Achieving Financial Intimacy: How This Couple Found Chemistry and Are Eliminating $130K in Student Debt Together
Discussing finances with your life partner can easily stir emotions, especially when autonomy is thought to be threatened or when one partner makes significantly more money than the other. Financial conversations require finesse and, of course, respect and understanding. And because emotions surrounding money are often tied to fear and can illicit strong reactions, those important conversations are sometimes avoided.
Despite the challenges that can lead to financial stress in couples, a 2016 Love and Money survey (via TD Bank) of just over 1,900 adults in relationships shows that many couples are doing what it takes to overcome the stress. Sixty-two percent of respondents said that they discuss money with their partners on a weekly basis, and 29% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 talk about finances daily. But while 46% of all respondents indicated that they have not made a “big money mistake,” those who admit to mistakes (24%) say that avoiding the financial conversation is where they slipped up.
If you find it hard to have open and honest communication regarding finances with your partner, you’re not alone. Meet Megan and Mina, two SoFi members and pharmacists, who live in Philadelphia and have been married for three years. Like many couples, they didn’t have much of a financial strategy when they first met. But, in hindsight, it’s now obvious that they took a crawl, walk, run approach to reaching financial intimacy. Here’s a glimpse into their journey.
Megan and Mina
Crawl: Balance Autonomy With Responsibility
Mina and Megan met when they became chemistry lab partners at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. It quickly became clear that ‘chemistry’ was the operative word for both of them.
They first spoke about money when they were dating. “Megan asked me to buy her a Tiffany necklace,” Mina recalls. “She was 21 and didn’t have a job at the time. I thought that was a pretty extravagant thing to ask, so my first response was, ‘Are you freaking crazy?'”
Mina bought the necklace, but admits he made her feel bad at first. “That’s when I knew it was the right time to start talking about financial parameters.”
It wasn’t until after they each graduated in 2010 that they had their first “adult” money conversation, according to Megan.
“We’d just earned our Pharm.D. degrees, and we were getting ready to move to Philly and rent together. So we had to budget and talk about money to feel comfortable with the decision,” she says. “We decided to split everything down the middle, since we both made about the same amount of money and we had similar debt.”
It was a relatively easy conversation, Megan admits. But it became more complicated once they moved and their relationship deepened. Megan had a more emotional approach to money, while Mina was, and still is, in Megan’s words, “methodical and practical.” So they began to work on becoming more like true partners than dependents.
“We found that splitting things evenly didn’t always work, because one of us would want to buy something the other person didn’t want or need. So we had to evaluate how we handled some spending based on one question: Is it a want for one or a need for both of us? Only we determined it was a need for both would we split the cost,” says Megan.
Walk: Learn to Compromise
Mina and Megan married in October 2013, but had purchased their home shortly before that, so their finances became a bit more interlaced and more transparent. They each had separate savings accounts, but no joint spending account. So they opened a credit card account that they used for shared expenses, such as bills and dinners out. Later, they opened a joint checking account for other, smaller expenses.
But along with that transparency came some challenges and compromises, because their spending habits were very different. “I’d buy something and then figure out later how to pay for it,” Megan says. “It’s easy to do when you don’t have a focus on where else to put your money.”
Mina and Megan haven’t perfected the art of talking regularly about money, but they both know that the conversations are necessary, because they need to agree on common goals as a couple.
“When we talk about merging all of our accounts, it’s difficult, because Mina is the one who’s more savvy with the money,” says Megan. “He doesn’t want me to feel like I’m getting an allowance. But I wouldn’t feel like that. I’d think twice about spending the money knowing that it’s ‘ours’ instead of ‘mine.”
Watch: Financial therapist Amanda Clayman helps Mina and Megan tackle the issues discussed in this story:
While Megan knows she has some work to do regarding spending, Mina is focused on lowering their student loan debt as a couple.
Before refinancing, Megan had two student loans— a 15-year $28,000 loan at 10% interest, and a 15-year $49,000 at 6.8% interest. Mina also had six and half years left on his prior $50,000 loan at 6.5% interest. In 2014, Megan refinanced her student loans with SoFi. She now has a 10-year fixed $28,000 loan at 4.78%, and a $49,000 5-year variable loan at 5.125%, which caused her monthly loan payments to be cut in half. Not to mention lowering her term lengths by a combined 15 years!
After seeing how easy the process was for his wife, Mina refinanced his $50,000 debt burden through SoFi, and now has a 5-year variable loan at 3.9%. He now pays $900 per month instead of $800 because he shortened his term by a year and a half. He’ll save about $6,000 in lifetime payments.
“Merging our debt means merging our priorities,” says Mina, “and that makes it a lot easier to reach out future goals.”
Run: Strategize for the Future
Megan and Mina have come a long way from a ‘to each his own’ way of thinking to operating as true team. “Today we know exactly how much money we have, and how much we spend,” says Mina. “We always ask each other if we can really afford an item we want to buy. We’re in this together.”
The couple’s open and honest approach has allowed them to paint a clear picture of their short- and long-term goals. For Megan, the money conversation is now less of “a chore” and more of means to a clear end-plan.
“In the short term, we’re building our emergency fund and saving for a short maternity leave, when the time comes,” says Megan. “My current employer does not offer paid leave.” Longer term goals include the possibility of a business or buying investment properties.
One thing Mina and Megan have always agreed on is saving and investing for retirement.Megan has an IRA, but Mina has a 401(k) he rolled over to an IRA, and does additional investing through E-Trade. He also recently opened an investment account with SoFi to better realize longer-term financial goals.
They’ve also learned to talk more about their financial strategies and expectations, and ways to maintain their financial intimacy. “We tackle some of our financial challenges using pure numbers and trends from websites, like mint.com,” says Megan, “and by setting boundaries that prevent us from feeling overwhelmed or that hold us back.”
Discussing how and when to spend money as a couple means always keeping the lines of communication open, being prepared for what life throws your way, and embracing compromise. There will always be money disagreements in a relationship, but love and respect are the beacons that light the path to reaching a common and stress-free ground. “We have our ups and downs and will always have to make sacrifices,” says Mina, “but we are very much in love, and that’s what really matters.”
Take the first step to achieving financial intimacy with your significant other by having regular, open and honest discussions about money and financial goals. Refinancing student loans can be a smart decision for tackling student loans together like Mina and Megan did, and eliminating your debt faster.