Talking to your partner about money can be very difficult—especially when you’re bringing up the conversation for the first time.
Learn how to go on a “money date,” what she describes as her “$20 prenup,” and why she feels everyone should have one. She also shares her guide to combining your finances. In fact, Aditi is so passionate about personal finance in general—and couples’ finances specifically—she created an app to help you share and discuss finances with your partner!
Zeta is a personal finance app designed for couples to help you stay on top of your finances together. If you’re looking for a way to talk about money with your partner, this episode was made especially for you.
Mindy: Zeta, okay. Aditi Shekar from Zeta, welcome back to the Money podcast, how are you today?
Aditi: I’m so excited to talk about couples.
Mindy: I am so excited to talk about couples too. One of the biggest questions that I get from listeners is, how do I talk to my partner about money? We’re clearly on two different spots and we’re in a place where breaking up isn’t an option. So from that perspective, what is the first thing that a couple should do once they discover that they are far apart on money?
Aditi: I think people tend to, couples in particular, tend to find out that they feel differently about money in a very tense situation. They’re trying to buy something or somebody overspent or somebody went into debt. There tends to be a lot of emotion and sometimes anger involved in that moment. One of the things that I really encourage couple to do is start talking about money long before any of these moments hit. Don’t wait for Delmar to go into J Crew and see the $300 expense show up. Rather, have this conversation well before.
Aditi: So my first piece of advice is talk about money early and talk about it often in a relationship. But let’s just say that you didn’t do that for whatever reason and you’re in a situation where your man starts talking about money. It’s the wrong moment to talk about it because money becomes the tool that then you use to actually fight rather than actually being the thing that is the problem in the relationship. So in that moment, stop him. Say, you know what, we’re both upset. Let’s come back to this conversation in a moment where we can agree.
Aditi: And the thing that I always tell couples who don’t see eye to eye on money is that all the research shows that even if you are the same personality when it comes to money, in a relationship you will evolve. One of you will start to move apart from the other from a money point of view. So the value of talking about money in a relationship is not actually being the same personality, it’s learning how to communicate about having different point of views. So the thing to do in that moment is to actually say, what are the areas of money that we agree on?
Aditi: Whether it’s we agree on certain goals that we have or we agree that we don’t want to go into debt. Or we agree that we need to live below our means. Whatever it is you agree on, start there and then move from that moment into some of the things that you don’t agree on.
Scott: What are some of the typical sets of problems that you kind of come across in terms of what couples are fighting over?
Aditi: There’s multiple layers I think of fights about money. There’s the layer of we just fundamentally have different personalities and one of us is being passive aggressive about how those personalities are manifesting. So I’ve heard stories of one significant other literally giving the other person an allowance to manage their spending, which is not going to be a healthy dynamic in a relationship. There are people who are hiding accounts from each other because they want to have an emergency fund for those moments where things go bad. There’s people who find out after they break up that their partner opened debt in their name and they suddenly owe all this money.
Aditi: So those are the worst stories around this. But what I find is that it’s traditionally a personality mismatch that then manifests into all these really horrible behaviors. The second thing is that there’s also the day-to-day management of money. As a team we always talk about how there are CFOs in a relationship, the chief financial officer. That person hates being the chief financial officer. They’re like, “I became this person because I was a little better at math or a little better at money and this job is just the most thankless, unhappy job ever.”
Aditi: So we spend a lot of time as a team and as a company thinking about how to make that person’s life easier and happier. What we find is that that chief financial officer ends up taking a lot of the burden on of like when you overspend. One of my best friends, she said to me, she was like, “My husband, we overspent last month and it’s his fault.” And I was like, why is it his fault? She said, “Oh well because he handles the money.”
Aditi: And I was like, but you spent just as much as he did, didn’t you? And she was like, “Well yeah, but.” So those are the other things that we tend to fight a lot about. Making sure that you’re not just putting blame on the other person but actually saying hey this is a thing that we did together.
Scott: Do you find that when folks come up with these problems initially that they have a great data system in place around money? Or do you find that there’s just a general lack of information about where the money’s going? Is that an important step in this?
Aditi: When my husband and I, for example, started thinking about money, I remember Googling like crazy and the number one hit on the internet was Oprah, which was kind of interesting. Why’s Oprah telling me how to handle my finances in a relationship? But there weren’t a lot of resources. So we sort of hacked our way through our money system. But one of the things we’ve learned as we’ve been building Zeta is that because couples in our generation are actually choosing not to merge their finances 100%, a little bit of what we were talking about yesterday, they don’t have a very good understanding of how much money they’re spending or earning in a month.
Aditi: So when we went and did the research, a lot of couples were like, “Yeah I spend a bunch of money in our shared expenses and I spend a bunch of money on my personal expenses. But when I try to sit down at the end of the month and figure out what I spent where, it’s impossible to find out.” What we were seeing was that most of them were using spreadsheets, which have a lot of pros but are really, really crappy when you’re trying to have two people try to figure these things out.
Aditi: So that was the first problem that we actually chose to solve with Zeta was saying, lets give couples a way to understand what their collective pool of finances even are and then be able to segment that information across their shared and their personal spending.
Mindy: Do you recommend all couples combine finances? Because it sounds like yes and no.
Aditi: I thought so much about this. Like is one model better than the other, and there are a lot of people who have very strong opinions on what it should or shouldn’t be. What I’ve learned is it’s actually highly dependent on who you are. So there are couples who just get a lot of value by seeing everything as a team. They get a lot of value of treating all of their money as one pool.
Aditi: I will be really honest with you. If my husband and I did that we would’ve broken up a long time ago. For us, we just feel a lot happier having a shared pool with shared goals and things that we’re gunning for together but then also having the independence of being able to do whatever it is we want with our individual pools. The reason that that works in our case is our generation is typically now earning incomes twice, like those people are earning incomes. Whereas our parents’ generation, most people were just earning a single income in the household.
Aditi: So it made sense to combine everything. Whereas now, we’re earning dual incomes, we’re getting married, we’re living together long before we got married. So the dynamics around money have just fundamentally changed. And then there’s another segment of people that we have learned through Zeta and discovered through Zeta who actually keep their finances completely apart. They trade off what bills they’re going to pay but they want and need a lot more control over their money and they feel much more comfortable doing it that way.
Aditi: And they’re perfectly happy in their relationships navigating it that way. So my thesis is not actually to promote one model over the other, but to say that we actually support you in whichever model you’re going to go after and really figure out which model is the right one for you. And maybe over time you decide to change that. Maybe when we have 50 kids we’ll decide, you know what, it’s just way too complicated at this point. We’re just going to put it all together.
Scott: When it comes to these arguments, do you find that they’re typically around the spending side of things or is it around the management of investments or whether one person needs to go back and get a better job? What is the root cause of most of this?
Aditi: I would say the majority of the conflict is around spending and around debt. Debt is a very complicated thing, especially when you’re looking at something like student loan debt that could actually create value for you over time if you get a degree that helps you get a better job. And then credit card debt is complicated because it’s hard to get out of credit card debt. It’s literally designed to keep you in debt.
Aditi: So it creates all these kind of really unhealthy dynamics around your finances which then fester into your relationship dynamics. We have not actually seen as much conflict over investments interestingly, because what we tend to see is that if they have a pool of money to invest, they can start to invest it across different things. So both people’s perspectives get dealt with. But some of the things that we do see conflicts around are things like inheritance. Should we leave inheritance to our kids or not and how do we want to plan for that?
Aditi: We also actually see a lot of conflict around family help. Like should I give my brother the money he needs to get through this slump he’s having and forego a vacation that we’re going to take? That causes a lot of resentment in a relationship in really weird ways.
Mindy: Oh, yeah. Boy, how do you get over that? I mean, how do you discuss that? I don’t even know. I mean, I’m so thankful that my husband and I are on the same page financial because I don’t know what I would do if he would be like, “Yeah I want to pay for all of these things.” No, we don’t. How do you compromise, I guess is the word?
Aditi: Yeah. What we’ve seen and what we actually encourage folks to do is to say, those are the moments where you can actually choose to divide up some of your finances. So let’s say you’re saying I want to have $5,000 in a year to spend on something that I just think is very important for our family, whether it’s a vacation or a new home. You can’t really buy a home with $5,000 but let’s just magically pretend you could. You can go do that.
Aditi: So what I’ve seen some couples do is they’ll say, “Well I’m taking my so called slush fund and putting it towards helping my brother because I think that’s the right thing to do.” Whereas the other person will say, “Okay cool well I’m going to take my money then and maybe take us to a family vacation to Disney World because I think that’s the right thing to do.”
Aditi: So you can divide and conquer there a little bit rather than trying to be like, everyone has to be on the same page all the time. But the places where I think you really sort of get messed up is when you’re like, “No, no, my brother will absolutely, definitely pay us back and it will all be okay,” and things don’t happen and it just gets ugly. My general rule of thumb is if you lend somebody money, assume you’re not getting it back.
Mindy: You know what, that is the most important thing that I’m going to take away right now is that yeah, absolutely. Because then if you get it back it’s a bonus but if you’re counting on it, it’s not going to come.
Aditi: Exactly. It creates all sorts of horrible dynamics in a relationship when it doesn’t happen.
Mindy: Okay. The big financial couple question, do you have a prenup? Do you recommend them? And how do you approach the subject with your significant other in a way that isn’t offensive because my husband suggested we get a prenup before we got married and we had no assets and no huge debt. We kind of started at sort of zero and I was like, how dare you ask me for a prenup? You are assuming we’re going to get a divorce. You’re not allowed to divorce me and I don’t want to divorce you so this is a stupid thing to have.
Mindy: I was very offended by it. But it’s not an offensive concept. I’ve been married forever so I realize now what he was trying to do but how do you navigate that?
Aditi: So this is actually something I feel very strongly about. I think every couple should have a prenup and here’s why. Do you have a health insurance, Mindy? Right, you have health insurance because why? In case something goes wrong, right?
Mindy: Yes. Oh.
Aditi: Do you want to die? Do you want to die? Do you want to get sick? No.
Mindy: Not really.
Aditi: Exactly. But it’s the exact same concept. It’s like, yeah I don’t want all of these horrible things to happen but the reality, the facts around me prove that this is possible. These things will potentially happen to me. So I think it’s just like having a safety net more than anything else. I think one of the things I hate about prenups is that they’re seen as these, oh you’re trying to get me to give you my money or make sure that I don’t get any money, rather than being seen as a tool to actually help a couple one, have a really good conversation about money very early in their relationship, and two, be able to have something in place, a system in place in case it doesn’t work out.
Aditi: So very personal story, my parents got divorced. When my parents were getting divorced they had all these assets that they’d accrued in their time together. They’d bought a house, they had a car, they had kids. They hadn’t really thought through how they were going to divide those assets and it wasn’t fun for them or for us to watch them go through that process. My mom was in a situation where she was moving across the world to a different country. So there were all these dynamics that played in there.
Aditi: Whereas, if there had just been clarity on how all those things could have been sorted out, that in a moment of such emotional ness and sadness and tragic ness trying to figure this stuff out and create that pressure, they could have had all of that sorted out. The other thing I will say, my husband and I actually got a $20 prenup. I wrote an article about this because it was something where I was trying to explain when you talk about a prenup it sounds very formal. You’re going to get a lawyer and we’re going to sit down and it’s going to be really weird and tense. That’s actually not what we did.
Aditi: We downloaded a prenup template from the internet, definitely the right thing to do by the way. We just used it as a way to start talking about what we were going to do in all of our worst case scenarios. What would happen if one of us died? What would happen if we broke up? What would happen if one of us actually had went and built a billion dollar business? How would all those things work out? What would happen to the assets that we were bringing into the relationship? It was one of the best conversations of money I have had with my husband to date without a doubt.
Aditi: It was only because of that tool. It’s probably actually not even legal but it allowed us … No, really. What it did for us was less the contract and more the conversation.
Scott: So maybe this is … Well, I’m just going to ask this question. So we’ve had two recent guests, you and Erin Lowry from Broke Millennial, who have brought up this concept of definitely prenup, prenup, absolutely for sure. Both of you happen to be women. So bringing that up from a woman’s perspective might be different, maybe even less intimidating in many ways than bringing it up from a man’s perspective. [crosstalk 01:17:36] question before?
Mindy: But they were both the higher income earners.
Scott: Yes. That’s very true. Absolutely.
Aditi: Yeah. You’re absolutely right. There’s a couple of dynamics. I mean, men do earn more than women do on average on the dollar. Those are facts. So men do tend to be the primary breadwinners and so they might be the ones bringing up the conversation. When they do, the other partner is like, “Wait, what are you trying to say?” So that’s why I say this needs to be a conversation that is had with both people. I would love if more women would bring it up because it actually protects women a lot more often than it protects men. Like I’ve heard these stories over and over again of couples who’ve broken up where the man was the primary breadwinner and then suddenly the wife has nothing left when they break up. Suddenly she’s living on alimony or child support or whatever it may be and it’s not enough to cover her expenses. Or suddenly her lifestyle has fundamentally changed.
Aditi: So ironically, prenups actually protect women in a relationship just as much as they protect men. But because men, I think, tend to think about longterm finances more, we’ve actually seen that in research, they tend to be focused on that more, they tend to be the folks that bring this up. But why I share this message is what I’m trying to tell other women is, don’t be afraid of this. Don’t see this as him saying to you, or her saying to you, “Hey, I want you to control how my money or our money or your money is spread out if we were to ever break up.” But rather see this as an opportunity to just worst case scenario plan.
Aditi: Honestly, having that conversation about prenups and having a longterm view conversation also encouraged my husband to get way more interested into this. He doesn’t give a shit about money. He really doesn’t. He’s like, “Eh, whatever. It’ll figure itself out.” But being a part of-
Aditi: Right. But being a part of that conversation made him realize, “You’re right, we do need to figure out what happens in these scenarios and how each of us deals with it.” We actually got into estate planning recently, which one day we will talk about that. It suddenly opened his eyes to, “Wow this is exactly like our prenup conversation but just a very different flavor of it.”
Scott: With this, Erin Lowry mentioned whether or not you have a prenup, there’s a set of rules that govern how this goes and you’re just submitting to those rules without any say in it without working-
Aditi: She’s absolutely right. We romanticize marriage, which it absolutely is. It’s a partnership, it’s so many things. But it’s also a contract with rules and laws around it. A lot of people don’t understand what that means and how that works. So for example, in marriage law a lot of what happens to your assets if you were to break up are dictated by where you live. Most people don’t realize that because they might’ve gotten married in New York at one time but then moved to California or Colorado where they have different ways of managing those assets.
Scott: So what are some examples of folks who have gotten into really big trouble from not having this in place in your experience?
Aditi: Bob Marley. There are a lot of celebrity stories actually about celebrities who didn’t have prenups or estate plans that have really screwed them over and they are stories that we often talk about and hear about because they’re very, very public. But what I have seen is one, I see sometimes that the parent who ends up having custody of the kids doesn’t necessarily have the assets to support actually having to pay for those kids. That’s a horrible situation.
Scott: So you’re saying that that will be a compromise almost made. Like one person gets the assets, one person gets the kids. That is sad.
Aditi: Yeah. I’ve even seen things around debt for example. This has been the worst part, is like watching a young couple … I mean, unfortunately divorce is just as common in our generation. When you listen to the stories of divorce, a lot of these couples after getting divorced find out that their partner opened up credit cards in their name. They are now suddenly on the hook for those assets or for those liabilities in this case. So those are the kinds of things that we want to be able to protect for, where you say if you opened it, it’s on you man, not on me, to figure these things out.
Mindy: You briefly talked about estate planning. I don’t think I want to ask this question. I don’t have an actual question around that so we’ll just skip that. Oh, money dates, money dates. I want to talk about money dates. Okay. Did you write an article on money dates? Okay, there we go.
Scott: Can I actually ask a question before we go to money dates?
Scott: Sorry. I just want to ask this before we transition away from it. Okay. What if you’re already married and have not talked about this stuff and now the issue’s coming up? Maybe we’re not at divorce or anything like that but how do you kind of counsel through that situation?
Aditi: Yeah, that’s a great question. There are prenups and there are actually something called postnups. So you can get a so called agreement in place once you’re married as well. There’s a lot of ways that you can think about organizing that. There’s some couples who say everything that we each earned or didn’t earn, spent before we got married, is our own chaos to deal with. But everything that we do once we do get married is going to be something that we treat as 50/50. That’s actually how my husband and I set up our prenup because we thought that that was very fair and equal.
Aditi: So one of the things that you should think about if you’re married is, you can very much have that conversation but just sort of treat it as, let’s figure out what we want to do up until this point and then let’s figure out what we want to do this point moving forward. Getting engaged is a really natural moment to have that conversation and set that sort of line in the sand. But you can absolutely do that once you’re married as well.
Mindy: I hope my husband is not listening to this and doesn’t get any ideas. We’re not having a postnup. But again, it doesn’t really change anything. I shouldn’t be such a snot about this because I can see that there would be cases that this is very helpful. We didn’t come into the marriage in very different spots. We came in pretty even and I was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. We’re still pretty even. We’ve always had our money.
Aditi: But Mindy, you’re actually a great example. You were a stay-at-home mom for those 12 years and you were probably not contributing an income during that time but you were contributing absolutely to the relationship, right?
Aditi: So you are the perfect example of someone who should get a postnup in that situation and say, hey in that situation where I step back from work, we’ll still treat our assets as 50/50. So your husband in the worst case scenario could turn around and say, “Hey well I earned all those assets so that’s actually my money.” That would be the worst thing to happen to you.
Mindy: That would be a really-
Aditi: You’re the perfect, perfect example.
Mindy: That would be a really jerky thing for him to do. [crosstalk 01:25:04].
Aditi: Who knows. No, but when people are mad at each other, love-
Mindy: But that’s the thing.
Aditi: Yeah. Love is like war. When it’s [inaudible 01:25:13] what I say. So when people are mad, somebody screwed up, did something bad and one partner wants to get back at the other, money is a phenomenal way to do that.
Mindy: That is an excellent point because yeah, you’re not getting a divorce on happy terms. You’re getting a divorce on angry terms and one of you is going to be angry at the other, most likely. Some people have amicable divorces, whatever. But when you’re talking about this, it is absolutely I can see wanting to get back at somebody. That is absolutely the best way to do it. Oh, I’m just going to take all the money. That’s very interesting.
Aditi: Yeah. I’ve seen those situations happen.
Mindy: Okay. So you wrote an article about having money dates. This concept has come up with multiple guests in the past. Rosemary [Groner 01:26:04] on way back on episode four talked about having a money date with her husband. She started it when they were in debt and now they continue even though they’ve gotten themselves out of debt. They continue every month to get together and have a money date. Joel [Larsgard 01:26:18] from episode I think 18 talks about monthly meetings with his wife to discuss finances and they also go away fro a weekend every year to discuss their future goals.
Mindy: So tell me about starting money dates. How would you go about starting that conversation with your partner?
Aditi: Yeah. When I looked back at what my husband and I were doing during date nights, we were talking about our future together. We were like, are we going to have kids? What are we going to do about the dogs? What is our dog sanctuary going to look like? There were all these really fun conversations but there were always money components to that discussion where we were like, if we want to go do all these things, how do we actually plan for that today?
Aditi: So this idea of money dates is just taking date night but putting a money layer to it. Of saying like, we’re going to talk about our goals and we’re going to talk about how to reach those goals. That’s the basic concept of what a money date does. But what we found was that in all of the research that we’ve done about how couples handle money, we found that the more that you talk about money consistently and regularly the healthier your relationship is.
Aditi: So what we said is, okay well how do we institute money dates and how do we make sure that the money date spends time talking about your present but also spends time talking about your future so you can connect your present to your future? I remember a few weeks ago, I was talking to a couple and they said to me, “We want to buy a house in San Francisco in five years.” I said, awesome what are you doing to do that? They said, “Well every month each of us puts $50 in a savings account for our down payment.” And I just started laughing. I was like, there’s no way in which you’re going to be able to buy a house in San Francisco in five years if that’s your goal.
Aditi: When we had that conversation, they were like, “Oh, you’re right. I guess we have to move.” That was a really important insight for them. So couples tend not to do that backwards planning. They don’t connect the future with the present. What the money dates do is create space for you to actually have those longterm conversations. The other thing that money dates do, which I’m a big fan of, is it’s very easy for me to see a expense come through and I’m like, babe what the hell is this expense? What happened? Why is this …
Aditi: Where now my husband, he’s so clever, he’s like, “Oh we’ll talk about it on our money date.” So it creates a space to have that conversation when you’re less emotional, not mad and not in the heat of the moment but rather saying, let’s sit down and look at that in context of everything else we’re doing rather than just looking at it one off. So it’s a really, really easy thing to institute. We see some couples do it weekly and we see the majority of couples do it monthly. I would say about 60% do it monthly but about 40% do it weekly. You have to figure out the cadence that feels right to you. Whereas we see couples who tend to be a little bit healthier with their finances maybe wait and try to do it even quarterly.
Mindy: Okay. Do you recommend having an agenda to talk about or just having it more natural?
Aditi: Yeah, so the CFO should always have the agenda. They’re the ones how are happy putting the agenda together. But maybe not sending the agenda to your partner as like, these are the 10 things we will discuss. There are definitely some couples we’ve seen who do that and we love it. But I would say that’s a nerded out version of the money date.
Aditi: In our case, what we tend to see is that the person who typically manages the finances will come forward and say here are the rough topics that we need to talk about. One of the things that you absolutely should do in that is just review your spending. It doesn’t mean that you have to look at it line item by line item but just understand how much you spent. As human beings, we tend to be very good to ourselves and be like, oh I didn’t actually spend as much money as I thought I did, but just having an understanding of what came in and what went out is incredibly important. Then talking at least even if it’s just a quick two minutes about your goals and saying, oh yeah the dog sanctuary that Delmar and I want to buy one day is so far out in the future but how are we even thinking about it or staying connected to that goal in some way?
Mindy: Is there anything else you want to share about couples money with our listeners, just starting the conversation? I really love how it comes up over and over again, review your spending. Spend less than you’re earning. Pretty much every show has had some aspect of that in it. Are there any other really great tips for our listeners?
Aditi: Yeah. This is a very relationship advice tip, but one of the best things that we’ve learned is that knowing your money personality is actually incredibly important to understanding your behaviors with money. So we created a quiz, it’s like 20 questions. It’s meant to be actually very fun but at the end it tells you hey, you are this kind of money personality. What you get from that is an ability to sit down with your partner and be like, oh I’m this personality and you’re that personality and this is how our money languages intersect.
Aditi: So couples spend a lot of time on therapy and love languages and trying to figure each other out but one of the things that you should do is think about those things from a money point of view. So I would really encourage you to figure out that personality. Then the other thing that I think is incredibly powerful is ask your significant other about their first memory or their early memories with money. You will learn so much about your partner because their money history dictates so much of their money behavior today. It’s actually uncanny. Freud was spot on. I’m a psych major with a business major so my two worlds have so happily collided in this business.
Mindy: That is awesome. Yeah, no. We just did DISC assessment at work and it was unbelievably spot on. Like everybody was going around saying, “This is how I am, this is how I am.” I’m like, yep, yep, yep. I don’t know how they got the answers with the questions they asked but everybody was so spot on. That is really important. Find out your money personality. I love that.
Mindy: Aditi Shekar, thank you so much for coming back today and sharing these money couples tips. This is going to be huge. I really appreciate your time.
Aditi: I’ve had so much fun. You guys are a ton of fun. You’re also really good at this.
Mindy: Scott’s really good. I just sit here and look good.
Aditi: Scott asked me the hard questions. I want to have six more hours of conversation with these guys.
Scott: This is a lot of fun. There was a lot of really good, tough questions and you are obviously an expert on this and have put a lot of time, energy and thought and have dealt with a lot of it in personal experience.
Aditi: Yeah. That’s true. You could probably steal my identity at the end of our conversation at this point because you’ve learned so much about the ins and outs. You could answer all my security questions for sure, Scott.
Mindy: Wait, what was your social security number again? Oh wait, do you have one?
Aditi: Yes. So I’m an American citizen now. Gone through the whole immigrant process, which was one of those things that I’m going to spend my F you money on.
Mindy: Okay. Well, Aditi Shekar from askzeta.com. Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun.
Aditi: You guys, I had a blast.
Mindy: And the show notes for today’s episode can be found at biggerpockets.com/moneyshow825 because it’s 82 and a half. Okay, thank you and we’ll talk to you soon.
Aditi: Sounds good.
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