How to achieve financial goals with your spouse

How to achieve financial goals with your spouse

Shannon and Marcin have different approaches to managing money. Here’s the plan


Shannon Jarrett and Marcin Duran are the original odd couple when it comes to reconciling their very different approaches to money management. Despite sharing a home and domestic life together (including two kids) in Hamilton, Ont., they’re by and large living separate financial lives. “We don’t share any banks accounts but we share expenses,” says Shannon. Marcin pays the mortgage and makes all insurance and car payments, while Shannon pays for everything else to run the household. But that’s where the agreements end—and the problems begin. Whether the financial issue is big or small, Shannon and Marcin are often at loggerheads. They need to find some common ground and get their goals aligned.

For Shannon, saving is her largest concern and she wants to see them growing more income inside their RRSPs and TFSAs. “I’ve always put away $200 a month but I can’t get Marcin to do the same,” she says. “He feels I’m just trying to control him.” Marcin, though, thinks their main priority should be debt repayment—in particular, the $169,000 mortgage that remains on their home. “I’m at the computer checking how our mortgage payments are being applied to the principal while she’s busy trying to add money to her RRSP, and all the while we have $26,000 in debt,” says Marcin.

More minor squabbles over money typically involve spending. Shannon prefers living frugally and is big on budgeting, while Marcin enjoys spending a bit more liberally—especially on his car. “It kills me to spend even a penny more when I don’t have to,” Shannon says. “Every month I’m trying to play catch up so our savings have to come from cutting expenses.”

Shannon would even be happy if they could ditch some of their bad habits. While she’d like both of them to quit smoking, it’s Marcin’s Tim Horton’s habit that really irks her. “Marcin drinks six triple-triple coffees every day and needs to cut back. That’s $84 a week. Times that by 52 weeks and you get $4,368. That’s money we could be spending to pay down the debt.”

The action plan

Shannon and Marcin are young and have a lot going for them, “including a spouse who takes an interest in the family’s finances,” says Rona Birenbaum, a certified financial planner in Toronto. “But their biggest problem is a lack of communication. Shannon feels like she is rowing this ship on her own and this gets in the way of making progress.”

Step 1: Track money together

Birenbaum wants to see Marcin, who hasn’t done any budgeting, complete a cash flow module with Shannon. “They both need to know their total household income as well as how to allocate it effectively—something they can easily do if they work as a team.”

Step 2: Focus on shared goals

While it may seem like the couple don’t agree on anything, they actually do. “They just chose to build their assets in different ways,” says Birenbaum. “Both paying down the mortgage and boosting RRSP savings work towards the common goal of building net worth.” Through compromise, the couple can build a financial plan they can stick to. They should explore this in a neutral setting.

Step 3: Cash in bad habits

If Marcin and Shannon commit to smoking cessation strategies (and if Marcin can dial back his Tim Horton’s intake to twice daily), the couple will be healthier physically and financially. “They could use the extra money to establish a $125 monthly contribution to a family Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP),” says Birenbaum.

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