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We Couldn’t Agree on How to Handle Money

When you find a life partner, the chances of finding someone with the exact same financial habits and opinions is slim. In fact, you’re probably more likely to get eaten by a shark, or get hit by lightning. Upon thinking a little further and with absolutely zero scientific backing, it might be near impossible that you will be on the same page as your partner from the get-go.

So, what’s a madly in-love couple to do?

Chari and Martell found themselves in that oh-so-common situation in 2007 when they first got married. Only, instead of doing a loop-de-loop of Top 10 Money Fights on repeat for the last 13 years, they got to the bottom of their differences and learned how to get on the same page. Ok, so maybe they did a little loop-de-loop for like…five years. But then they pretty much fixed it and now they’re on fire with their financial progress. Here’s how they did it:

Meet Chari, Meet Martell

Martell and Chari learned how to manage money together despite personal finance differences.

Chari grew up learning how to save and budget, but it was a tough concept to understand and apply because her family often experienced financial hardship.

When she was in college, she was working 40-50 hours a week on top of being a full-time student, but didn’t feel like she made enough to cover her monthly expenses. This pressure got her in some financial trouble as her accounts were repeatedly overdrawn, and her checks often bounced.

“After receiving a notification from a collection agency, I remember saying to myself, “This will be the last time a collection agency will contact me.”

And after that moment, she consumed everything she could about budgeting and put it into practice. The phone calls from the collection agencies ceased altogether.

She met Martell, a natural-born saver and the two got married. Martell quickly realized they had two different methods of budgeting their finances. While Chari helped her family in paying bills and thus it was challenging to save anything without feeling guilty, Martell was not in that situation and was a frugal saver. Chari was used to living paycheck to paycheck and it was different for her to financially operate any other way. Martell, on the other hand, was used to living “tight-fisted,” and didn’t know a world where it was acceptable to spend money.

What followed was a financial playbook for any couple who is joining finances. There weren’t many instant fixes, but they describe a slow and steady process that got them where they are today—in total financial sync. Here’s what they did:

1. We Talked About Money Together Early On

As part of their pre-marital counseling, Chari and Martell did a six-week budgeting course through Dave Ramsey. Every week, they would focus on a different area of their budget (emergency account, monthly spending, savings, etc).

“As we were going through the process, I remember being very anxious and upset at the decisions I made when I was younger,” Chari remembers.

As Chari continued digging in to budgeting, they both decided that Chari should oversee the budget as they started their married life together.

2. We Started Doing a Yearly Retreat

When they were five years into their marriage, they just weren’t agreeing on how to handle their money together. On top of that, they were working opposite schedules and in school—so time was a hot commodity.

“We knew how important it was to discuss our finances, so we decided to plan a retreat for ourselves. We started the budget retreat in 2012 when we just couldn’t see eye-to-eye on our finances.”

The retreat was two days long and planned during a time when they were on their school break.

“We had no distractions.”

During the retreat, they dedicated time to big-picture financial conversations:

  • What do we want to accomplish this year with our money?
  • What do we want to focus on?
  • What expenses are coming up in the next year? (Living expenses, gifts, travel, car maintenance, school, debt, etc)

At the end of the retreat, they would write out a plan for the year. Since they both agreed that Chari would oversee the budget, this agreed-upon plan would help guide her decisions from month to month.

“The retreats set the tone for our household for the year.”

3. We Set Goals Together

Thanks to the yearly budget retreats, Chari and Martell had a crystal clear list of goals that they started crossing off one by one:

  1. Learn how to pay bills in full, on time each month. “Once we achieved that, we moved to our next goal.”
  2. Break the paycheck to paycheck cycle. “By breaking this cycle, we realized that we were a month ahead in our budget!”
  3. Save a $1,000 emergency fund. This was ingrained from their Dave Ramsey training.
  4. Start paying off debt. “It was an incredible feeling to pay off some of our student loans.”
  5. Buy our first home (which they did in 2014!).

4. We Rolled with the Punches

Within a month of purchasing their first home, Chari was laid off and Martell’s car had a sudden engine problem that could not be fixed.

“We realized that it was time to go into our financial toolbox to adjust our budget to fit our sudden change.”

They put a pause on paying off debt until they were in a position to continue. Chari was in school, and started working as a Graduate Assistant at the college— which meant the college paid her tuition, in full, every semester.

Despite their upward progress, there continued to be some financial setbacks. “We experienced several emergencies over the next few years that were, unfortunately, covered with our credit cards.”

5. We Took Steps to Reset

In 2017, Martell graduated with his master’s degree and Chari graduated with her doctoral degree. They took advantage of this life change to reset and reprogram their financial life.

“We entered new jobs and wanted to be more focused on being intentional with our spending.”

They reached out to a few trusted family members and friends to ask them about their own budgeting techniques. Martell’s brother, Tristan, works as a talented animator with soothing dulcet tones here at YNAB and introduced them to the software. They started with YNAB in 2017. “Since then, we have been allocating our money more wisely.”

6. We Counted Our Wins

Over the next few years, Chari and Martell made some impressive strides. With their new jobs and new tracking system, they saved and paid for multiple major expenses in cash:

  • Waterproofing the basement ($11,000)
  • Insulating the house ($8,000)
  • Purchasing appliances
  • Vacations

Chari and Martell really hit their budgeting stride in the past three years, and the goal for 2020 was to turn their focus back on paying down their debt.

Ready to learn everything there is to know about managing money with your honey? Check out our comprehensive guide on Managing Money as a Couple.

7. We Have a Standing Budget Meeting

This year, they’ve added a new addition to their budgeting tool kit to really focus on their debt paydown: the budget meeting. They blocked off time every other Saturday to check their progress and keep themselves accountable. They both sit down in their home office with computer, budget, notebook, and the retreat plan in hand.

During the meeting, they go over:

  • Expenses from the past two weeks
  • Upcoming expenses
  • Special products
  • Debt paydown progress

And their progress is remarkable. In less than four months, they paid off a $9,000 credit card balance that had been looming like a dark cloud since 2017.

“Now that we have a system that works for us, our yearly retreats are not as overwhelming as they once were, and our bi-weekly meetings are done in half the time.”

Together, this setup has allowed Chari and Martell to communicate better together about their finances.

“We learned to develop a ‘money language’ that only we can understand.”

What’s next on their financial journey? They want to finish off their student loans for good: which means paying off six figures of student loan debt within the next seven years. We have no doubts they’ll make it happen peacefully, harmoniously, and in record time.

Want to stop fighting about money and start working together? Try YNAB for free for 34 days—no commitment or credit card required.

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We Couldn’t Agree on How to Handle Money