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A Married Couple Gets Real About Paying Off One Partner’s Debt, Running A Business, & More

One of the best things about working for TFD is building deeper connections with the greater personal finance community. There are so many great individuals out there, with so many different stories we can learn from. I was so glad to have the chance to sit down and talk with Tai and Talaat McNeely of His & Her Money. Tai and Talaat have been dedicating their lives to help couples get better with money — because let’s face it, open communication doesn’t come naturally to many of us, and when it comes to money, that can be detrimental to a relationship. In addition to creating a blog, YouTube channel, podcast, Facebook group, and several books and ebooks, the McNeelys also personally coach couples to help them get their finances under control. Whether you’re married, dating, or not currently in a couple (or ever planning to be), these two have a lot of hard-earned wisdom to share. I asked them about their own money story, getting out of debt, what it’s like to work together while raising a family, and so much more — here’s what they had to say.

Tell me a bit about your backstory — how did His & Her Money come to be?

Tai: He had debt and a bad credit score, and I had no debt and a great score. We merged the two when we got married and were somehow able to work out the entire situation…we were able to become debt-free after our first year of marriage. People noticed that, they started asking questions, and we would meet with them.

Talaat: Our book is called Money Talks: The Ultimate Couple’s Guide to Communicating about Money. Money is emotional, and it’s not easy to talk about, whether you’re an individual that’s engaged or dating or married, it’s just tough to talk about it. Sometimes people don’t know the conversations to have, and so we took time and we wrote a book to outline the different conversations about money that couples should have and how to have them, and at the end of each chapter we give talking points, so it leaves you with no excuse — this is the topic you need to be talking about right now, and this is how to talk about it, these are some questions you can ask to pull the answers out that you all need to get to a common ground.

Tai: In addition to consulting/coaching services, we have a YouTube channel, we have a podcast, we put the information out there depending on how the person likes to learn. Some people love audio and some like the visual, so we offer it all.

What are people most scared to confront in their relationships when it comes to money?

Talaat: People are scared to confront their current reality. A lot of people think that their situation isn’t as bad as it actually is, and they prefer to not know what it actually is because they’ve kind of gotten comfortable with where they are. They know they’re in debt, they know their spending habits aren’t all that, but they’ve gotten to a place in their mind where they’re kind of okay with it. But they know that if they take the time to really dig into the numbers, it’ll take them to a reality that they don’t want to face.

What was the most helpful thing in getting debt-free in a year?

Tai: We adopted this principle of the Two-Income Trap, by Elizabeth Warren. We learned not to fall into that trap, which is both of us working, both of us bringing in income, let’s buy a home, let’s purchase a vehicle, let’s do everything off our two incomes. No — let’s live off of one income, and use the other one to either save money, build wealth, or get out of debt. So that’s what we did. Plus, we made a lot of compromises and a lot of changes. We had to say no a lot. We were newlyweds, but we were eating at home, and a lot of times we didn’t go out, but we didn’t find our lives boring, you know? It was what we wanted to do because we knew the ultimate end goal was to become debt-free.

Talaat: I think the hardest part was compromise/communication. We’re not a unique couple in this sense — I’m a natural spender, she’s a natural saver. A lot of times, that’s the couple makeup…We had to find a lot of middle ground on a lot of issues. And we also had to figure out how to communicate our feelings instead of just being like, whatever you say is fine. That’s not healthy. You need to express why you think differently, and use that conversation to find some type of middle ground. That’s a process — it’s not an overnight thing. But as long as you are both committed to the process and you both have an understanding that you’re trying to get to a certain destination with your finances, that helps the process go a little more smoothly. But it is a challenge, there’s no way to sugarcoat that. Marriage and relationships are a challenge, and the only way to have a healthy, strong one is to go through that process.

Talaat: We’ve had couples who both feel that “this is where we are financially,” and they’re both terribly wrong. And we break out the numbers. Or we’ll have couples where one is causing havoc on the finances, and the other one has gotten to the point where they’ve just shut down and they’re not saying anything anymore. They tried early on to bring certain things to light, and now they’re just in shut down mode, and their finances are going awry…Any amount of debt can be overcome, and we’ve had couples that have come to us with varying amounts of debt, some six figures some five figures, but usually the biggest obstacle is the relational hurdle.

Tai: We’ve also dealt with financial infidelity. We dealt with that ourselves prior to getting married where one spouse had debt and the other spouse didn’t know anything about it. That I would say would be really touchy.

Talaat: Again, one spouse not having all the information. Not even knowing how much your spouse makes. Not even knowing what your monthly deposit looks like, not even knowing what your monthly bills look like, because one spouse is handling everything, and the other spouse has nothing to do with it. He or she is just going through life going through the motions, because oh, my husband or wife is taking care of it. And that is totally unhealthy.

Do you have a system in place for how you deal with your finances or any problems that come up?

Tai: Some urgent situations cause us to have that conversation right now, and then some of them maybe not. We also recommend to couples to pick a day out of the week where they can talk, or even a time out of the month — maybe every 15th or 1st — where they sit down and discuss, okay, how are we handling our finances? Do we like what we’re doing? Are there any issues that came up? We use that time to actually be transparent and be honest and with no judgment.

How early on in a relationship do you think people should start talking seriously about money?

Talaat: I think it’s got to be incremental. So when you’re first starting out dating, you don’t come to the table asking “so what’s your credit score? I’ve got a 825, how about you?” What you want to do in the first, early stages is be observant. Does he or she always pull out their credit card? Have you never seen them operate in cash? That’s something to consider — they might have a tendency to accumulate debt.

Tai: Or do they always have a new outfit on. That was something I noticed when we were dating. I mean, man! He would always have a fresh new shirt on or new gym shoes and I’m like, wow, either he’s making a lot of money or he’s spending a lot.

Talaat: and then as you go, as you progress, and you start to see that the relationship is getting more serious, then the talks need to get more serious…We’re big fans of unity, and especially in finances, because all the research says that one of the biggest reasons that people’s marriages fall apart is money. So we think it’s totally unhealthy to have an area that’s under the most amount of attack when it comes to marriage to be separate, because you leave room for division. For us personally, when we got married, I had all the debt and she had zero. But when we got married, it wasn’t my debt, it was our debt — we both worked at it together to end up winning. So we’re big fans of coming together and unifying your finances in order to get to a better place.

You have kids of your own now — how are you teaching them about money?

Tai: We have three kids (7, 6, and 4). It’s age-appropriate of course, but one of the biggest life lessons we’re teaching our children is through action. They see mommy and daddy having the conversations, they see us not spending our money frivolously, they see us sitting down budgeting. We don’t try to hide that from them. The seven-year-old, of course, we’ve started talking to him about it more…he even knows that he can’t just walk into a store and say “mom i want this” he’ll say, in January, “mom I want to put this on my Christmas list.” And the 4-year-old, she has a piggy bank and we save money that way. But they all three have a bank account. So when they receive money for Christmas, or birthdays, we’re taking them to the bank and putting that money into their account. We’re showing them spend, save, and give. Giving is big for our family. So we teach our children let’s not only receive, but let’s be a blessing to others.

Talaat: And no matter what age your kids are, one of the biggest financial lessons you can teach them is gratitude. So we always teach them, especially when we see them going the consumerist way of “I want that, I want that,” we teach them that you’ve gotta be grateful — there are people who have nothing. One time we were on our way to a restaurant (we live in Chicago), and there were some homeless people…I always look for moments to teach them gratitude, because if they’re able to learn gratitude and being grateful for what they have, that feeds all the other financial principles that you’ll teach them later on.

What’s your favorite part of working together as a couple?

Tai: It’s just being together. One of my love languages is quality time. I just like being with him, and working together. I love that. It’s so rewarding to me.

Talaat: for me it’s just the fact that I get to build a legacy with my wife. The fact that we are impacting people’s worlds as a couple, the fact that people’s individual households are being changed as a result of all the lessons we learned in our household, all the obstacles that we’ve had to overcome and the lessons that we’ve been through are now giving people a blueprint to a more fulfilling, joyous life, and taking some of the stress out of their finances because of the stress that we had to go through. So the fact that we’re able to do this as husband and wife and create a legacy beyond just the Mcneely name, you can’t put a dollar amount on that.

What would you say to someone who has been married or in a relationship for a long time, who has gotten themselves into financial trouble and doesn’t know what to say to their partner?

Talaat: If they don’t know what to say to their partner —

Tai: — find somebody who does know what to say. Yeah. That’s what I would suggest. We’ve had so many people email us and say, you know what, my husband wouldn’t listen to me, but I turned on one of your videos, and he was able to receive it better, and now he’s on the same page as me with our finances. So sometimes I think we tune our spouses out — we do, it’s a voice that we hear all the time. And sometimes, I don’t want to hear it! But find someone who does. We also say don’t be pushy — lead by example. We’ve interviewed a couple where the husband wasn’t on board, and the wife just started doing what she had to do. And the husband saw her taking her lunch to work, saw her making changes, and thought, I’m not going to let her outdo me — and then he joined her!

Talaat: Be the change that you want to see sometimes. If talking isn’t working, then let your actions start speaking louder.

Tai: Money is no different from exercising. Almost like a muscle. If you don’t work it out, you’re going to eventually lose that muscle — all that hard work is going to go down the drain. So I would say [working with money] teaches us to continue to to exercise that muscle. We’re constantly inspired.

Talaat: We also decided to be lifelong learners. It has nothing to do with our platform, it’s just who we are as people. Like we want to continue to get better…You don’t have to work in finance, but you have to be committed to getting better. If you’re committed to getting better, you’re going to be just fine.

Talaat: Your situation isn’t hopeless, although you may feel like that. You may feel like you’ve done all you can do, but the truth is you can make it. There were plenty of times when we didn’t know if we could make it, we didn’t know if we would get out of the season we were in, but we did, because the truth of the matter is that your finances could be in a mess today, but there’s always hope and ways to overcome and move forward. Not that it will happen overnight. The point is, don’t try to focus on getting things perfect. Try to make progress, to be better today than you were yesterday. Try to budget better next month than you did this month. Always be willing to at least take a look at the progress you’re making, don’t just have a vision of the destination you’re trying to get to, but pay attention to the journey that you’re on. Take in the scenery as you’re getting to your ultimate destination.

Image via Unsplash

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