Judi and Christopher Chesley have done something very romantic and not just for Valentine’s Day.
The New Hampshire couple, married for 29 years, have created rules of financial engagement.
They participated in the 21-day financial fast I created and took to heart Day 10: Marrying Your Money. So now, posted on their refrigerator is a list of 10 rules to help them manage their money together.
A number of surveys commissioned by financial companies leading up to Valentine’s Day aim to emphasize the need for couples to talk more about money. The results show that most people want mates who are fiscally responsible. Even so, many aren’t doing what it takes to prevent rifts that start over financial disagreements.
In one sponsored by Citi, 69 percent of participants said they avoid talking about money. Although an overwhelming majority of couples said they generally consult each other before spending more than a certain amount — about $653 on average — 56 percent said they had made a major purchase without discussing it first.
The Chesleys say they too had their share of disagreements over purchases that were not planned or discussed.
“We didn’t have any rules on spending,” Judi said. “It was pretty much, if I see it, I get it. The only thing we did was make sure purchases didn’t make the checking account bounce.”
Now the couple follows rules to stay on the same financial page. They took the first few from my book “The 21 Day Financial Fast,” came up with their own dollar amounts and then created several more rules to guide them in their spending. Here’s what is posted on their refrigerator:
Rule No. 1: Agree that neither of you can make a purchase above $75 without first consulting the other.
Rule No. 2: Agree that there will be no secret bank accounts, no earnings that are not disclosed, no undisclosed loans and no secret credit cards. (In the Citi survey, 24 percent of people in a relationship said that they have an account they don’t reveal to their significant other. Another quarter of the survey respondents said they would never share certain financial information such as their account balances or how much they spend every month.)
Rule No. 3: It should take two “Yeses” for any major financial decision. That means if one of you disagrees with a purchase or an investment, it won’t happen.
Rule No. 4: Join all your finances together.
Rule No. 5: Budget will be strictly adhered to, except in cases of emergency.
Rule No. 6: Budget will be reviewed at the end of each month.
Rule No. 7: If personal money ($75 each per month) has been spent, it is spent. There will be no arguing, pouting, name-calling or fighting.
Rule No. 8: Personal money does not have to be spent in that month and may be carried over. There is no borrowing against future months.
Rule No. 9: A car fund will be established and money — no less than $50 — placed into it every pay period, to be reviewed after three months.
Rule No. 10: $400 ($200 each) in “mad money” will be allotted out of bonuses, with the rest going to either long-term needs or savings.
Christopher says the rules have brought civility into their financial talks. “Having them written down really helps. Before the rules, we both had a sense of entitlement. I didn’t think anything of spending $100 on what I thought I needed.”
Judi agrees: “The rules make our spending more visible. We don’t have to defend our choices anymore because everything is much more in the open.”
For some couples, the idea of establishing an allowance may seem a childlike way to bring order in the marriage, but the Chesleys say it’s brought financial freedom. It allows them to have money to spend any way they want, no questions asked or justification needed.
“The important thing is to have money under my control,” Christopher said.
So I asked what they had agreed to spend for Valentine’s Day. Judi answered by telling a story. She said her husband didn’t have much money when they first started dating, but he cooked for a living. So for their first Valentine’s Day, he bought a couple of steaks, made a great macaroni-and-cheese side dish and “took me to dinner in my kitchen. He’s done it every year since. He’s so precious.”
“So do I get a bigger allowance, dear?”
“No,” she said, laughing.
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