If you have a partner, you’re spending A LOT more time together in A LOT less space these days. You’re also worrying about A LOT more right now: the coronavirus, how long isolation will last, and–if I may project–your money. I can’t help with the first two, but I’ll do my best with the money thing. It’s always good to be on the same financial page as your partner/spouse, but WOW is it crucial right now.

Our wedding rings. Awwww

Unemployment is at a record high, the stock market is all over the place, businesses are going bankrupt, and the economy is not in a good place, to put it mildly. We cannot control any of that, but we can control our household finances.

Even if you’ve been with your partner for a long time, it’s possible you’ve never had to address your finances during a state of crisis. Unfortunately, the time is now. If you’re single and the below doesn’t apply to you, please consider sharing this post with a friend or family member who might benefit.

Uber Frugal Week: Day 5

Welcome to Day 5 of my pandemic-inspired, what-do-I-do-with-my-money Uber Frugal Week series. For more about the series, including an overview of what I’ll cover each day, check this out. I recommend you read the series in order; start with Day 1 here. Read disclaimers about me and the series here.

So far in the series I’ve covered:

While the Uber Frugal Month is an email program, the Uber Frugal Week appears right here on the blog in a series of posts. I’ll publish Uber Frugal Week posts as quickly as I can but, in all honesty, I haven’t written all of them yet because pandemic means both of my kids are home all the time and my husband and I are both working from home. I’m writing as fast as I can, I promise!

Day 5: A Series of Exercises (hint: you’ll need a computer/paper and pen)

Today’s approach is one of asking questions, writing down answers, and listening. In other words, exercises! Don’t feel like you have to do all of this in one day and skip anything that doesn’t apply to you. If your marriage/partnership is on the brink of catastrophe, please seek out a licensed therapist. There are lots of therapists offering online sessions right now and I strongly encourage you to make an appointment. After all, therapy is A LOT cheaper than divorce, and one of the leading causes of divorce in the US is disagreement over money. So don’t minimize your feelings: seek the help you need and don’t feel bad for what it costs.

I’ve put together the following exercises to help you and your partner figure out how to get on the same financial page. Hint: this stuff applies in non-pandemic times as well. Get out some paper/open up a shared Google Doc and get started!

Step 1: Have “Real Conversations” About Your Money at Mutually Convenient Times

Shockingly difficult to have a Real Conversation while these two are around

After having kids, my husband and I discovered there’s a difference between “Real Conversations” and “Really Fast Talking While The Kids Scream Over Us.” We employ the latter for non-confrontational, easy topics such as who will water the garden, if anyone found a mouse in the trap in the Prius, and when the baby’s diaper was last changed. We do not attempt serious or in-depth conversations while the kids circle our legs like wild animals on the prowl for parental attention.

If a conversation is longer than a bullet point, we save it for after the kids are in bed.

Whatever your household circumstances, agree on a time of day when you can sit down together and have an equal opportunity to discuss, think, and respond. Don’t pounce on your partner while they’re trying to cook dinner or saw down a tree.

Respect what you and your partner need in order to have a real conversation: do you need to eat first? Do you need to have your computer open to take notes? This sounds elementary, but I’ve learned that establishing the right time and environment for a conversation allows everyone to come with a proactive, productive mindset.

If you cannot carve out time alone together to talk, try emailing back and forth. This way, you each have a chance to put your ideas into words and respond with respect and thoughtfulness.

Step 2: Work to Understand Your Partner’s Financial Background (and your own!)

Everyone approaches money differently and often, your approach is a product of your childhood. How money was handled by your parents is likely to inform your attitude about how to handle money as an adult.

Seek to understand like Littlewoods trying to figure out why we’re putting dirt into pots…

For example: I’ve heard from folks who grew up in a financially insecure home where they were aware–as children–that their parents didn’t have enough money to provide for the family. For some people, this results in a desire to save and hoard money to ensure they always have enough. For other people, this upbringing results in a desire to spend and treat themselves because they grew up with constant deprivation. Same upbringing, very different manifestations in adulthood.

Understanding your financial background, as well as your partner’s, will help you determine WHY you each approach money the way you do.

Instead of being angry at your husband for spending lavishly on new toys for the kids, work together to discern WHY he feels this is the right response when he knows you’ve just lost your job. Anger and blame rarely work to change someone’s behavior; but understanding their point of view might.

I find going through series of questions and answers with my husband extremely enlightening. We’ve been married for twelve years and we STILL learn new things about each other.

Approaching this with an open mind and a willingness to listen and learn might help you understand the root of your financial mindsets. From there, you can discuss how to bring yourselves into closer alignment. Don’t approach this exercise as a route to changing the other person–rather, seek to listen and understand their viewpoint.

Identify the Disconnect

After going through these questions together, write down what’s getting in the way of being on the same page. What’s stopping you from feeling like you can trust each other from a financial perspective? Articulate how your viewpoints on money differ and how they’re similar. This isn’t a time to identify who is right or wrong, it’s an opportunity to let each person state their feelings and receive validation for their opinions. Seek to understand, not to change.

Step 3: Commit to Being on the Same Team and Set Goals Together

Cheers to being on the same team!

Whatever your financial differences are, try to get to a place of agreeing that you’re on the same team. A good way to accomplish this is to set goals together. If you and your partner can identify several shared financial goals, you can then work together on how to achieve them.

These don’t have to be lofty, long-term goals, they can be as simple as agreeing that you both want to have enough money to cover all of your bills next month. Or, they can be goals about where you want to be as a family in ten years. Either approach works. The more specific you make each goal, the more likely you are to achieve it.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

Goal #1: We agree that we want to save up an emergency fund of $500.

Goal #2: We agree that we want to check-in with each other before making purchases greater than $50.

Goal #3: We agree that we need to spend less money on take-out and delivery meals every month.

After you’ve set your shared goals, write down the tactics for how you’ll achieve these goals:

Goal #1: We agree that we want to save up an emergency fund of $500.

  • Tactic: We’re going to comb through our monthly expenses and decide together which things we can eliminate, reduce, or find substitutions for (here’s a guide on how to do that).
Goal: make it through isolation closer as a family

Goal #2: We agree that we want to check-in with each other before making purchases greater than $50.

  • Tactic: We’re going to text each other the item, dollar amount, and rationale for purchase. We will either reply “yes” by text or have a longer conversation if it’s a “no.”

Goal #3: We agree that we need to spend less money on take-out and delivery meals every month.

Any goals are fine!

As my examples illustrate, you can set simple, daily goals or bigger, more challenging long-term goals. The point is that you and your partner are bringing yourselves into closer alignment on what you see as the financial priorities for your family. If that feels too overwhelming, you could start with just one goal:

We agree to stop fighting about money and to instead have open, respectful conversations about our finances.

Step 4: Identify A “Team Lead” for Managing Finances

In many partnerships, particularly when finances are joint, one person is the team lead on household finances. My husband and I really like the “team lead” approach and use it for almost everything. It enables us to divide responsibilities equally and erases arguments/confusion over who will do what. The team lead is responsible for planning and execution and it’s the team lead’s responsibility to ask for help if needed.

Here are a few non-financial examples to illustrate how the team lead format plays out in our house:

  • My husband is the team lead on cooking. It’s his job to menu plan, source recipes, grocery shop, and cook food. I don’t feel the need to ask him about his plans for dinner because I know he’ll let me know if he needs my help or input.
  • Co-team leads for clearing that table

    For us, the team lead format removes stress and blame because we’re extremely clear on who is in charge of what.

  • We find that it works really well for childcare because we trade off watching the kids while the other parent works. Whoever is watching the kids is the team lead on childcare at that time: their decisions (on activities, snacks, discipline, etc) are final and the other parent doesn’t interfere unless their help is specifically requested.
  • Utilizing the team lead approach is liberating, but it also necessitates that we each surrender control in the areas where we’re not team leader.
  • I love this because I don’t want to think about menu planning or groceries. My husband loves this because he does not want to think about doing laundry. My decisions on how and when to do laundry are final; his decisions on what and when to cook are final.
  • We still discuss preferences with one another, but it removes the temptation to micromanage one another’s tasks. My husband asks me what I want him to cook and we discuss past recipes we’ve enjoyed; I ask him what he needs me to throw in the laundry, but the tactics and execution steps are the responsibility of the team lead.

The team lead bears responsibility for communicating to the team member and, again, specifically requesting their help and input as needed. In the context of finances, a team lead bears the responsibility for sharing information, explaining as needed, and respecting the input and choices of the team member. The team lead is not a dictator, they’re a middle manager independently completing their agreed-upon assigned tasks.

Team sunrise!

With finances, it’s crucial both partners know where all the money is kept, what the accounts are called, what they’re for, and how to access them (passwords, etc). Withholding that information is form of financial abuse.

It’s not ok to make financial decisions that exclude the other person. Open communication, shared goals, and mutual access to all money is mandatory. However, day-to-day items such as paying the water bill can be designated as the team leader’s job.

Alternately, you might prefer to divvy up financial responsibilities and have one person in charge of investments, one person in charge of expense tracking, etc. Just make sure you’re clear on who is doing what so you’re not duplicating efforts.

As an addendum for families with kids, we’ve started to assign our daughters their own “team lead” roles. The goal is to get them to understand how everyone in the household helps out and how their individual contributions are important. Since they’re two and four, here’s what their jobs are:

  • Kidwoods (age 4) is in charge of taking everyone’s (full!!) breakfast bowls and cups to the table every morning.
  • Both girls are in change of clearing their plates from the table after meals and wiping the table off with a wet rag.
  • Both girls are in charge of putting their dirty clothes into the laundry hamper.
  • Both girls have to clean up all of their toys, books, and art supplies every evening.
  • Kidwoods (age 4) has to clean up her bedroom before coming downstairs every morning.
  • I experimented with having them load and empty the dishwasher but, as it turns out, we don’t have enough extra dishes to justify how many were broken… so we’ll wait another year on that.
  • Beyond the little jobs they’re required to do independently every day, they also help with cooking, gardening, cleaning and laundry (with varying degrees of success… )

Bottom line: having a team lead assigned to each household task ensures everything gets done and helps eliminate resentment and anger. If you’re craving more equality in your partnership, consider employing the team lead approach.

Step 5: Take the (free) Uber Frugal Month Challenge Together

Take the Uber Frugal Month Challenge together!

Sign-up to take my free, 31-day money challenge and discuss each day’s exercises and questions together. This challenge tackles the mechanics of managing money and the emotional relationship we all have with our finances.

The Uber Frugal Month is designed to fundamentally change how you view money and help you better understand your relationship with money.

Taking the challenge together is an ideal way to strike at the core of your disagreements and differing viewpoints surrounding your money.

It’s free, it happens over email, and you can sign-up any time here: Uber Frugal Month: The Ultimate Guide To Saving More Money Than You Ever Thought Possible

Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence Resources

Unfortunately, home is not a safe place for everyone and experts predicted–and now report–surges in domestic violence due to stay-at-home orders. If you know someone in an unsafe relationship, please reach out to them. If you feel unsafe at home, please seek help. Domestic violence resource centers are operating during the coronavirus and they are there to help you figure out a strategy for safety.

Here are several resources:

Day 5 Summary:

  1. Find a mutually convenient time to have “Real Conversations” about your finances.
  2. Commit to being on the same financial team.
  3. Set shared goals and identify how you’ll achieve those goals. Be as specific as possible.
  4. Work to understand your financial background and your partner’s financial background. Identify the root of how you both relate to money. Use these questions as a starting point.
  5. Identify a “Team Lead” for managing your household finances and outline the responsibilities of both the Team Lead and the Team Member.
  6. Take the free, 31-day Uber Frugal Month email program together and discuss each day’s exercises and action items. Sign-up at any time here.

What questions do you have about Day 5?

Here’s the link to the next post in the series: Day 6

If you’d like to receive an email letting you know when other posts in the series are published, sign-up for my email list in the box below.

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  1. I was that child who was aware that there was not enough money to pay all the bills and meet all the needs when growing up. Being the oldest of 4, I think I stressed about it more than I needed to. When I was a teen and young adult earning my own money, I took on the “treat yourself” mentality of buying things I didn’t need because I finally had the money for them. Thankfully my purchases were never overly expensive items; just small things like candy/snacks and CDs, but they did add up. I’ve since adopted more of a saver’s mentality within the last few years and thankfully my husband is even more of a saver than I am. We keep each other accountable and it’s been wonderful to have a partner to work towards goals with.

    1. I was this same kid, but I went the other direction and am probably more frugal than necessary. I’d love a post from Mrs. Frugalwoods as to how she plans to handle sharing financial knowledge & skill building with the girls!

  2. Love this! We sat down late January before doing our UFM challenge in February. It was eye opening and I realized for the first time ever my husband was way more organized than I was money wise lol!!! It was a comforting feeling. This is not the greatest time for most of us, but being on the same page financially has helped us navigate this year in stride. Thanks!

  3. Great post Liz.
    Your thoughts on Team Leads make me think of a book I recently read called Fair Play, here’s a link https://bookshop.org/books/fair-play-a-game-changing-solution-for-when-you-have-too-much-to-do-and-more-life-to-live/9780525541936
    She uses a similar strategy plus other tips for managing a household equitably. The book is certainly geared towards couples with children, or couples without children but extremely busy lives. I would recommend it.

  4. This seems like a great approach! My partner and I were already planning on sitting down and talking about these things in the next few weeks, but this seems like a great structure. Our finances are, and will stay separate, but we want to have a clear plan for working toward goals together. As it is, I am very organized with spreadsheets galore and he… doesn’t really track anything. Haha. This should be an adventure.

  5. My husband and I see a counselor that specializes in Imago therapy – check it out… Also, most co-pays are being waived right now – which is awesome!!! Couples counseling doesn’t just need to be when things aren’t good. Dealing with transitions, challenges..maybe a pandemic!, or just wanting to deepen your connection are all awesome reasons to seek out a counselor. Hope everyone is well and healthy!

  6. I grew up knowing my family had enough to pay off basic necessities but fortunately my family was also frugal. Luckily, I didn’t have to stress about finances. As I grew up, it didn’t make sense to me that people are so willing to spend money on stuff they don’t need. I can see how my partner would have a hard time understanding this and it would be difficult for us to work together

  7. Reading your columns, seeing pics of the girls, following you on Instagram always brings a smile to my face. My little girls are adults and live across the country. I relish the memories of my own 2 daughters when I see your 2 girls together.

  8. Love the tips for “mutually convenient time”! Definitely used this when starting our money talks last year. We’ve been married a couple years and were all over the place on finances. There was constant fighting. So I started taking my reluctant husband on budget dates to fun new places. He got to try new food and I got go his undivided attention for however long it took him to eat. The first couple were literally him stuffing his face and me talking through a powerpoint of the craziness that was our money and ideas I had (some of which were taken from your posts, thanks!). Now days we still like to do the monthly budget date, but he’s actively engaged and the discussion doesn’t end when his plate is empty. We’re much more aligned now, but I think those questions will benefit us greatly. Can’t wait for our next date 🙂

  9. I have known several women (all housewives) whose husbands were completely in control of ALL of the couple’s money, the women had no access to look at bank accounts, investment accounts, etc. These women were given an “allowance” to buy groceries each week/month, and they had to “ask” about purchasing anything else (even things that the children needed). If you are one of these women, please know that this is wrong. You have probably felt that this is not quite right, and I want to clearly validate that this is terribly wrong. Please get help if your husband will not allow you to be an equal partner in your joint finances. Your value by taking care of your home/children is just as valuable as his ability to earn an income to support the family.

    1. Absolutely second this comment!
      This is a form of control that abusers use.
      And if your name is on an account, you have access. Go to the bank and ask. Call the toll free number on the credit card to find out the current balance. You may need the last four digits of the social security number of whoever opened the account. Run a credit check on yourself and find out what is in your name. annualcreditreport.com is the website the FTC authorizes; you don’t have to use Credit Karma or any advertised service, and certainly not a paid service.

  10. My grandson turned 4 last week, and he helps me empty the dishwasher by putting away the silverware (he can’t break that if it falls to the floor!) He likes standing on the little stool in front of the silverware drawer! It would be faster to do it myself, b/c it takes more time to help him w/ this task, but he loves helping Nana! Maybe this would be a start for Kidwoods!

    1. Yeah, Kidwoods is not the problem…. ;). The two-year-old does the silverware, but she has real trouble with the dishes 😉

  11. My ex husband and I were not on the same financial page EVER and twice had to take out loans against our house to pay credit card debt. Luckily for me, we got divorced and my current husband and I are almost always in synch when it comes to money. No debt, we pay off our credit card every month and we save at least $1600 per month even though we are both retired. Our financial future is secure in part because we are frugal and thoughtful about spending. It makes all the difference when you are on the same page when it comes to spending and saving.

    1. So much this. Misaligned financial goals and values were a massive issue for my ex-husband and I. We met in college so we became “adults” together and I kept hoping that we would figure it out. He HATED to talk about money, constantly felt threatened when I brought it up, and he never saved, got into debt behind my back, and then gave a chunk of our savings to his crazy drug addict “friend” after I asked him not to, which was when I decided to leave him. My current partner and I have very open and ongoing conversations about money, debt, budgets, values, etc. and it’s life-changing.

  12. The hubs and I also typically use a team lead approach when dividing household and financial tasks. It works well for us. As for bills, since we utilize separate accounts, we are in charge of different bills and financial tasks, just like we are in charge of different chores. For example, he pays the mortgage, while I pay our savings account. He cuts the grass and vacuums. I manage the gardens and clean the bathrooms.

  13. Here’s a flip-side comment on financial abuse, since it comes in many forms:

    You do not have to give your spouse access to all your assets if you two have agreed upon separate finances. This is most commonly an issue in remarriages where the wife brings in assets, and then the husband takes them (one case I knew was to sink them into his failing business).

    Transparency is also important; however, note that if you are in an abusive relationship: it is ok (and in fact a good idea) to create a hidden separate account where you gather money to fund your escape.

    The key common principle I see is that healthy relationships require equality. You can agree on separate finances or on combined, but that decision must be mutual (not one partner mandating how things will be), and both partners need to have direct access to money.

    1. This is true, but I’ll add that if you want to do separate finances, know the laws in your state and how they are separate/joint assets and debt in a marriage. And get a prenup before you get married! Both because it protects your assets and because it forces you to talk through how you see your money (what is shared, what is separate) before getting married. And of course know that your finances will never be truly separate once you’re married – if your spouse isn’t saving for retirement, or their business fails, that will definitely affect your financial options. So think through that before deciding to get married.

    2. Perhaps this is a good time to go through all accounts and check on things like beneficiaries, passwords to online accounts, and so forth. This could be done together, especially if one partner normally takes care of everything, or if you are recently married. Check retirements, investments, insurances, and assets like vehicle titles.
      Also, keep in mind that one spouse will probably die first, and ideally, the survivor is already a co-owner on all assets and accounts. Having to “inherit” them could take time, costs, and legal fees. However, as has been noted, this is not something everyone would choose to do.

  14. The team lead bit is such a good tip. My partner and I implemented this years ago after getting frustrated about having to negotiate every.single.task. Now we have minimal conversations about chores and things run much more smoothly.

    It can be helpful to check in every so often, since a job that worked well for someone with a flexible schedule may not work as well once that person moves into a 9-5 job, etc.

  15. I’d strongly recommend this post to singles because it can prevent the implosion of a marriage before the marriage even begins. I’m watching a marriage implode as we speak, and most of the issues revolve around differences in mindset around money. Money is one of the key topics that are necessary to discuss prior to joining legally. Thank you for covering this topic, Mrs. Frugalwoods!

  16. My husband and I have always been compatible financially, but ran into trouble over differences in management. Unlike me he has great patience for phone menus and contacting the insurance companies,, the bank, etc. But he’s not great with follow-through, like sending documentation, whereas I am. One simple thing that has helped lately is meeting more often to discuss our finances. It keeps us on track and cuts down on worrying about missing something, be it income or outgo.

  17. I just wanted to say that your book and blog have been so helpful to my fiance and I. Really feel we are on the same page now! Pandemic wedding is on Saturday!

  18. My husband and I are boomers, both growing up with stay at home moms. But there the similarities ended. Our parents went through the depression as older teens to young adults — he and I are both late-in-life babies — and both sets of parents came out of the poverty of that time, marked by it. My parents scrimped and saved every penny and had an attitude of constant scarcity. They also had massive medical bills much of the time, so the scarcity was real many times. His parents did well and spent money like it was going out of style because they were treating themselves and their kids to what had been denied them as youngsters, especially his mother, who knew that more money would always be there on Friday.

    My husband and I had some huge financial incompatibilities, let me tell you. Backgrounds truly matter. It has taken decades to get similar on our thinking, and both of us had to do some major re-thinking of our attitudes. I taught him that necessities come first, he taught me generosity.

    I agree with Katie Camel that this kind of conversation should be required before marriage. I think couples planning to wed should have to do the following tasks as part of counseling before marriage: Make a budget. Consider travel – how much and how expensive – and gift amounts. Giving to charity. Paying bills. Giving to family. How much to save. State one’s savings goals. Reveal existing debt and existing assets.

    The team approach should also be discussed and planned as best as possible before marriage. It might be eye-opening to find out that Sweetie has no intention of doing laundry for anyone, or Honeybun was thinking YOU would do all the cooking. And of course, does one want kids? Better to hash it out before you commit, than find out there is no way to hash it out later and split.

  19. The suggestion to have a team lead is very interesting and I’m going to bring this up with my wife!
    It’s very important to align on finances, especially if you both have (very) different experiences. In my case, I never had to worry about money and as I grew older it became clear our close family (parents and grandparents) were well off.
    The funny thing is that this only became clear once I was in my earlier twenties because my parents would open up on it after I got a job. My parents and grandparents would always hammer home how important it was to save for a rainy day.

    My wife’s family was completely different due to a number of reasons; the main one being that she is from an emerging country. The second one being her divorced parents and her mom raising her on her own during an economic downturn in the her home-country. My wife grew up seeing her mom working hard to make ends meet and how they had to be careful what they ate and bought. That said, her mom would always try to give them what they needed and wanted.

    Because of these huge differences, things I take for granted were not so obvious for her and her family. Luckily, we talked about our lives openly from the very beginning. We also didn’t struggle much because of my frugal upbringing resulting in us have an equal frugal streak though it’s obvious mine was because it was a smart thing to do, not because it was needed whereas with my wife it was out of necessity.

    All in all, a great write up and you have a new follower 🙂

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