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The following is a guest post by Carrie Birgbauer. We were introduced by a mutual friend and finally met up over great coffee up in the Heights. We talked about living in the Bay, yoga, getting married and up town living. She’s my go-to gal for any couples to need expert money advice. The post was written in June of this year, before Carrie tied the knot with her now husband. Enjoy!

LETTING GO

I recently moved in with my fiancé and I suppose it’s natural to expect that the process would bring up a lot of questions and feelings about money. Even though by the end of the first month in our relationship we had disclosed our money habits, salary levels, ability to sustain savings (or not), and broad strokes on our net worth, I knew we had a long way to go.  It was time to get organized and we were already deep in the throws of several expensive conversations – buying furniture, co-signing on a car and, *ahem*…getting married.

However, before we had the mental and physical bandwidth to sit down and take a rigorous look at our household finances, we had to merge kitchens, sort through our book collections, empty and refill our storage space and set up my home office.  I tried my best to bring an attitude of curiosity and non-judgment when I asked him questions like, “Do you really need four spatulas?”  And I made an effort to listen reverently when he explained the precise function of each one.  It became obvious and necessary for both of us to let go of excess clothes, furniture, miscellaneous household items, kitchen supplies and even superfluous trips to the grocery store.  After many late nights excavating every nook and cranny of our newly shared space, at least a thousand, “Is this essential?” decision points, multiple trips to Goodwill, and of course a little sage-burning ritual, at last we found ourselves in our mutually acceptable, refreshed new home.  Now it was time to talk about money.

At the recommendation of my own money coach, I requested a single joint account in order for us to contain and organize all that was happening in our household.  I would maintain a separate business account and he would now share everything about his financial life.  This made him itch a little and there were references to his first marriage, fear of losing independence and questions like, “What about privacy…for, um, gifts?”  Between the two of us, we had 16 bank accounts and I knew we needed to focus on one primary checking account for the majority of the activity as well as the bulk of the monthly in and outflow.

Here’s my case for a primary joint account:

Transparency – We all want the same things – to see and be seen, to love and be loved and to feel connection.  An agreement to be open about money requires deep conversations and recognition of what is important, what is acceptable and what is non-negotiable.  Avoiding these topics would spell trouble for both our financial and romantic lives.

Intimacy – Kali Ma, a Tibetan Buddhism teacher, once said there are three essential components for a healthy and sustainable relationship: shared values, shared vision and shared desire for personal growth.  Money questions come up in all of these areas, and if we can learn to share, discuss and understand each other’s financial needs, desires, habits, earning power, and goals, it can be powerful, transformative and deeply intimate.

Fun – Money is necessary to generate plans and create a life of pleasure, well being and adventure.  By paying close attention, regularly tending to our garden of money, aligning our behaviors with the reality of our collective funds and goals, we can master the domain of personal finance and more effectively realize the fabulous life we envision for ourselves.

Ultimately, my fiancé agreed that relying on a joint account would be the right path, but I had to make some adjustments, too.  I surrendered to his request of putting everything on the credit card, something I had consciously decided not to do for the last six years.  However, I negotiated for paying off the credit card in full on the 30th of every month (to contain July’s spending in July) and for 10 minutes of meditation together everyday.  Like I said, some things are non-negotiable.

In the process of creating our financial partnership, here’s what has worked so far:

  • Planning ahead and setting aside quality time to begin a conversation about money
  • Paying off our individual credit cards to zero before our first active and full month of sharing money
  • Defining our desired lifestyle and creating detailed and personal values-based categories for our budget
  • Listing our individual needs and wants – his: new golf clubs, hers: monthly facials
  • Creating a balanced budget for July
  • Determining exactly how much income money he would contribute and how much I would draw from my business to go into our joint account
  • Prioritizing savings – we agreed to transfer money into our a joint periodic savings account (for anticipated non-monthly expense like vacations and the wedding), a safety net account (for emergencies and to cover my potentially fluctuating income), as well as our individual brokerage and retirement accounts every month
  • Rapidly tying up money-related loose ends that we both had hanging around
  • Agreeing to have two money dates a month – one for a thorough mid-month budget adjustment and the other for an end of the month reconciliation and proactive planning session for the upcoming month

As we all know, money is a major factor in the 50% divorce rate in the U.S.  A common trap that many couples fall into is rear-view mirror accounting.  While the end of the month review is better than not talking about money, couples find themselves defeated by their money, or their spouse’s spending habits, and powerless over what happened because it’s too late to have necessary conversations or make any changes in the household budget.  I am committed to forward planning in my relationship and teaching others how to set themselves up for success, so that we can all reap the benefits of being aligned with this powerful force of nature.

(c) Carrie Birgbauer – NY Money Coach – All Rights Reserved nymoneycoach.com.

Carrie Birgbauer, M.A. has been an educator for 17 years and is also a certified money coach.  As a former kindergarten master teacher, chief of staff, college tennis player and yoga instructor, she’s one of the most worldly people you’ll ever meet. She lives in Washington Heights, in the very first co-op built in Manhattan, with her husband.  In her spare time, Carrie can usually be found on the tennis court, cooking and baking for friends, seeing live music, planning the next adventure on her MacBook Air or seeking peace of mind on the yoga mat. 

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