by Jasmine Zapata, MD
Welcome back to Brown Girl Green Money! As a follow up to the awesome BGGM article Angie recently wrote entitled “In Consideration of My Future Spouse,” I thought I’d share a few of my personal reflections on this topic and a few lessons I’ve learned over the years regarding marriage and money.
First, a little background: I met my husband when I was 16 years old. We were high school sweethearts and after three years we decided to do something crazy: Get married. I was only 19 at the time and he had just turned 21. Looking back now, we were just babies, but you couldn’t tell us nothing back then – we were young, in love and ready to conquer the world together!
Needless to say, starting out so young we experienced many hiccups in relation to finances and budgeting, but overall it has been a great learning process and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The most important thing is that we have grown and have learned from our mistakes together. We haven’t yet made it to the top – and by no means are we perfect – but here are the first five of the top ten lessons I’ve learned over the last near-decade of marriage, and hopefully they can help someone else!
1. Setting up automatic payments for all bills can be a lifesaver.
Instead of depending on each other to remember to pay certain bills on time, putting payments on an automatic schedule makes things a lot easier. Also, make sure these auto-withdrawals come from a bank account that is NOT connected to your daily spending account. This will save a lot of headaches in the long run. I’ll never forget the time I started an argument with my poor hubby shortly after we got married for spending $50 from a joint account we had that I also had auto-pay bills coming out of. A bill ended up bouncing because of the money he spent and I was so upset! This reinforced the utility of keeping personal spending accounts separate from accounts where bills are paid from, but more importantly taught us about lesson #2.
2. Communication is key.
The right arm should know what the left arm is doing. In the story above, my hubby had no clue I had auto payments coming out of that account, and I had no clue when and what he would be spending money on. We just put all our money in one pot, had two debit cards and a checkbook. This was a recipe for disaster, but over the years we learned to work together and enhance our communication skills. We now have multiple accounts (some joint, others not, some for personal spending, some for savings, some for bills) but through it all, we make sure to communicate with each other about the overall picture. Weekly check-ins have worked for us but I recommend a check-in of some sort be done at least monthly. That way you can keep each other accountable, get quickly back on track from any pitfalls, and keep open communication at all times. Also, never get complacent. This not only relates to finances, but to marriage in general. During pre-marital counseling, my grandfather taught us that you should always actively be looking for ways to improve your relationship and take it to the next level; always looking for ways to please and show love to your spouse more and more each day. If both partners are constantly working toward this goal, then things can only go up from there. In the same way, you should always be looking for ways to take your communication and financial literacy skills to the next level.
3. Learn to establish limits when lending money to family members.
This was a very touchy subject for my hubby and I at first. We both had family members we wanted to help out as we began to make more money, but were noticing that at times we ended up not having enough money to take care of ourselves or our children. There is no easy answer to this dilemma, but one tip that has helped us is to determine a set amount at the beginning of each month which goes towards helping friends and family. If it’s not used at end of month, great. But if it IS needed, at least you have already incorporated it into your budget and have agreed jointly upon a set amount.
4. Invest early and don’t be afraid to take risks.
Two years ago, we were blessed to make our first home purchase. Instead of doing it the traditional way and buying a single family home, we decided to take a risk and buy a duplex. We’d rent out one side and live in the other. At that time we had no experience with being landlords (other than a couple books we had read, classes we took, and people we had talked to), but we knew we had financial goals and knew that real estate was a means to financial freedom. This risk was a jump start to our real estate investing career and now we have two properties and are working to get more. The income from our rentals completely covers the mortgage, which is awesome!
5. Make all major money decisions together.
Once again, communication is key. Try to avoid a “my” vs. “yours” mentality. Everything should be “we.” I’ll never forget our first ‘major’ purchase together after getting married: My husband came home from work and told me about a man off the street trying to sell him a $200 flat screen TV. That night, we looked at our finances, talked it through, and then decided to buy it. Although the purchase was sketchy, it was our first major purchase together as a married couple and we were so proud. We’ve built on this teamwork model over the years as bigger financial decisions have come our way.
Catch our column next week to find out the remaining five lessons I’ve learned about how to handle money matters successfully in your marriage. In the meantime, we want to hear from you! Share your story at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/browngirlgreenmoney
Have a blessed day!
Jasmine Zapata, MD is a pediatrician, motivational speaker, public/preventative health advocate, mentor, mother, wife, and entrepreneur from the Madison area, whose mission is to heal, uplift, empower and inspire. She’d love to keep the conversation going and can be reached at www.facebook.com/browngirlgreenmoney, www.facebook.com/drjasminezapata or at email@example.com.