Love & Money is a new MarketWatch series looking at how issues surrounding money impact our relationships with significant others, friends and family.
Eric Roberge may be a financial planner, but when it comes to his family’s finances, he and his wife Kali Roberge make sure everything is decided 50/50. That does not, however, mean it comes without its challenges. Eric is founder of Beyond Your Hammock, a financial planning helping professionals in their 30s and 40s. Kali is a chief content officer at the same company.
The Boston-based couple often talk about money and will soon do so in a new podcast they’re creating. Kali doesn’t subscribe to the notion of leaving all of the financial decisions to her husband, even if he does do this for a living, and Eric uses his own experiences with money and marriage to help his clients with theirs.
The two says it’s easy to talk and manage money with one another because they have the same mind set around it: They don’t get emotional about money. They don’t let money signify who they are or what their worth. When they make mistakes, they own up to them and move on. Money is a tool, they said, and they work it to their advantage.
‘We have our own business accounts, but no separate personal banking accounts.’
Kali and Eric kept an open conversation about money since they started dating, talking about their assets and debts. They kept their finances separate while dating and when living together, but merged finances in October 2017 after getting engaged that past July.
They didn’t split their financial responsibilities, like rent, equally, instead choosing how much to contribute based on their incomes. Kali made more than Eric in the beginning of their relationship, and that was never an issue between the two.
MarketWatch spoke to the couple about managing their finances:
MarketWatch: What’s it like working together? Do problems ever arise?
Eric: It works out great. But we do have friction. She thinks about things differently. She has to explore all of the details. I might just get the general idea and just go.
Kali: We tried to avoid problems. We live together, but we tend to work in separate spaces. Often, he’ll go into the office and I’ll often work from home. That definitely helps because it’s hard to be on top of each other 24/7. We’re working on very different things, which helps the business as a whole. I’m focused on operations and marketing, and he’s focused on clients and investments. If we get into a tift, we both need to walk away from it for a minute. We can come back with much cooler heads. It’s usually because of a miscommunication.
MarketWatch: What has been your biggest financial hurdle?
Eric: When we were initially talking about our long-term savings goals, I was pretty confident that we were doing enough to achieve our goals. But she wasn’t there yet. I was trying to explain as a financial planner and the unknown future of our financial life. Probabilities say we’re going to be good, and she wanted to know we’re going to be good. It was all about finding that number.
Kali: I moved from the suburbs of Atlanta, it was so tempting to spend on everything. Real-estate was far more expensive in Boston. It took a little while to adjust to. I don’t know if I ever got used to it. It still shocks me.
MarketWatch: Do you know what the other person has saved?
Eric: I input everything into our software and it’s aggregated, so I know exactly how much we have saved.
Kali: All of our savings are jointly held, except for our retirement accounts. I know our net worth, but I don’t know exactly how much money is in his retirement account or my own retirement account. I can tell you how much I contribute every month. We have an FSA and we both max it out. I have a Sep IRA and we both have Roth IRAs as well. I don’t have a 401(k), but he just opened one this year.
‘When we were initially talking about our long-term savings goals, I was pretty confident that we were doing enough to achieve our goals. But she wasn’t there yet.’
MarketWatch: How did you adjust after you merged your finances?
Eric: She budgeted the next month based on the previous month. We both had budgeting systems that worked but it wasn’t the same one. After a few months, it went smoothly.
Kali: And you projected what you expected to make and budgeted off of that. So when we combined everything, that was the biggest challenge. Getting on the same budgeting system. We have different roles in managing it. When we spend I will put it in my spreadsheet and track every last cent, where Eric will look over credit-card statements and make sure everything lines up, and he oversees the investment side of it. It made it more efficient really.
MarketWatch: Do you still have any separate accounts, and do you ever discuss personal goals outside of the relationship?
Eric: We have our own business accounts, but no separate personal banking accounts. We chose to merge all of our personal accounts into one checking and one savings. Other people have one [business account] and then keep personal accounts, or their paycheck goes to a personal account and then some money goes into a joint account. We thought that was too complicated.
Kali: We spend freely. I think that’s rare, but it works and is a structured system. We’re always in agreement about how we can use money, and how we can get what we want. If I want to go buy something that’s just for me, I do it because Eric is the same way. We have the same spending habits.
‘When we have an off-day or made a bad decision, the first step is acknowledging it happened.’
We have a monthly money meeting to check in and see how everything is going, but we talk about our budget every day. In the way I set up the spreadsheet, I have a formula in the budget if we have X amount to spend. We make decisions together based off how much we can spend in that month and what upcoming weeks look like. Food is the weakness.
MarketWatch: Are there ever any weak points? How do you work together if you made a mistake?
Kali: For me it was always being afraid we weren’t saving enough, but at the same time not experiencing enough. But when we have an off-day or made a bad decision, the first step is acknowledging it happened. And if it didn’t work, what can we do differently? Eric [always says] there’s nothing you can do about the past. Getting caught up and focusing on the past is not useful, and the only thing you can do right now is make a better decision and move forward.
MarketWatch: Kali, there have been surveys that show some women leave the financial decisions to their husbands. What do you think about that?
Kali: My initial reaction was that’s ridiculous. It shouldn’t just be one person, man or woman, making the decision. I know in my own family, my mom rules the roost and makes all the decisions with the finances. If you can’t do it yourself, that’s a big value of a financial planner — you have an objective third-party help guide you through this conversation. You could get someone to help you. You’re going to need money to fund anything in your life. I think there’s a way to talk about finances as a team or as a partnership without losing your individuality.
MarketWatch: And you’re married to a financial adviser. How do you navigate that?
Kali: He always takes what I say and what I think very seriously. He never says he knows more than me even though objectively in some cases he does.
MarketWatch: Eric, how has your experience as an adviser influenced financial planning in your marriage?
Eric: It’s not easy to have these conversations. Everyone comes from different environments and experiences with money, whether good or bad, and you can’t expect them to line up when you’re dealing forces as a couple. So even though we run a smooth financial operation here in the Roberge household, it doesn’t come without challenges.
MarketWatch: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
Kali: My strength is my ability to look at money as a tool and not put emotion into it. This is something I can leverage. I can take responsibility for good and bad decisions I’ve made in finances without getting super emotional about it. One of my weaknesses is when something in my life feels out of my control I tend to want to get more “spendy.” I can control it. I’m aware of it.
Eric: Self-control is a big part of it because I don’t make major money decisions without checking in with my financial situation. So many people make decisions out of emotions. Every big money decision is planned first. I really pay attention to every detail of our financial situation.
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