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I'm a saver, he's a YOLO guy: Talking about money helped us combine finances and buy a home

"Here is my best advice for how to tackle conversations about combining your finances." 

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Jennifer Toledo is the founder of Talk Finances To Me.
Courtesy Jennifer Toledo

For a long time I struggled to manage my money. I was in debt and I didn't have much in the way of savings. I was also in a toxic relationship where our finances were intertwined. But over the last two years, I have been able to achieve a number of money milestones. I created multiple streams of income, paid off all my credit card debt, and saved over $20,000 in an emergency fund. 

Talk Finances to Me, the blog I started in 2019 to chronicle my debt payoff and budgeting progress, has grown into a platform that allows me to help other women feel more confident about their finances and give them the tools to build generational wealth. 

Money can so easily become a taboo subject. I've learned how valuable it is to communicate openly and honestly about it, especially if you and your significant other have different approaches to your finances, like my fiance and I sometimes do: I'm an emotional spender turned avid saver, and he can be more of a "you only live once" kind of guy. 

Because we have these conversations, though, we have been able to accomplish big goals together, like recently buying a new home.

Here is my best advice for how to tackle conversations about combining your finances. 

1. Ask the questions that are important to you

When I started working on my personal money goals, I began reading everything I could find, books like "I Will Teach You to be Rich" by Ramit Sethi and "Broke Millennial" by Erin Lowry.

One of the most valuable exercises I did was put together a list of five questions that I would pose to any potential partners, which was informed by that previous negative relationship experience.

  1. What is your relationship with money (positive or negative) and what "rules" do you live by? 
  2. How do you feel about combining finances one day, and is it something you want to do or not?
  3. Do you have an emergency fund? If not, are you willing to start one? If you do, what is your definition of an emergency fund? 
  4. What did you learn about money while growing up and what is your earliest memory about money? 
  5. What does your debt and current financial situation look like?

Using these prompts helped me and my then-boyfriend have an honest conversation about the debt we were both dealing with and helped us realize that we could help each other work towards paying it off. 

Talking about it, we both knew what we were about to walk into, and there were no surprises once we decided to get serious about our relationship. We knew we had work to do, and it made the hard conversations we knew could arise down the road easier to tackle. 

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2. Create a positive and judgment-free space 

I've found that a good way to get a sense of your partner's financial priorities is to start with the topics you both agree on. Having established some common ground, then you can move on to the more difficult subjects. 

I always try my best to be intentional with the questions I ask and create a judgment- and stress-free environment. In my current relationship, one of the ways we do this is to set time aside every pay period to sit down and focus on our budgets, debt payoff, and savings goals. 

We make it a date and we include music, snacks, wine, and even a movie at times. It's actually a lot of fun to do this together, and makes things generally less fraught.

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3. Make goals together and be accountable 

When my fiance and I set goals together, we keep each other accountable. We also make sure to help each other with those objectives as much as we can. 

When I launched Talk Finances to Me, my fiance encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and share my personal money story. He took care of most of the parenting duties most nights so I could write, record, or do anything that needed to be done for my company. 

We make becoming more financially literate a joint priority. We frequently talk about financial news, and we send each other articles and YouTube videos, which makes the idea of talking about money exciting, even if we don't agree on everything. 

When I don't fully understand something about a certain topic, such as cryptocurrency, he will try to explain it to me and vice versa. He is more knowledgeable about the different coins and tokens, where I am a more traditional investor who likes my Roth IRA and ETFs. But our differences have made each other more knowledgeable investors. 

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4. Find what works for you and stick with it 

The most important thing that I try to remind myself is that my partner is a totally different person and he has different goals and wants, and spending and saving habits, and that is all OK. 

I like long-term investing options, while he has a higher risk tolerance and enjoys investing in cryptocurrency and stocks, alongside those long-term investments. I do not enjoy the dips and volatility that can come with investing, while he is patient and knows that his investments will grow over time. 

My fiance prefers to use credit cards for points and cash back benefits, and I primarily use cash. Specifically, I use separate checking accounts: one for every day spending and one for bill pay. And I take it one step further, withdrawing cash from those accounts and putting them in specific envelopes for my basic expenses. 

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For me, as much as I have grown to love saving, and as dedicated as we are to becoming more financially literate, we are still going to make mistakes, whether it's something like forgetting and ordering takeout when we have food at home, or overspending in certain areas of our budget.

As long as you are up front when you do make a mistake and your financial approach doesn't negatively affect you or your partner, ultimately my best advice is to keep talking, listen to understand rather than respond, offer your support, and encourage them to stick with the strategies that work best for them. That way you can move forward together. 

Jennifer Toledo is the founder of Talk Finances To Me. Inspired by her own financial journey, she wanted to build a platform dedicated to helping women manage their money, develop healthy relationships, and build generational wealth. She always wanted to be a teacher, and is thrilled to be able to share the lessons she has learned about money with Talk Finances To Me. 

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