of joy when you gave someone a great gift they really appreciated or truly helping someone in need. Giving also forces discipline with our finances, when you give money away, you become keener on how you manage the remaining funds. Giving is a very important aspect of personal finance and is a driving force for many to build wealth.
Save – There are different types of saving, but the idea is that you are using your financial resources with an expectation or goal of increasing its value in the future. That can take the form of a savings account, investing in the stock market, buying real estate, or even lending. This is the primary way to build assets and thus build wealth.

2. We’re On Our Own

If you are under the age of 50, it’s likely you do not have a pension and the future of Social Security is very uncertain, it may not even exist by the time we would be eligible for it. We also know that advances in health and technology that we are likely to live longer lives. We will need funds to provide for ourselves for a longer period of time without the financial assistance from business or government. If that’s not scary enough, let’s say you want to retire at 65. You work from age 25-65 (40 years), during that time you need to save enough money to live without new income for potentially 25 years (ages 65-90). People are having enough trouble building 6 months of expenses for an emergency fund. How about building for 25 years (300 months) of expenses or more? Putting a few dollars in a savings account here and there isn’t going to get the job done. You need a plan and you need to start as early as possible.

3. Inflation Can Drown Your Savings

When planning for the long-term future, people often forget to account for inflation. This can be a big mistake and can have serious consequences. Inflation is the increase of prices or the decrease in purchasing power over time. For example, 20 years ago one could go to a gas station and purchase gas for less than $1/gallon. As of this writing, it’s about $2.30/gallon, so a $20 bill that was more than sufficient in 1996 would not fill the gas tank today. Inflation (typically 2-3% per year) is like an ocean tide that is continuously raising the financial sea level. If the sea level is ankle-deep today and you stand still (don’t invest or grow the value of your assets), the tide of inflation will continue to rise and eventually you will be completely submerged. Like quicksand, standing still financially is actually sinking because inflation decreases the value of yesterday’s dollar. The only way to counteract inflation is to make sure your long-term savings are earning more than inflation.

4. Compound Interest Can Save You

So far we have given you some pretty dire news, spending won’t help, you’re all alone and the winter of inflation is coming for your assets! The good news is that you have a force of nature available that can fight the good fight and help you win and reach your financial goals, her name is compound interest. However, there are two sides of compound interest coin and you have to be on the right side to win.
If you have ever paid the minimum payment on a credit card, paid student loans, car loans or a mortgage, you have experienced being on the wrong side of compound interest. When you borrow, the investment the lender made earns interest that compounds and you pay them more in the future. This is why debt can kill wealth; your financial past is stealing from your financial future.
The right side of compound interest is much more appealing. When you invest, the earnings on your investments compound such that your future earnings also earn interest for you in the future.
Let’s use a simplified example.  You save $500/month every month for 30 years. After 30 years you would have saved $180,000 cash. Now let’s say you invested the same $500/month every month for 30 years and it received 9% interest annually, it would total over $850,000.
The difference between the $180,000 and $850,000 is the power of compound interest. Compound interest is the sunlight that provides the energy to your investment seed to grow and harvest. The two major ingredients for compound interest to be effective are regular payments and time.
While saving is important, especially building the foundation of an emergency fund or short-term goals, investing is a necessity to build real wealth. Imagine a 15-year-old family member after watching a NASCAR race said to you they don’t want to learn how to drive. They explain that “It’s too technical, too dangerous and I’m not a car person!” You would probably explain to them how not learning to drive can negatively impact their quality of life. You would also likely explain to them there’s a huge difference between daily recreational driving and professional racing. The same applies to investing, excuses like, ‘I’m not good at math’, ‘it’s too complicated’, or ‘it’s too risky’ no longer hold. There is a huge difference between day-trading and retirement investing, technology has made investing accessible to many more people and because of headwinds like inflation and government uncertainty, in our opinion, it is riskier not to invest.

7 Do’s and Don’ts of Managing Your Finances

Money management can be difficult. There are lots of opinions on how to manage your money successfully, but sifting through all that can be a challenge. We have boiled down our 7 top recommendations for managing your finances.

1. Do: Plan Your Spending Before the Money Arrives

You are the CEO and CFO of You, Inc. Think about running your personal finances like a business. Companies plan their revenues and expenses well in advance. Budgeting gets a bad rep, but successful, profitable businesses formally plan their finances and make decisions in advance of their spending.

Money is like a toddler. If you don’t monitor it carefully, it will wander off and disappear quickly!

2. Do: Aggregate Your Accounts and Track Your Spending

Aggregating your accounts, allows you to see the big picture and a number we highly recommend you track regularly – your net worth. It can be difficult to make tough choices if you don’t have the bigger picture in mind. Tracking is also important. You cannot change what you do not measure. In order to make meaningful change, know exactly how much you spent last month versus the month prior. Guessing doesn’t work well with personal finances. Once you build a habit of tracking your finances, making smart decisions about your money becomes much easier.

3. Do: Understand and Deal with Your Impulse Purchases.

For some it’s the mall, for others it may be online shopping. Have you ever gone into a store planning to spend $50 and come out spending $300? Evaluate how and why that happened. Keep in mind; it is a marketer’s job to turn a “want” into a “need.” Notice on television commercials, often the product or company isn’t revealed until the very end of the commercial. Instead of selling a can of soda, they are selling happiness. Instead of a gym shoe, they are selling peak athletic performance. Instead of selling their own product, they may have a celebrity endorse it as if it is heaven-sent. Companies hire social scientists who study how to influence human behavior, emotions and decision-making to get an edge in selling their products and services. Here are some examples to protect yourself and your wallet:

  1. 24-hour rule – Wait at least 24 hours before making purchases over a certain amount
  2. Do not go grocery shopping on an empty stomach
  3. Deconstruct advertisements: what are they really selling?
  4. Use cash for non-regular expenses
  5. Don’t fall for terrible excuses (“I deserve it”, “it’s on sale”, “I’ll pay it off next month”)

4. Do: Develop a Habit of Saving and Automate It.

Even if you start small (i.e. $25/week), put systems in place that force you to save. The government understands this very well, which is why employee payroll taxes come out of your paycheck even before you are able to touch it. Apply the same strategy for your savings. Some employers will allow splitting your paycheck to different bank accounts (i.e. 75% checking, 25% savings). Another idea is to set a recurring transfer from your checking account to your savings on the same schedule as your paycheck. There are other automatic features to consider such as:

  1. Auto escalating your 401k contributions – some employers with a 401(k) offer an option to automatically increase your retirement savings by a certain percentage on a regular basis (i.e. increase 1% annually)
  2. Keep the change features in checking accounts – Some checking accounts will round up your purchases and put the change in your savings account. It is the e-version of the piggy bank. If you purchase an item for $5.60, it will round up to $6.00 and $0.40 will be deposited in your linked savings account.

5. Don’t: Ignore Your Credit Score and Credit Report

A credit score is very important to be aware of and to know how to improve. Credit scores have traditionally been used to evaluate credit-worthiness for extending loans (e.g. personal loans, mortgage, car loans, credit cards) and the higher the credit score, the more financially credit-worthy one is. The reality now is that both credit scores and credit reports are being used beyond financial transactions. Credit scores and reports are being used for employment decisions, housing, insurance premiums, and even utilities such as cell phones and cable. The challenge is credit reports often have mistakes which can negatively impact your credit. Check out our Resources Page for resources on checking both your credit report and credit score.

6. Don’t: Ignore Your Workplace Benefits

If you work for a company and do not understand the full scope of your employee benefits, it may be time to check out your HR Benefits website or set up a meeting. Particularly with larger companies, there are often benefits that go underutilized that can save you hundreds if not thousands annually. One of the largest ones is the 401k match. For most people, this is a no-brainer to at least invest as much to maximize the match as it is a 100% return on your investment. Wellness Initiatives can often mean big savings as well. Many companies are offering rebates on health insurance premiums for wellness activities, such as physicals or wearing fitness trackers. Let’s think about that for a second, companies are paying additional cash to employees to be healthier. There are several other types of benefits, and we’ve created a FREE Guide to help you maximize benefits that are offered to you.

7. Don’t: Keep up With the Joneses

Most people are familiar with the term ‘Keeping up with the Joneses,’ but just so we are all on the same page, it refers to making material comparisons to your social circle. The idea that if your neighbors or friends buy a new car, you should too. We call this the comparison trap and its one of the lessons we learned paying off our student loan debt. Part of the problem with comparing your financial status with others is that it is very difficult to know someone’s complete financial picture. Money is still a private topic and everyone has different income, expenses, debt obligations and assets. The people you are comparing yourself to could be completely up to their eyeballs in debt or fund their lifestyle through an inheritance. Making comparisons, not only could be comparing apples and oranges, but it also casts your own possessions in a negative light.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Mark Twain

A few reasons why keeping up with the Joneses is a bad idea:

  1. The Joneses are broke! According to a recent Bankrate survey, 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with little to no emergency savings. Why keep pace with people that are one emergency away from financial catastrophe?
  2. When you compare yourself to others, it’s much easier for wants to become needs. Wanting a car becomes needing a brand new SUV. Technology like smart phones, that didn’t exist 10 years ago, are a now a need. We have a desire to show off and have our success validated by others.
  3. Companies are spending billions of dollars to market their products and services to you. Many luxury brands are selling a temporary feeling of exclusivity in exchange for premium pricing. For example, a luxury shoe could be made in the same factory as an off brand shoe, but once they slap the logo on, they can charge five or ten times more. Luxury and quality are not the same. It is easy to get sucked into the consumerism culture. Happiness from possessions is always temporary and fleeting.

This leads us to the fundamental challenge of managing your finances. We live in a consumerism culture and an economy fueled by consumer spending. On one hand, we have many of the influences we described (social, corporate, psychological, economic) with a clear mission to separate you from your income. Those influences contend with our own goals to keep our income and grow it for the future. These recommendations will help you be better equipped to keep more of your income to reach your financial goals.