• Emlen Miles-Mattingly

Effective Money Conversations With Your Spouse

Did you miss the audio version of this blog? Don't sweat it; I've got it right here for you:

I recently sat down with my wife, Maricela Miles-Mattingly, on a very special day. It was the day that marked two years since we started Gen Next Wealth in Madera, California.

She’s been by my side since the very beginning, supporting my dream of having our own financial planning and investment firm.

The focus of today’s blog is how we talk about money as a couple, and how you can have effective money conversations with your spouse, too.

The way you have been raised influences your (money) story.

There are families who are open about how they handle money. However, for others, talking about it is taboo. We thought we would share how our backgrounds have influenced us. How we brought our background stories together so that we are able to have effective money conversations with each other.

Are you ready to strengthen your finances with effective money conversations with your spouse?

Maricella’s Background

Maricella’s parents emigrated from Mexico when she was eight months old. She was raised in La Grand, California in a two-bedroom house. That is, her parents, Mari, and four siblings shared one bathroom.

Mari can tell you what it’s like for seven people to share one shower. It’s a great incentive to get a fast start on the day (or was it that she liked the extra time to get ready?). Whichever it was, she made sure she was among the first to shower before the warm water ran out!

She eventually went to junior college, then transferred to Fresno State.

During this time, she started working as a teller at CitiBank. She received her bachelor’s degree in Business Finance and worked up to Branch Manager with Citi.

She’s been in that position for the last five years.

The Importance of Education

What did your parents put their focus on?

Mari explained that her parents didn’t talk about money, but they did emphasize the importance of education. She said her father understood that if his children were educated, they could teach him things that he didn’t understand.

Her parents didn’t speak English, and worked long, hard hours in farm labor to support the family.

While they didn’t talk about money in their household, early on Mari learned the important role it played in daily life.

She tells the story of going to buy groceries with food stamps, saying, “We understood to bring a calculator because we only have X amount of food stamps, we have to buy these groceries. We needed to make sure that we don't overspend.”

There were no effective money conversations about savings or using credit. It was, “These are our bills, this is what we have to pay.”

It was really about survival.

The Unbanked

As Mari was growing up and taking summer jobs, she would go to cash her checks at the liquor store. She thinks her parents may have done the same.

She didn’t get a checking account until she was 19 or 20 years old.

Now, she’s come full circle. As a bank manager who was formerly unbanked, she can recognize people who come in and need bank services. She is someone who can have effective money conversations because of her experiences.

How does she talk to a person in an unbanked situation?

Mari responded, “I think for me, it was that I want to help them even more. I see them, and I think of my mom and my dad. I think of myself, right?”

For Mari, it’s about education.

She shows them packages, how to waive fees, and explains the $12 charge. She enjoys seeing the lightbulb go off when they balk at paying the $12 per month, then they realize they were paying that much per week cashing checks at the liquor store!

Then she’ll explain working up their balance, direct deposit, and show them how to utilize online banking.

Mari finds satisfaction in helping people and making a positive impact on their lives. What if her parents had had someone who took the time to have effective money conversations with them?

The difference would have trickled down. Her parents would have had the tools to teach their children.

The Miles-Mattingly Household

Do you have effective money conversations at your house?

We have them in our household--or rather we have money dates!

Although we haven’t designated a certain time, it usually happens on Sunday. We’ll go through our spending (not in any systematic way).

She likes her spreadsheets. I like questions answered:

  • How much money is coming in?

  • How much is going out?

What type of beliefs do we have?

  • We should have everything together

  • We should never make a financial mistake

  • We shouldn’t be tempted to buy more stuff

Here’s the thing. Just like anyone else, sometimes we spend more than we plan. Sometimes we don't save enough. However, we always talk and have effective money conversations.

What does real talk between a financial advisor and a bank manager look like?

We talk about money every day!

Why is it a daily topic of discussion?

While you might think it’s because of our professions, it’s really because effective money conversations are important to our relationship. It’s important for yours, too.

What is our relationship money rule?

We have a $250 spending limit. That’s if we need to spend more than $250, we’ll check in with each other.

Why $250?

Mari and I agree it’s about boundaries and limits. That the amount we chose allows us to have some flexibility to make our own decisions.

Let’s look at how we have effective money conversations around budgeting.


Who handles your budget?

Mari handles ours. She starts with the “must” pay list. That might be the car, cable, cell phone, or mortgage. The bills that have to be paid every month.

Then there are the “other” bills. We look at these to see if we can save more. Is there anywhere we can pay down debt?

Then we look at what we have to save.

A simple Excel spreadsheet helps Maricella organize the bills. It’s a way to see when things are due and where everything stands. It mitigates surprises. We’ve tried other methods (Mint, Tiller), but this way works for us. The takeaway is that it doesn't matter what you use as long as you're using something.

I’m a cash flow guy. I like to know how much money is coming in. We’ll know how much our bills are for the month. The next step is to make sure that we have X amount of money in that account (to take care of all of those bills).

The bills are set to be paid automatically.

We just recently started talking about creating a separate checking account for our debit card purchases, that way our purchases don’t conflict with the automated bills that are being paid out of the other account.

It’s really about finding what works for you and your family. Having effective money conversations is the first step in creating a financial plan that meets your needs.

Tell us about some of the effective money conversations you’ve had with your spouse.

Leave a comment below!

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