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Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partnerby David Bach
Why Smart Couples Are Taking Control of Their Financial Future
I'll never forget the first fight I had with my wife Michelle over money. We were just back from our honeymoon, and the bliss of getting married was still in the air. Our new apartment looked great. We were incredibly excited to be starting our lives together.
As Michelle began to unpack, I sat down at the kitchen table and started sorting through the mail. Since we'd been gone almost two weeks, there was a lot to go through. I began separating the important stuff from the junk mail, taking the bills that needed to be paid and placing them in piles. Nice, neat organized piles. In my mind, this bill-paying stuff would clearly be a nonissue. After all, both Michelle and I were financial professionals. I managed money for hundreds of couples; she helped corporate executives trade restricted stock. What's more, I'd spent the last five years teaching classes on financial management and had just started writing a book on money for women. Paying our bills and managing money as a couple were bound to be a breeze.
Neat and Simple?
As I sorted out the bills, I created a "David" pile and a "Michelle" pile. This was going to be so easy. I'd pay my bills (like my car payments and my cell phone) and Michelle would pay her bills (like her car and her cell phone). We'd split the household bills, which meant we needed a "we" pile. And . . . hmmm . . . who pays the insurance bills? Well, we'll figure that out. Maybe we also need a "to be discussed" pile. Let's see, that's four piles.
Oh, here's a bill for the cleaning lady. I guess that could go in our "we" pile. But what about this American Express bill with all the honeymoon expenses on it? Well, the card's in my name and I guess it's pretty much the guy's job to pay for the honeymoon, so that should probably go in the "David" pile. Dry cleaning? Well, even though we now get our dry cleaning done at the same place, the account is in my name, so I guess I can pay it. Let's see—how much does this cost? No way . . . this can't be right! How could my dry-cleaning bill have tripled in a month?
Michelle was in the bedroom organizing her closet. "Honey," I yelled to her, "do you know they charge $7 to dry-clean one of your sweaters? How can it cost so much to dry-clean women's clothing? And do you know you had them dry-clean seven sweaters this month? This is insane. We're going to have to get two dry-cleaning accounts, because I'm not paying these ridiculous prices for you."
Michelle stopped what she was doing and came into the kitchen. "Of course I know it costs $7 to dry-clean a sweater," she said. She looked down at my nice, neat piles of bills. "Hey, what's with all this?" she
I grinned up at her. "Oh," I said, "I'm getting things organized. I'm separating our bills to see who pays what."
Michelle looked at me a little strangely. "Honey, you don't need to waste your time doing that. This is going to be easy. We are going to put all of our money in a joint checking account and pay everything together."
"Of course we are. We're married now, we love each other, and from now on everything we have is one and everything we do as one."
"Well, actually," I said, "that's not exactly what I had in mind." Sensing a little tension, I quickly added, "In the beginning at least, I think it might be easier if we sort of split this stuff up."
"But David," Michelle replied, "you make more and spend more than I do. You can't expect us to just split all these bills down the middle."
"Well, no, of course not," I said. "I thought I'd sort of split them up in a way that's fair."
"Well, what's fair?"
Good point, I thought. "Well, I need to think that through."
Michelle shook her head. "No, you don't. I'll tell you what's fair. What's fair is that we put all our money in one account and pay all the bills out of this account."
Something's Not Working
Fast-forward a few months. Michelle and I still hadn't totally agreed on who was responsible for paying what. Unfortunately, the bills kept arriving, just like clockwork, every 30 days. Only now they were starting to get paid late (and, as a result, we were getting hit with late fees).
Upset about all the money we were wasting on late fees, I began freaking out and blaming Michelle for the problem. In turn, she was telling me it was all the fault of my stupid "pile system." Needless to say, what we were doing wasn't working. And rather than sorting itself out, the problem was only getting worse. Instead of sitting down and discussing how we might reconcile our clearly different attitudes about handling money into one simple system that worked for both of us, we were running on "assumptions." I was assuming Michelle knew how I wanted our money to be managed, and she was assuming I knew what she wanted to do. We were each assuming the other was paying certain bills. We weren't on the same page—and the consequences were that this "money stuff" was creating more stress than it should.
The Good News . . .
Eventually, Michelle and I did come up with a system to manage our finances together. As a result, I'm happy to report that things are much, much better for us on the money front. We now work together on our finances, and instead of making assumptions about how the other one feels, we put our heads together and bounce ideas off each other. In short, we've learned to make a priority of discussing our finances and planning our financial goals and dreams together. Doing this changes everything: it ends the fights and it focuses the energy of a relationship on the positive instead of the problems.
Looking back, it's not surprising that as newlyweds Michelle and I had a hard time figuring out how to handle our finances. Even though we both had financial backgrounds, we had never taken a class or gotten any coaching about how to manage money as a couple. As a result, neither of us had ever thought about how different things become when you go from being two single people managing your money separately as individuals to a couple managing your money together.
Needless to say, what Michelle and I went through was hardly unique. Most couples have never been taught how to plan their financial future together. As a result, most couples rarely talk about money . . . unless they are fighting about it. My goal with this book is to change that. Having been a financial advisor for nearly 10 years, and a husband now for 3, I'm happy to report that it's both possible and fun to become a Smart Couple Who Finishes Rich. The key to being able to "win financially" is learning how to take the right actions in the right order. It's really not difficult at all—especially when you do it together as a couple.
In this book, we're going to work on how the two of you, as a couple, can both talk about and handle your money in a smart way. Whether you're just starting out or are well into midlife, whether this is your first marriage or your fourth, this book will show you how to get your financial goals and your personal values in synch so they—and the two of you—can work together to make your dreams a reality! What's more, if you have financial fears—and most people do—you will learn how to address and overcome them as a couple.
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