How We Manage Our Finances

As Adam and I began looking for our first home a few weeks ago, the topic of finances was at the forefront of our conversations. Throughout this entire process, it’s made me appreciate how we manage our finances and how it’s helped us achieve our financial goals, like buying a condo in the city of Chicago. It has truly taken a lot of dedicated planning, discipline, and sacrificing.

Wallet, cup of coffee and a keyboard sit on a desktop.

The topic of money and finances is still very much taboo and I’m very aware and conscious about that in writing this post. Personal finances is just that…it’s personal. Despite that though, I do think it can be advantageous to talk about to a certain degree, without having to delve too far into specifics. I think you can learn from family and friends how they save and spend their money and see how it can be applicable to your own finances. I personally have appreciated getting tips from my father over the years. He instilled so much knowledge in me about managing money as I grew up that I’m now so conscientious of how I spend and save my money.

At the end of the day though, everyone is going to manage their finances in their own way. There really is no one-size-fits-all solution for it. It comes down to having discussions and working through trial and error to find a balance of what works best for you or your family. Adam and I have certainly found the balance that works best for us. I’m going to share with you the things that have worked for us as we’ve grown in our relationship and marriage to ensure we’re always on the same page with our finances.

Kelly & Adam hand in hand on Chicago's lakefront.

We’re Honest

From the beginning, Adam and I have been honest about our income, our debts, and our saving habits. I think that’s what made us more confident to trust each other in the first few months of our relationship. I never wanted there to be secrets between us, especially when it came to our finances. While we’ve never really had a direct view into each other’s spending habits (like say, credit card bill statements), we still do have a good idea of how we spend our money and what we spend it on. We trust each other in the fact that we know the other won’t spend more than we can afford.

We Plan & Have Financial Goals

As Adam and I began thinking about marriage a few years ago, we decided it would be best to open up a joint savings account. We figured this was a good way to pool our money and save for our dream wedding. We did this before we were even engaged, which some financial experts would probably frown upon. However, because we had been so honest with each other, we knew we could trust each other with our money even if our relationship went south (but phew, we made it!). After getting married last year, we decided to then look at our joint savings as a down payment fund for our first home. We had a conversation of how much we wanted to save each month and have been able to keep each other accountable.

In being honest about our finances when we first start dating, I had told Adam that I had quite a lot of student debt I needed to pay off. We had a conversation about it and talked about whether it was best for me to pay off just the monthly payment and still contribute to our savings or make additional contributions to get my student loan balance to zero faster. Because I had a financial goal to be debt free, we decided on the latter. During that time, I stopped contributing to our savings and focused on paying off my student debt. In doing so, I was able to pay off my debt six years early.

Adam and I have always made it a point to have emergency savings in our own personal savings accounts too. You can never predict when you’ll need to fork over a lump sum of money (whether it’s with your taxes or a car or house repair), so we’ve tried to be prepare ourselves for that. In now owning a condo, that emergency fund is critical as being a homeowner will bring about a number of financial uncertainties.

We do have some fun financial goals too! Adam and I love to travel (don’t forget to check out our New Zealand itinerary and Bahamas recap), but we have to save to go to the places we want to visit. Typically, we’ll research the city or country we want to visit first and estimate how much it will cost us with airfare, accommodation, meals and entertainment. From there, we’re able to determine if we can afford it or if we’ll have to wait another year or so. Traveling and seeing new places is definitely more important to us than material items though, so we’ve made saving a priority so we really can travel more.

We Agree on Accounts & Credit Cards

When we got married last year, nothing about our finances really changed. What we had established was already working for us, so we decided to continue how we always had been. We kept our joint savings account, but all of our other accounts and credit cards are still separate. I personally have liked that Adam can’t see every little thing I spend my money on and vice versa – keeps a little mystery, you know what I mean!?

If you’re able to afford a yearly fee, we recommend checking out credit cards like the Chase Sapphire card where you pay a yearly fee for the opportunity to earn points on things such as airfare and accommodations. This has allowed us to pay for our airfare to many of our travel destinations, which has significantly cut down on our overall travel costs. If you’re going to use credit cards, you might as well be smart about it and take advantage of the benefits!

One other smart thing we do with our credit cards each month is pay down the balance. We want those babies at zero, no matter how high they get. We ensure we don’t spend more than we can afford. Yes, credit card can have very high limits, but we have pretty much set our own limits on how far we want our credit card bills to go. If and when we hit limit, we really try not to spend anymore on them that month. This leaves us credit card debt free, which does wonders for our credit scores and overall financial picture.

We Keep Track 

Speaking of credit, we monitor our credit scores annually using annualcreditreport.com and then monthly on creditsesame.com. It has almost become an entertaining competition between us on who can get the highest credit score. Having some fun with your finances makes it a little less serious, but also helps give you that extra push to reach your financial goals.

In monitoring our credit, we also monitor our income and savings each month. I created a Google document for us years ago where we input our income, as well as how much we put into our joint savings in every given month. Having over a year’s worth of this information allowed us to confidently make a decision on how much we could afford for our first condo. It’s also just been an overall great thing for us to keep track of so we can stay mindful of how much we’re saving.

We also track our spending habits with Mint, which is a great tool to help you stay accountable and discover how you are spending your money. I’ve been using it for years and it’s been so helpful to be able to connect it with my accounts and set budgets and goals for myself.

We Invest

Being still fairly young in age and in our careers, Adam and I have the opportunity to be a bit more risky with our finances. Because of this, we’ve chosen to invest in various ways (more towards stocks than bonds at this point) to save for the future. Salesforce offers 401K match and an employee stock purchase program for its employees, both of which I take full advantage of.

If your company offers anything similar, definitely look into it and take advantage! I didn’t look into our employee stock program right away because I didn’t understand it. In speaking with coworkers and doing more research, I realized how much I was missing! Especially starting out in your career, finances can be intimidating and confusing. I encourage you though to ask questions, reach out to professionals, and figure out how you can take advantage of investments! If your company doesn’t offer benefits like Salesforce, look into other ways to invest. There are so many options out there from Roth IRAs to mutual funds.

We Seek Out Professionals

I always have done my own taxes (or my dad has…), but this year, Adam and I decided it was best to reach out to an accountant. With having stock options or a Roth IRA for example, your taxes can be a bit more confusing to complete on your own and it’s best to get the help of a professional. It’s an added cost, but you can be confident in knowing they are filing it correctly. They’ll also be able to find more workarounds than you would likely be able to on your own. I wasn’t keen on spending the extra money, but it was nice to just hand over my paperwork and not have to worry about anything.

Adam and I have also taken advantage of meeting with financial advisors over the last year. Because I didn’t fully understand my 401K portfolio, I had a financial advisor review and help me make qualified decisions. We also consulted that same financial advisor as we began the home buying process. We wanted to get a professional opinion about buying to weigh the pros and cons. She was able to provide us with a loan amortization document so we could track exactly the principle and interest we’d be paying on a home over the course of the loan. Just getting that was invaluable and it ultimately helped us to decide that buying in the city was a good decision for us financially. If your portfolio is extensive and you’re looking for professional guidance, I personally think it’s beneficial to speak with a financial advisor.

We Donate

I like to think I have a big heart and caring for causes and charities has always been a passion of mine. Not only do I donate my time each week to volunteer (I’ll talk about this in a future post), I also enjoy donating my money. Giving money for institutions and charities such as Misericordia, PAWS Chicago, Susan G Komen for the Cure, and Alzheimer’s Association have been near and dear to my heart so I try to donate to them every chance I can. It’s been amazing too because as we’ve gotten older, more and more of Adam’s and my friends have also been finding charities that they are passionate about. They will donate their time to be on the boards, they will run marathons, or they will hold events for those causes, which has been so admirable to witness. I have also loved donating to their causes to show my support. Even better? Donating to charities is tax deductible!

Kelly and Adam stand looking at each other near the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, IL

Adam and I have really been able to establish a financial rhythm that works best for us. Do you have any tips or advice on how you manage your finances? Leave them in the comments! If you have any questions, please feel free to shoot me a note at kelly@thelipstickandink.com.

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