Ask the Experts Volume 2, Valentine's Edition: How to Stay Crazy in Love but Sane in the Same Account

When the day is done at CWM, and all client portfolios have been checked on and tucked into bed, we return to our respective homes to spend time with our loved ones and work on personal passion projects. Although we are financial advisors by trade, we also must navigate money management on a personal level with our romantic partners, a learning process that, like most things in a relationship, requires open communication and compromise.
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In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re sharing some of our advice on effective money management with a partner, to help both partners stay supported and on track to meet your collective and individual goals. To provide a holistic view, we took a close look three couples at CWM, two of whom with spouses that work outside of the financial services world.

Q: Why is it important to manage finances together as a couple? Can’t just one person manage it on their own?

When only one partner manages the finances, the other partner faces huge risk. It’s a vulnerable and potentially dangerous place to be in. We see it frequently with non-financially minded widows/widowers or divorcees who suddenly face a mountain of financial knowledge to consume in the midst of dealing with the stress and grief of loss. Taking the time to properly plan and exchange financial knowledge is a sign of love and respect towards one another, and can truly serve as a gift to both partners when one is suddenly no longer in the picture. 

- Shilo and Brian Lockett

Brian & Shilo Lockett


Q: My partner isn’t as financially inclined as I am. How can I get them on board?

As the less financially inclined partner, at first, I was really embarrassed to have discussions about money because I didn’t have a lot of prior knowledge about saving and spending. We broke the ice when we became engaged and worked out how to combine finances, and now it’s easy! Starting a conversation is a good first step. Now we have a monthly budget meeting. Morgan makes a spreadsheet, and we walk through our shared goals, his proposed strategies and any questions together, which empowers both of us to be equally involved. Marriage is a partnership; it’s all about planning your lives together.

Morgan and Debbie Arford

Each partner can play a role in the conversation. For us, since Brian is planning financial strategy for clients all day every day, often I’m the one who manages the day-to-day planning for our personal finances, and Brian and I have conversations on bigger-picture strategy. He strategizes, and I materialize by building it into our budget and planning. There are different ways to make sure you’re coming together as a couple to have these conversations; the important thing is to make sure you have a way. And it can be fun! Ask yourselves, what do we want to accomplish together? Then sit down with a glass of wine, dream, and create a plan to make it happen.

- Shilo and Brian Lockett

For us, it helped that both of our parents talked to us about money early on; it was not a taboo subject. Even so, it helps us to have ongoing, fun conversations to identify each partner’s individual motivations. Ask yourself, what motivates you? Once you each have an answer, you can find different ways to approach financial management in a way that has a significant meaning to you. For me, I’m fulfilled by making Melissa happy. I want to live my life in a way in which she can be proud of me. And I know one way that she feels happiness is feeling secure in our finances or watching our account balances grow. Melissa feels fulfilled by the “game” aspect of it, watching money grow and finding new and improved strategies. Whatever your goals are, you can marry them with your finances to help you reach those goals in a holistic way.

- Marc and Melissa Knauss

Q: What is the most important tool for managing money in a relationship?

It’s important that both partners are aligned on their overall goals and intentions. This has been relatively easy for us, as we’ve always taken a logical approach to finances and are committed to living within our means in order to plan for the future. From the beginning, we’ve shared this philosophy and agreed to make sacrifices earlier on so we could achieve the type of lifestyle we envisioned for our family.

- Shilo and Brian Lockett

Budget and conversation. You just have to lay it all out. Gather up and itemize every bill you have so you can see it in one spreadsheet. Then you can see what and how you’re spending. Sometimes the budget discussion can make you feel vulnerable, but once you get over the initial hump, it will be so much easier to talk about money.

- Morgan and Debbie Arford

Focus on doing a budget, set up monthly savings, and really put intentionality and purpose behind your finances. Melissa updates our budget, and we review it together quarterly. The budget is a tool to see beyond expenses and understand the reasons behind them – where are your priorities, and how can you be more effective in reaching your goals? We can dream all we want, but what do we have to do to make those dreams a reality? As Brian frequently says, a goal without a plan is just a dream.

- Marc and Melissa Knauss

Debbie & Morgan Arford


Q: How can we share finances without being controlling?

Early in our marriage we created allowances for personal spending: money that each of us can spend without needing to check in with the other person. This way, we maintain our freedom without worrying about going over budget.

- Shilo and Brian Lockett

We allow a certain amount for each individual partner to spend without asking the other person. There needs to be some understanding and freedom with both of you having control and the ability to decide on some personal purchases. You can work together to determine a personal budget amount that feels right, and anything above that number, you can plan to discuss. There will usually be a saver and a spender in a relationship and negotiating that is just part of the fun (challenge) of marriage.

- Morgan and Debbie Arford

We make sure to keep love and respect at the center of our relationship, which means allowing some room for the other partner to make their own purchases. It also means that both of your opinions matter, and it’s important to talk about any major expenses or financial strategies in your relationship. This is also, again, where the budget comes in. When you have a budget, it doesn’t need to be a restriction or a face-to-face confrontation about who did what. Instead, it’s a shoulder-to-shoulder conversation among partners strategizing to reach your goals, and there’s so much joy and freedom in that. You can budget for these personal expenses, relieving any guilt or nervousness that one partner might feel when making a purchase—because it’s already been planned for.

- Marc and Melissa Knauss

Q: What recent financial discussions have you been having in your relationship?

We recently bought our dream home together, which brought up a number of conversations and compromises for us. At first, we had disagreements on the budget, as I [Melissa] tend to be more frugal, but as the financial advisor [Marc] was able to share his knowledge with me about fluctuating interest rates and other factors that can affect monthly payments, and we were able to find a path forward in our budget that felt comfortable for both of us. It was also a good reminder that we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish these goals if we hadn’t been intentional with our saving prior to this.

- Marc and Melissa Knauss

While we’ve always been good savers, it’s true that every couple must balance current needs with future planning, and that’s something we’ve been working on. It’s great to prepare for the future as much as possible, but we also don’t want to only be saving for “someday”. With young children especially, time is limited, and it’s okay (and healthy) for your financial decisions to take this present-day enjoyment into account, so long as you have the planning in place to support you. As we often say with our Starting Strong clients, we’re not in the business of keeping all your money stored away; we want to ensure your money is serving your intentional goals, both now and in the future.

- Shilo and Brian Lockett

Q: What’s one area of financial management you wish you’d known about earlier on in your relationship?

I wish my [Debbie’s] parents had talked more about finances, or that they had known about the strategies that Morgan brings to our family financial management. I had myself set up well, but had I known more, I would’ve been that much better off financially. I’m grateful for the place we’re in now, and that we can teach our children about the importance of financial literacy.

- Morgan and Debbie Arford

Compound interest. We both felt like we had a good handle on basic saving, but no one ever told us that having your money work for you with proper investing strategies is so much more impactful. In 2008, before I [Marc] started a career in financial services, we took a personal finance course together and realized that although we thought we were doing great financially, in reality we were only treading water in terms of long-term planning.

- Marc and Melissa Knauss

It’s up to you and only you to save for your future. With changes to Social Security and retirement benefits, based upon your goals we generally recommend 10%-20%% of your income go into savings. It’s essential to create healthy saving and communications habits early, so you never have a problem saving and can create and work toward the lifestyle you want.

- Shilo and Brian Lockett

Marc, Melissa, Luke and Jonah Knauss


Q: Can children get involved with the financial planning process?

Yes! You can speak to children about finances regardless of what age they are. Our children are 2 and a half, five and six years old, and we regularly talk about money with them. “We can’t just buy another toy when one breaks,” or “If you damage a puzzle that Grandma gave you, you will have to replace it with your own money.” We have basic conversations about saving and spending, and we use magnets to teach the concept of resource allowance and prioritization. They earn magnets for completing chores or reaching personal milestones, which turn into minutes for screen time or other fun rewards. This allows us to help our children identify their own individual goals and work toward them in a way that’s meaningful to them, while enabling them to be involved in the decision process.

- Morgan and Debbie Arford

It’s so important to talk with your kids about finances. Just a few years back, on a trip to the store, my boys saw me swipe the credit card, and they thought it was magical. We had to explain to them that Mommy and Daddy have to earn the money that gets put on this card, that it’s not just a fun piece of magical plastic. For our boys, who are four and eight years old, we’ve set them up with savings goals based on their allowances, where 45% of their allowance is saved for an intentional, long-term goal, 45% is put into a “spend” fund that they can use for items of their choosing, like a toy or a pack of gum, and 10% goes to a “give” fund for a cause or charity of their choice.

- Shilo and Brian Lockett

When our son turned three, we took him to the bank and made a big celebratory deal about him opening a savings account. At age eight, I opened a Custodial investment account for us to learn about stocks together. Now as a 16-year-old, his friends are impressed by his wealth of financial knowledge, and he’s the go-to friend when they have questions about money. We still support him by sharing age-appropriate financial strategies and boundaries, but he has grown up to truly enjoy saving and views it as a fun game.

- Marc and Melissa Knauss

Q: How did the two of you meet?

We met during speech class in college (Go Cougs!). Brian, not surprisingly, was the character that loved entertaining the crowd. Back then, I [Shilo] was the one whose heart raced and knees knocked when called upon to present. Opposites attract, and we were married three years after graduation. Brian is now a WSU trustee, has given guest lectures to classes within the Carson College of Business, and together we started a small endowment to help promote financial literacy education.

- Shilo and Brian Lockett

We’ve been together for 9 years, but we actually met as friends in high school. Debbie used to cheat off my marketing homework.

- Morgan and Debbie Arford

We met at Red Robin in Lynnwood. When we finished with church youth group, my friends and I would go to Red Robin to hang out. Melissa was our waitress one evening, and we left her a 100% tip. Melissa thought it was a mistake and ran out after us, but we told her it was intentional. After that, she made sure we sat in her section, and we all became friends. We started a relationship before I went off to Navy boot camp. She wrote me every day, and that’s when I knew she was something special.

- Marc and Melissa Knauss

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