There are so many of us who want to achieve financial security for our families, but our greatest barrier is finding common ground with our spouse. Whether you’re complete opposites or just have some small differences, it can be frustrating to navigate finances in a marriage. In fact, one of the number one issues couples fight about is money!
You and your spouse rarely agree on financial decisions. What now?
Maybe you’ve heard something like this before, “All you have to do is get your spouse on the same page as you!” It’s so simple!
For some of us, that might never happen! We may love our spouse and be fully committed to them but never see eye-to-eye with them about financial decisions.
What then? How do we achieve financial security or simply just make progress when we don’t agree about how to tackle major financial decisions, or even have the same goals?
Meet Nikki Klock
I wanted to interview Nikki because she knows exactly what it feels like to be in that situation. Nikki describes her and her husband as naturally opposite in nearly everything, including finances! Despite that, they have navigated nearly 20 years of marriage, both operate successful businesses, and are doing very well financially. Best of all, they have learned to find fulfillment together on their unique path.
For full disclosure, Nikki is my older sister. But honestly, she’s more like a best friend and a mentor. I could not do life without her and her wisdom, and we talk on a weekly basis. She is intelligent, well spoken, successful, humble, and as you’ll see, she knows this topic very well and has an incredibly inspiring story.
Nikki owns and operates Vancouver Family Magazine in southwest Washington state and her husband, JR, operates a very successful auto dent repair business. They have no debt (aside from a modest mortgage), budget regularly, own a beautiful home, and are working on investing for retirement. Though they still don’t agree about many major items and goals, they have learned how to compromise and put their marriage above their opinions and habits. These days they rarely fight about money, though it’s taken them years to get to this place.
We hope this interview provides hope and solidarity to individuals who feel that there is no way they will ever be able to work through their finances with their spouse.
Let’s dive in!
Interview with Nikki
Merilee: Hey Nikki! Thanks so much for being willing to talk to me about this. I think so many spouses are worried right now about how they’re going to be successful with their money, and they’re going to be inspired by your story.
Nikki: Hi Merilee! I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences because I know a lot of couples have similar challenges but are afraid to talk about it. I want other couples to know they aren’t alone and they can eventually be successful even if they are currently having conflict often with their spouse over finances.
The Early Years
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
As you mentioned, my husband and I have been married for 19 years, and we have two amazing daughters, age 16 and 13. I have been the editor and co-owner of a regional monthly family magazine for 13 years, along with my business partner, Julie. Over the years I have also been involved in a lot of volunteer work through our church and our kids’ schools. I love to read and be outdoors, especially running and hiking. My husband is also self-employed and is the primary breadwinner. As a family, we love to go camping and take bike rides together. We live in Vancouver, Washington.
Would you consider you and your spouse compatible on financial goals and style?
I adore my husband, but the truth is we are not naturally compatible in anything! We definitely didn’t enter the marriage with similar approaches to money. We regularly argued about even tiny expenditures and decisions for years. I’d say it was our biggest source of contention.
Describe your different approaches to finances for the first few years of your marriage?
JR and I got married very quickly after meeting, so we got to know each other within the context of living together and blending our lives, which was really hard. We’d had completely different upbringings and we had different expectations. And because I was still in college and he was working an entry level job, we didn’t really know what our financial future would look like. Thankfully, we always had enough money to pay rent, keep the lights on and buy food, but the stress of building the foundation for a family was fertile ground for conflict! We bickered when we shopped together, and criticized each other’s choices when we shopped separately. We had very different opinions about what was worth spending our money on. Of course, this was exacerbated when we had our children and my earning power was diminished in favor of staying home to raise our daughters. The pressure on him to provide for a family was tough.
What were some of the main challenges that you dealt with during your early years as a family?
Even though I’m a huge extrovert and very social, in a way I felt very isolated for the first few years of my marriage because it seemed like everyone else could have basic, normal conversations with their spouse, especially about anything involving money (which turns out to be almost everything), while my husband and I would often end up in a huge argument with tears and hurt feelings. It was pretty grueling at times. We loved each other, but we struggled to communicate and understand each other.
What were some of your major differences about money?
JR is very frugal and purposeful in his spending, and when he does make a purchase, he prefers to buy tangible things that he can enjoy again and again. He takes his time researching the best made products and best deals to get the best value out of his hard-earned money. I’m much more impulsive than he is, but I’m not really a “stuff” person. I would much prefer a family vacation to the latest flat-screen TV. And I hate shopping, so I tend to quickly scan my buying choices and make a decision. My husband hates money being wasted, I hate my time being wasted. Neither of us is too bothered with the reverse! It’s easy for a lot of misunderstanding and resentment to build up with these foundational differences.
Despite your disagreements about money, were you able to find any common ground?
As hard as the day-to-day was for our first several years of marriage, from the very beginning we did keep track of every dollar we spent. Before apps and spreadsheets, we kept it all on a little sticky-note for each month. And in general, we were very frugal. We had one car for the first two years of our marriage, lived in very humble apartments, and bought the cheapest food at the grocery store. We even donated blood plasma for some extra cash! All of these efforts gave us the freedom to go out to dinner or see a movie or take a road trip when we wanted because our main expenses were kept very low. We have always lived on much less than we earn–even when our total take-home salary for a family of 4 was less than $45,000 per year!
We’ve also always been on the same page about debt. We’ve only held auto loans for maybe 4 years cumulatively in our 19 years together, and other than those brief periods, and a few hundred dollars in student loans when we first got married, our only other debt has been our mortgage. We even purchased both of our businesses with cash.
The Turning Point
When did you start noticing a difference in the way things were going with your finances?
In 2009, we hit rock bottom. Less than two years after our little family of four built and moved into a brand new house, JR lost his job and ended up unemployed for a year and a half due to some medical procedures that prohibited him from immediately re-entering the workforce. It was a really difficult (and sometimes downright horrible) time that I hope we never have to relive, but I think there was something really valuable about facing the fear of financial failure and learning that we had support and emergency funds (and years of frugal living practice) that got us through, and, moving forward, we could change our assumptions and approach to building our future. In fact, that layoff led him to start exploring new career choices. We took a chance on a new entrepreneurial path, his current business in auto dent repair, which has been very successful. Living through it, and finding success afterwards, eventually took the edge off the fear that drove a lot of our previous conflict, and also the annoyance and anger we had toward each other about spending differences.
Can you give us a specific example of how you might work out a money related conflict?
One specific tactic that really helped us eliminate a lot of bickering and hard feelings was to set an amount of “personal” money each month we could each spend on whatever we wanted without answering to, or receiving criticism from, each other. I wish we would have implemented that years before we did because as soon as we agreed on that, our arguing over little purchases was hugely reduced!
What kind of financial compromises have you had to make?
My natural defensive response in my younger years of marriage was to try to negotiate everything and find an angle–sort of like scorekeeping. If he bought something, I’d want to be able to buy something too, to even the score and get what was “in it for me.” I’ve learned that while that might make mathematical sense, it just set us up to be opponents. I’ve found that if I rejoice with him in his purchases and financial goals, even when I disagree, he’s more likely to do the same for me. We’re not perfect at it, but we’ve made lots of progress and these days our marriage feels much more like a partnership than a rivalry. To give an example of something on a larger scale, I have foregone some of my investing preferences in favor of a different strategy we were able to settle on, even though it wasn’t my first choice. So there have definitely been both large and small compromises we have arrived at over the years.
Where They Are Now
How far have you come from where you were in the beginning?
In recent years I can actually say that, though we still approach money matters from vastly different perspectives, we can now discuss financial matters in a reasonable and even enjoyable way, rather than getting heated, offended, annoyed, critical and insulting. And beyond that, we’ve actually come to agree with each other on some things, and join forces for some long-term financial goals.
Because JR and I both grew up in families where money was very tight, and neither of us has college education above an associate’s degree, our financial situation right now is better than anything either of us ever expected to be in as adults.
What’s your secret?
We are definitely not a power couple, we are not “soul mates” or even naturally compatible. Marriage is hard, and other than the undeniable “spark” we felt on our very first date (and still have for each other), we’ve had to work for every good thing in our relationship. But we love each other fiercely, we laugh a lot, we enjoy each other’s company (most of the time), we are deeply committed to our marriage and to our kids, and we have built a truly beautiful life that we’re both proud of.
My husband is known (and lovingly teased by family and friends) for his frugality with money, and to be frank, his coupon clipping and price negotiating has annoyed and embarrassed me many times over the years, but I credit him for the financial security we now enjoy. Some of our success has been due to luck and the privilege of having supportive family and friends. But it was our early years of living like we were poor and funneling extra funds into savings that got us through tough times and allowed us to pay cash for both of our businesses when the opportunities arose.
What advice would you give to people who are still in those early stages where they are stuck, lost, hopeless, or worried about their future because they are still experiencing conflict with their spouse about money?
Every marriage is different, and every couple will navigate a unique financial path, but I believe the best thing we have done for our finances is to put our marriage above the money. Our family is better off emotionally and financially because we have put in the work to try to understand each other, forgo some of our personal goals and embrace each other’s perspectives. It’s an ongoing journey, and it has been totally worth it. We own both of our businesses outright, with no debt other than our mortgage. We make more money that we ever expected we would, doing jobs that we both love and bring a lot of fulfillment and personal growth. Practicing discipline with money in our early years, and working to adapt to each other’s priorities and habits over time is now paying off big time.
What The Future Holds
What financial goal are you currently working on and how were you able to come to an agreement on that goal?
We are currently aggressively paying down the mortgage on our house. Just like everything else, we initially disagreed about whether or not to start paying extra principal each month, and then how much principal. I was ready to do it much sooner than he was, but he takes time to think things through and I have had to be patient and allow him that. I did some calculations and presented him with the amount I thought we could afford and our approximate mortgage payoff date if we paid that extra principal each month. Then I waited. In some cases, these situations create a stalemate and things don’t move forward because we disagree. But I’ve made a conscious choice to put my marriage above my personal financial goals, so I try not to push it. In this case, he warmed up to it and we have been paying extra principal for about a year, with current plans to pay off our mortgage in about half the time it would take if we simply made minimum payments. Perhaps the greatest success in this case is that the other day he started pitching some additional mortgage payoff strategies to me!
I have to say, I relate to this so much! My husband Derek and I are so different on our approaches to money (and everything else!) and it’s so good to know we aren’t alone. We can still be successful even if we aren’t perfectly aligned all the time, and we are doing our best to make that happen.
Huge thank you to Nikki for sharing her personal story with us today! It is so inspiring. If you want to see more of Nikki’s writing and professional work, you can find her at www.vancouverfamilymagazine.com. You can also follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
Are you still trying to get aligned with your spouse on your financial goals? What was the most insightful thing you learned from this interview with Nikki? Please leave a comment and let us know!