In our ongoing promotional campaign for I Do! I Do! The Marriage Vow Workbook, Shonnie and I were featured in a recent AP column, “On the Money.” This story, along with photos, has appeared in 20+ newspapers around the country including the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Sacramento Bee and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
The photo to the right shows us with the bowls we use to manage our money, a system we learned at a Peak Potentials workshop in Atlanta. We have set up six bowls to divide up our money for day-to-day expenses and other things we want to do, like giving to worthy organizations, investment, education and just having fun. (Chuck Burton–AP Photo)
Couples can find joint money strategies
By EILEEN ALT POWELL — AP Business Writer
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
NEW YORK (AP) Bruce Mulkey and Shonnie Lavender have a lot in common when it comes to love and marriage, but not when it comes to money.
Mulkey and Lavender met more than a decade ago while training for a marathon. They married in 1999 and shared their thinking about marital commitment in their book “I Do! I Do! The Marriage Vow Workbook.” But the Asheville, N.C., couple said it took them a long time to figure out how to handle their finances together.
“Shonnie is a saver,” said Mulkey. “Me, I’m an avoider. I always felt that if someone else would handle money for me, I’d be a happy man.”
Financial opposites often attract - spenders vs. savers, strict budgeters vs. impulsives, risk takers vs. risk avoiders. Experts say this doesn’t have to threaten a relationship - as long as couples can communicate about it and find money systems that work for them.
“It’s OK to be opposite, it’s OK to disagree,” said financial adviser Bambi Holzer. “You just need to have that conversation so you know about those differences, so it’s out in the open.”
Holzer, author of “Financial Bliss - A Couple’s Guide to Merging Money Styles and Building a Rich Life Together” also suggests couples have their money talk sooner rather than later.
“When you think there’s something serious there, like you’re talking about moving in together or meeting each other’s families or getting engaged, have that financial first date,” she said.
For Mulkey, a writer who is 63, and Lavender, 35, an Internet consultant, the idea for their money management solution came during a seminar they attended last fall, and what they like about it most is its simplicity.
The couple purchased six bowls - two purple, two red and two blue - and each month they divide their money into them, Lavender said. About 55 percent goes into one bowl for necessities, and the rest is divided up into other bowls for charitable giving, retirement and investment, education, saving for big items like a new washer and dryer, and recreation.
Mulkey said he’s happy with the system because the money is organized around goals, which he can identify with. Lavender likes the fact that they can actually see money accumulating before it’s transferred to the safety of bank accounts.
And, she said, because the two make their money decisions together, “it feels like we have much more of an equal partnership now.”
Holzer, the financial adviser who is based in Beverly Hills, Calif., said money has become a bigger factor in making or breaking relationships because people have access to a lot more financial information than they did in the past.
“Then there’s the advent of the credit card phenomenon, which has couples facing a lot of debt while just a generation ago, the children of the Great Depression paid everything with cash,” she said.
The key to communicating about money, Holzer emphasized, is “to listen to each other … and then work together in a way that’s going to eliminate the stress and strain.”
In some cases that means finding a budgeting mechanism like Mulkey’s and Lavender’s bowls; or setting up three checking accounts - his, hers and ours; or seeking professional help.
Dayana Yochim, author of “Couples & Cash - How to Handle Money With Your Honey” and a personal finance expert with the financial education company The Motley Fool of Alexandria, Va., points out there are many words to describe people with money foibles - hoarders, splurgers, avoiders.
But most people, she believes, “fall into the great gray area” with personalities that reflect a variety of financial attitudes. She also suggests couples will always have some money conflicts so they need to learn “to fight fair” about it. Her tips:
- Pre-empt the conflict by dealing with tough issues before they become contentious.
- Approach the problems like partners, not adversaries. “The goal isn’t to win,” Yochim said. “The goal is to find a solution you both can live with.”
- Focus on what really matters and let the small stuff go.
- Set up formal rules, if necessary, but make sure each person has some autonomy - for example, to spend $100 a week without consultation.
- Have a relationship first-aid kit on hand.
“If the conversations get heated, take a break,” Yochim said. “Look at your pictures, the souvenirs from your trips … remember why you love each other and deal with it (the money) later.”
The biggest advantage of dealing with money problems, she added, is that it frees up time for other issues.
“If you remove the tension over money, find ways to work together, then you’re going to have to find something else to fight about,” Yochim said.
(Cross-posted at Talking My Walk)