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043: Couples and Money with Elle Martinez

Elle-Martinez from Couple Money PodcastElle Martinez is the creator and award-winning blogger of Couple Money, a personal finance site and podcast dedicated to helping spouses build their marriage and wealth together.

Every week Elle interviews financial experts and real-life couples who’ve achieved big financial goals together like paying down six figures of debt, starting a business together, and retiring early.

Through the podcast, she finds patterns and habits that have helped couples be successful.

So let’s dig in. Let’s meet today’s Master of Money…

Listen to the Episode with Elle Martinez

I hope you enjoyed that. A big thank you to Elle for giving us the gold today.

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The What and The Why

It might sound totally counter-intuitive, but Elle thinks that one of the biggest contributors to her success so far is the ability to step back and review the “why” of what she’s doing. She was at a point in her life where she wanted to be able to do everything and her finances reflected that. She had a little saved for retirement but she still wanted to be able to travel like everyone else and that got her into some debt.

When she really stepped back and asked herself, “What do I want to do and why do I want to do it?”, it made all the difference. And that is her ultimate goal with Couple Money: to help couples have those conversations about what is important to them and why.

Getting Engaged and Getting Advice

When Elle and her now husband got engaged, it was a wake-up call. They asked family members and friends who had been happily married for years what advice they had and they all said the same thing: Make sure you get your finances in order.

That’s what they did. They thought it would be easier than it was, mostly because they were on completely different ends of the spectrum. Elle, being more of a spender, had credit card debt, a car loan, and student loans. Her fiance’, on the other hand, only had one student loan that he was planning to pay off at the end of the grace period and he also had some cash savings.

That was the start for them. Having those conversations really helped them start to figure out what their goals were. Obviously, they didn’t have everything solved, (and they still don’t!), but having things out in the open gave them the push to create a plan they could agree on.

Creating Some Breathing Room

Getting engaged was definitely key to Elle taking control of her finances. Her grandmother was a saver, her mom was a hard worker, and her uncle was really generous, so she already had those bits and pieces. Her mom never sat her down to have a talk about finances but she did show her the family budget. She filled in the gaps with what she saw friends doing, which wasn’t always healthy.

Once they got married and combined incomes, they decided to keep all their essentials under one income. Elle was working an internship at the time and she wasn’t sure how long it would last. They decided to keep the essentials under one income in order to give themselves options and some breathing room.

Filling In More of the Gaps

It took them about a year to get into a regular rhythm of having those financial conversations. They knew that having debt was a chunk out of their paychecks. Elle had paid off her credit card debt before they got married. She read the book “Debt Free by 30: Advice for the Young, Broke, and Upwardly Mobile” by Jason Anthony and Karl Cluck. It was all about cutting down expenses and it really motivated her. Other resources like, “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” and “Get Rich Slowly” were also out at the time and helped fill in more of the gaps.

They were just a young, broke, married couple who were in debt. They wanted to get a house one day but knew they couldn’t take on that amount of debt.

The Dave Ramsey Bug

One of the important things for Elle and her husband, as well as a lot of other couples, was finding a path that they could both be happy with. Elle got bit by the “Dave Ramsey bug” and wanted to pay off the debt as soon as they possibly could while her husband wanted them to be able to still save and enjoy themselves occasionally. It was a difference in personality styles. Elle was great at setting specific short-term goals and her husband was a natural saver. While
there were definitely some arguments, they just kept talking until they could figure out a plan that worked for both of them.

The Bigger Resource: Time

Together, Elle and her husband paid off about $35,000 debt and she had paid off $2,000 before they got married.

As Elle has written about personal finance and her personal journey, she has realized that there’s a temptation to get excited about writing down these big numbers that you’re paying off and how quickly you’re doing it but that causes you to lose sight of the bigger resource: time. She has a 5 and 2-year-old right now and she realizes the importance of cutting back on the time spent making money so that she can invest in the lives of her children.

Automating Their Finances

A tremendous step that helped Elle and her husband was automating their finances. They started off using Mint and Google Docs. They keep each other updated through notes on the documents. It was a big eye-opener because they could immediately see exactly where their money was going. As busy people, just following through was their biggest struggle. Setting up automated bill pay and transfers was a huge weight off their shoulders.

Meticulous Car Buyers

Paying off her car loan is one thing that has always stuck out to Elle. When they paid off her Jetta it was a huge relief but it didn’t even really hit them until the following month when they had that extra car payment money just sitting in their account. They felt rich. That was enough for them to say that they never wanted to deal with a car loan again.

They started buying their cars with cash. It was such a different feeling. When Elle was in college and was buying her car, she was more interested in the color and features. Using cash made them incredibly meticulous in their car buying. They had to be convinced that it was a good buy.

Using Cash As Leverage

As far as buying used cars, Elle recommends getting subscription Consumer Reports or checking books out of your local library to do your research. Make sure you take time beforehand to know some specific makes and models that you know would be a good fit for your family. Get the car inspected by a mechanic. Do as much upfront work as you possibly can. When you have the cash, you also have the leverage. Use that leverage to get the best deal possible.

Focusing on Character Over Financial Independence

One of Elle’s long-term goals is financial independence. When you start simplifying your life, automating, and making sure that the important things are taken care of, it’s much easier to move in the direction of living off of your investments.

A lot of the conversations that she and her husband have now are more about traveling with their two little girls. They could move faster with financial independence and possibly retire earlier but they feel as if they’re in a good spot financially and have learned to be content. Right now, they’re focusing on opportunities to build quality time with their kids and growing character in themselves and their kids.

You have to decide what is most important to you. For some, it might be that financialindependence. But for Elle, it’s focusing on her kids and creating memories with them.

The Monthly Money Date

A really great tool for Elle and her husband is a monthly “money date.” That might sound intimidating and completely terrible to some people but it’s hugely helpful. It’s an opportunity to pull out the spreadsheets and look at the numbers but also to talk about what the long-term goals and dreams are.

Some people do one of these dates once a week. Elle recommends at least once a month. That way if you had a bad month, it’s a very stress-free way to talk about fixing everything the next month. If you treat it like a regular date, where you’re having fun, it makes money feel less scary.

Jump Starting Your Marriage and Money

Elle’s book “Jump Start Your Marriage and Your Money” is a 4-week guide to help couples get on the same page with their finances, decide what their goals are, and then set up a money system that allows them to work towards those goals. She shares stories from couples who have reached their goals as encouragement.

The Long-Term Benefits of Conversation

Elle is grateful that she had that very awkward and uncomfortable conversation with her then-fiance about money. She thinks that their marriage would be very different if they had not talked about it beforehand. It was an opportunity to step up to the plate and really become a team.

It’s a process, and growing together takes those conversations and the work of figuring it out. Elle is thankful that they took the time to find a common ground, as it has only benefited their marriage in the long run.

Show Notes

Time Stamp:

  • 01:31 – How wanting to be like everyone else can create debt
  • 02:50 – Getting engaged created conversations about finance
  • 05:30 – Not knowing how long a job would last was beneficial
  • 07:15 – Being competitive helped pay off a credit card
  • 09:52 – Compromising on paying off the debt
  • 12:25 – Cutting back on making money to make memories
  • 13:57 – How Google docs helps Elle and her husband keep each other updated
  • 17:51 – Looking at the big picture to find the best long-term solution
  • 22:28 – Having a car loan will make you meticulous about car buying
  • 24:40 – Checking books out of the library to help you buy a car
  • 26:35 – Choosing to travel over financial independence
  • 35:25 – Having a fun date makes money less scary
  • 38:20 – A book for couples to help them with finances
  • 39:22 – How awkward conversations with your fiance can lead to a happy marriage

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This show is part of the FinCon Podcast Network and was produced by Steve Stewart.

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