Expert Interview with Elle Martinez on Personal Finance for Couples for

Personal finance for couplesWe’re going to hazard a guess that talking to your partner about finances and retirement ranks somewhere up there with conversations about disciplining your belligerent 2-year-old and whether your mother-in-law should stay with you for the summer.

But conversations about money are some of the most important discussions you can have with your significant other – they’ll not only set the tone for your relationship, but also help ensure your both on the same page when it comes to things like retirement.

To get tips for talking finance with your significant other, we checked in with Elle Martinez, founder of Couple Money. Read on for advice on discussing everything from retirement to investing to saving money with your partner:

Tell us about Couple Money…when and why did you start the site?

I began Couple Money in September 2009. I had been blogging on another site that I started while I was in college that chronicled my personal finances.

I eventually sold that, and it allowed me to focus my time and energy on Couple Money.

I wanted to have a place where couples about to get married or already married could not just discuss the numbers (which is important), but the real-life conversations that two people in love (and with very different viewpoints) have.

I’m a big believer that growing your marriage and net worth is possible. Sometimes it means having some difficult and very open conversations with one another about our values and fears, but those situations can make us stronger.

What’s your professional background? How did you become interested in personal finance?

When I started blogging about personal finance, I was in college for business/operations management. I grew up knowing the basics of finance, but I wouldn’t say things clicked until I became engaged.

My fiancé (now husband) and I had sat down to talk about our finances, and while I had credit card debt, a car loan, and some student loans, he was pretty much debt free. It got me to really reconsider looking beyond the monthly payments and look at total costs of my debt.

I made it a goal to pay off the credit cards before the wedding, and after reading some personal finance books and discovering a few blogs, I started one myself.

When should couples sit down to discuss their retirement goals and strategy? How often do you think they should revisit this discussion?

The sooner, the better. If the two of you haven’t already, set aside time this week and have a money chat. You don’t have to do everything in one day.

Start off by talking about what each of you picture for retirement. You may be surprised at what comes out.

  • Where do you want to live (location and home – how big or small)?
  • What do you want to do in your “free time” (volunteer, start a second career)?
  • Do you plan on staying in one location or traveling around?

From there, figure out about how much you need to have and work backwards.

I think you should check in with one another about your progress at least every few months, even if it’s just to talk out dreams. Those conversations can be great motivation to stay the course and grow closer.

What are the biggest personal finance concerns your readers come to you with? How do you advise them?

Many times when I hear from readers, they ask how can they get their spouse on board – it can be paying down debt, it can be retirement accounts, or just creating a realistic budget.

The first step is getting things out in the open. Set aside some time to really talk (without interruptions) about how you feel about the situation, and listen attentively to one another. (If you’re worried about going over the limit, set a timer.)

Once you have both spoken about it, try to see if you can come to an agreement on something and work from there.

If you’re still having trouble coming up with an overall plan for your goal, see if you can back it up a bit and agree on the first step.

For those people who want to save and invest more for retirement, but who have a spendthrift for a partner, what can they do to prepare themselves for retirement?

Funny you should ask that – I host a personal finance podcast aimed at couples, and we just had a show where a couple was in debt with $100k. The wife wanted to go the Dave Ramsey/Total Money Makeover route, but her husband wasn’t on board with that particular plan.

They talked it over, and she started the baby steps herself, and as the results happened, he came in with the program.

I think that could work for retirement. Sit down and explain why you want to do this and hear them out. If they are still hesitant, lead by example and start investing.

If your employer has a 401(k) match program, use that. Have it automatically drafted. You’re being up front with your partner, and at the same time, you’re improving your finances.

As it grows, keep your spouse updated; it could be what triggers a change.

How could people in this situation approach a conversation with their partner about changing their spending and savings habits?

I would frame it as a “we” situation instead of immediately blaming the other person. I’m not saying that you should ignore a person’s bad behavior; it’s about addressing what you want to happen – having some positive change.

You could say things like, “Let’s get together Friday and brainstorm some ideas on where we can find some money for our IRAs. I’ll come up with five and you come up with five, and then we can pick a couple of them to try out.”

Using the phrase “try it out” takes some edge off of the change because it tells your partner that if it doesn’t work, you can go back.

Once you get a plan, automate the transfers so you’re more likely to stick with them.

How can those of us who are nervous or skeptical about investing get our feet wet? What are some of your favorite investments for beginners?

Like I mentioned earlier, look at a 401(k) if you have one available. Some employers have matching programs, which is like free money. If you don’t have that, IRAs are easy to open, and you’ll have much more choice over investments.

I believe index funds can help a new investor quickly diversify their portfolios and keep their expenses low.

Get Rich Slowly did an article sharing some index funds based on David Swensen’s (Yale University’s fund manager) suggestion, which is a fun read for anyone looking for ideas.

If someone is really hands-off, they could try a target fund, which will adjust through the years.

What are some of your favorite sites or resources for couples that want to know more about retirement savings?

I really enjoy the Oblivious Investor; I think Mike does a wonderful job simplifying and explaining investing and how to plan for retirement.

Vanguard has some incredible webinars and content for those looking at learning more about index funds and investing.

As far as thoughtful reminders about fighting against bad money habits, Carl Richards’s Behavior Gap is fantastic.

What are the smartest moves all couples can make in regards to planning for retirement?

Start now with your contributions. Time is a powerful ally when it comes to growing your portfolio. Even if it’s a small amount, go for it. You can always grow that amount as you move ahead on your career.

Before a raise kicks in, set aside a portion of it for retirement. You’ll never miss the money from your monthly budget, but it can boost your portfolio for when you need it.

The other huge step is automating your contributions. Sometimes we are own worst enemy when it comes to investing, so taking the temptation out and having that money moved can make our lives much less stressful.

What ways do you think someone who’s nearing retirement or who’s already retired can earn some side income to help supplement their lifestyle?

I think retirement can be the perfect time to experiment and try different things. One place to begin is freelancing as a consultant in your professional field.

You can go a different route and look at what talents and hobbies you have had through the years. You may find that your passion can not only earn you some income, but also give you another outlet.

Connect with Elle on Google+, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.


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