Why You Should Talk Money With Your Spouse if You Run a Business

For our Smart Couples Series, we recently profiled a couple who save over 50% of their income!

This week, we talk to Lucy and Max, a married couple who are completely aligned in their approach to money – yet keep their finances separate. In the last few years, Lucy quit her job at a Fortune 100 company to start a jewelry e-commerce business, they got married and also bought a home.

Find out how they manage money – it may surprise you!

When One Person Makes the Decision to Start their Own Business


Couple: Lucy (31) & Max (35)
 New York
Occupations: Lucy – runs jewelry e-commerce business; Max – software engineer

When you got married, did you merge your money?

Both: Hahaha, we did nothing!
Max: We literally did nothing.

So tell us how your money is organized.

Lucy: We each have our separate savings accounts, separate 401K accounts. But it’s visible to the other person. We do have sit-downs where we spreadsheet everything and it’s transparent, but we never bothered to officially merge everything. It’s probably more out of laziness. But it also comes back to trust.

How often do you talk about money?

L: Money comes up when we have conversations about my business. Even though he’s technically not an employee of my business, he basically is because I see him all the time and depending on how the business does I feel better when I’m totally transparent with him on how everything is going. As a result, we do have these sit-downs where I’m like, “Things are going well or things are going like shit right now, and these are the numbers and these are the implications.”

We keep a spreadsheet that we manually update that has a snapshot of our finances. Periodically we look at our spreadsheet and we look at the basics of where everything is at. That’s when we’ll talk about if we should redistribute the money in our accounts and how much to put away each month. Those are about once every 3 months. It helps to bring up issues that don’t surface in day-to-day conversations.

How do you split living expenses?

M: I pay the mortgage every month, and she pays for cable, Netflix, cats, groceries.

L: At one point, it did bother me. I said “I feel like you’ve been paying more.” And you said, “Even though we have separate accounts, it’s still our joint money. So even if it’s coming out of my wallet, we’re paying for it together.” It probably still does bother me a little bit. But the biggest change in me has been seeing it as “us” and not just “you.”

What made you feel like your money was joint and not separate?

M: It was probably buying the apartment and her quitting her job, so her income was different – probably a combination of those two things.

L: When one person makes the decision to start their own business, the other person is automatically part of the business even if they don’t work on it. It impacts your joint finances, how you make financial decisions and lifestyle decisions. Going down this path has made us talk more about finances than in the past. Now I feel like we’re more on the same page. Before, there was never any conflict and we were just doing our own thing, but now it’s like “I’m in this. You’re in this. You’re helping me because you’re supporting me.” It’s a little bit of a bonding experience from a marriage perspective, to go into business.

Looking back, at what point in your relationship did you open up to each other about money?

M: It didn’t really come up until we had to do taxes after we got married.

L: But you can learn a lot about a person from watching how they spend their money. I could tell that he was financially responsible. I contrast that with a previous boyfriend. We also never explicitly talked about money, but from watching his behavior, I was uncomfortable. Like, he would order lots of food at a restaurant and then let it go to waste. I never asked him his credit score, but I could tell that this person used money in a way that was different from me.

But it’s not just about money. It’s also about a value system. If a young couple is looking ahead, that’s one of the signs to look out for. Does the other person do things that make you uncomfortable when it comes to money? It’s the small things. Enough examples of that come up that you can tell if the other person thinks like you when it comes to money and what they value spending money on.

Do you have differences in how you like to spend money?

L: We’re very similar in that approach. In that sense, we realized early on in our relationship that we’re very compatible – what we think is worth spending money on and what’s not. We’ve never fought about money because we value it in similar ways.

M: We have friends who when they travel they need to fly business class. That stuff has never interested us.

L: I don’t remember the last time we took a cab unless we’re going to the airport. We could take a cab and spend $30 dollars and be home in 30 minutes, or we could take an hour and spend $5 dollars and take the subway. We usually choose the subway. It’s not something that came up explicitly. We’re happy to spend money to eat and drink, but we’re not just going to just jump in a cab to save 20 minutes of our time.

You recently bought a place. How did you approach that decision?

M: We saw how much we would pay to rent an apartment for the next year.

L: We were watching all this money we were pouring down the toilet. We were like, “This is ridiculous. We need to move. We either need to buy a place or move somewhere with cheaper rent.”

M: We decided to look at buying because we could pay less every month than we were paying in rent.

Why is only Max on the mortgage?

L: It had been six months since I quit my other job to work on jewelry full time so I didn’t have an established history of how much my business makes every year.

M: If you’re self-employed you need at least two years of documents to even be considered for a mortgage. Our mortgage broker said you can afford this on your own so it’s easier if she’s not on it because it would be a lot of work to include her.

How did it feel to not have Lucy on the mortgage?

L: I’m more comfortable now than I was at first. At first, I remember our agent looked at me like “Well, that was a nice present he just gave you.” I was like, “I feel like such a blood sucker right now.”

What advice would you give to a couple who’s working out their finances?

L: If something bothers you, talk it out. If I think about how much our life has changed over the past few years – me quitting a stable, paying job, doing something that I didn’t know if it would work – being in the middle of it now with its ups and downs, it has a lot of implications on the finance side.

Any time I feet ill at ease about my role and how much I’m contributing, talking to him makes our marriage stronger. I’m willing to make myself vulnerable and say “This is how I feel,” and him listening to me and getting his perspective and jointly getting to a financial place where we feel good about it…it’s not just helped our marriage but it has also helped my business.

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