I have the privilege of working with Curt, an award-winning high school teacher who is loved by students and staff alike. Last spring, Curt and I got into a discussion about the differences between his approach to money and his wife Allison’s. He was a born saver, and she loved to spend. Curt was interested in my own transformation from money-spender to money-wise, and he said he would tell Allison about my blog. Being a man who likes to keep the peace, Curt didn’t want conflict with the woman he loves, but he did want change. Curt and Allison are a couple who have had their own transformation over the past few months. I’m so grateful that they agreed to an interview.
Give a brief description of your “money blueprint.” What messages about money did you each carry into adulthood?
Allison: I didn’t really have a “money blueprint” coming into adulthood. My plan was to get a good job with a pension. I tend to live paycheck to paycheck and it was just a pure lack of attention to my financial situation. No planning, no budgeting, no savings.
Curt: I was brought up to save and pay everything off right away. My parents paid off two homes within 10 years (or less) on a middle class income. The idea of saving was always something in the back of my head. I always dreamed of doing like my parents. I actually have an ill feeling if I spend over $100 on myself.
Before you married, did you have any discussions about money?
We were married in 2009 (but we moved in together in 2004). We were both broke as students (no financial help with tuition/living expenses when we moved to Ottawa for University). Before we got married, we each had our separate bank accounts. We didn’t really discuss finances too much. We had different perspectives and weren’t the type to argue often and money is always a flashpoint you read about so we just avoided it (either consciously or unconsciously). Right after we got married, we merged our accounts into one and that made things much easier in terms of managing bills, etc.
Curt, you noticed that Allison spent more freely than you did. What specifically did you notice? Did it bother you? Did you ever try to address the matter? How did that go?
Allison worked at a salon in high school and college, and I think she got a taste for expensive hair products. That was actually a topic I feared bringing up because I knew I would always lose. She was usually okay with payment plans and this is something I always hated (e.g. furniture, television, workout equipment). Yes, it did bother me, but I love her and I reserved myself to putting up with these types of expenditures over the years. No, I did not try to address the matter. I prefer to avoid conflicts. I think the only time I did address it, it sounded frantic or disjointed—as I was probably panicking. The result was, this pattern ended up being the status quo for almost our entire relationship.
Allison, when you were in your spending mode, what rationalizations did you use? What did you think of Curtis’ money management preferences?
I tend to rationalize almost every purchase I make – mostly consciously! If we got a refund for something, or ended up accidentally saving money on something, I would rationalize spending that “free money”. And it was easy. Looking back now, I was probably in denial. Although I also felt that we “deserved” these things after working so hard. I didn’t see anything wrong with it and didn’t feel bad for it most of the time. For years I thought Curt’s money management preferences were extreme and that we would never attain what his parents did (paid off their second home in under 5 years, lived with used furniture, never went out to eat, etc). It bugged me that Curt wouldn’t spend money on himself, even essentials. I often had to convince him to or just buy those things for him. It always felt like a struggle/battle. His nickname is “the cheap Dutchman”.
Describe the process whereby the two of you got on the same page for your financial plan.
This process occurred just this summer (mid-July). Allison had just completed a 12 month nutrition program online that was habit-based and focused on consistency. She felt ready to tackle a new challenge and always felt finances were too daunting. The nutrition program gave her the framework to tackle finances. And then she started reading more and asking about your story, Ruth!
When did you start? Do you feel encouraged? Daunted?
We started in earnest in mid-July. We listened to the Total Money Makeover book by Dave Ramsey on our way to Sudbury. It was a real eye opener! We vowed to take on the Baby Steps. Despite what we thought was our crushing debt, the book really encouraged us, particularly with the “snow ball” method. That way, we would tackle our smallest debt without being constantly reminded of the bigger ones. We also started tracking *all* of our expenses on a daily basis. We have the Pocket Expense Pro app on our phones and it syncs our expenses. We now know exactly where our money is going. Something we haven’t ever known! Allison also started reading other books on investing such as the Millionaire Next Door, and blogs such as: rockstarfinance, mrmoneymustache, and blondeonabudget.
What are/have been some of your biggest challenges so far?
Groceries and eating out have been some of the biggest challenges to balancing our budget. The first budget we did was challenging and we ended up spending more than we made! This was due mostly to unexpected expenses. Without that data, we would have never known and it was likely this way for years.
What would you say this change is doing for your relationship?
Curt: I feel like we are more of a team, more productive in everyday life. My work life is structured and organized and now when I come home, it’s similar, which I like. I also feel like I have a great teammate watching her excitedly look through flyers on the “Flipp” app on her phone and giddily waving the much lower grocery receipt as we leave the store (Freshco!). I think we had a great relationship already and now it feels like we’re on the same page for everything.
Allison: I’ve always wanted to be on the same page for something so important like finances and it has had very positive ripple effects for all other areas of our relationship. There aren’t any arguments about money. We map out our spending, meal planning, etc each week and it is a nice feeling to be in control of our finances and to be in sync. It’s motivating and inspiring to finally be in sync with Curt’s approach to finances.
What are your financial goals?
- pay off non-mortgage debt
- build up longer term emergency fund
- pay off mortgage
- learn more about investing once our non-mortgage debts are paid off.
- build up our savings
- and somewhere along the way, travel!