Color of Money Live (July 7)

Jul 07, 2016

Join Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary for an online discussion. This month's Book Club guests are Skip & Beverly Little, authors of "So You Think You Want to Get Married."

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Got a great topic for you today: Love & Money. 

Or more precisely, how you should talk about love and money WAY before you get married.

My guests today are Skip and Beverly Little, authors of the July Color of Money Book Club pick "So You Think You Want to Get Married."

Let's get started.

Do you offer your teaching just to couples or individuals?

Teachings are offered to both couples and individuals.  Please go to our website at

Skip & Bevely,

We know the saying goes "opposites attract" but should you marry your money opposite? Can it work out and if so, how?

Yes, it can work as long as you can accept the differences.

YES!!! I am the saver and my DH is not crazy with spending it but I can make a penny work. He was shocked that I had a couple of thousands in savings after a paid for wedding. He had only a checking account when we got married. Fast forward we are financially fit and looking at retirement. I convinced him to pay off ALL credit card debt every time He wants cash in case something happens. Darling that is called an emergency life happens fund we have it and now pay off the credit card. We need cash in case of job loss. Darling that is why I have been buying savings bonds (yes back in the day) and we got that covered. Folks, family history and experience play a lot into it. I bought savings bonds because my family did it and it worked that the US bonds were out of sight out of mind emergency money for job loss or major disaster. My parents had steady employment so financial planning was possible a little beyond "burial insurance". Together we are making it and celebrating every anniversary.

The love is every so sweet when you and your honey are on the same page financially.

Good for you!

Me, I married my money twin. He cheap. I'm cheap. A cheap man is sexy to me!

So I got a FINE frugal man and about to celebrate in Nov. 25 years of marriage. And still loving it. Mostly because we don't fight about money. Never have. 

Skip & Beverly,

How did you come up with the concept of the class and how is it different from a traditional premarital class? 

Prior to us getting married, we felt that there were not enough resources available to assist us in our marriage decision. The class is different because it is designed for pre-engaged and engaged couples to access who they are as individuals and who they will look like as a couple married.

Ring is too expensive! How people afford it?

When Beyonce sings, "If you liked it then you should've put a ring on it" that doesn't mean you got to go broke putting a ring on it.

Do what you can afford and if your intended isn't happy, that's a red flag! 

Hello Michelle - I'm a devoted reader of your weekly sessions and I find them truly helpful! I bought a historical home in a 'changing' area of Dallas TX for a really great - I renovated the home and refinanced after the renovations were complete. The value of my home tripled. I have $60K in school loans (5% interest rate/compound interest) that I could roll into my home loan and it would only increase my 30 yr mortgage by $100 - but reduce my overall monthly expenses by $1200. Should I do it?

I wouldn't do it. Your monthly payment may only increase by $100 but you'll be paying more interest over time if you don't make extra principal payments. 

And for me, you'll using debt to pay down debt.

Just buckle down and throw as much extra cash at your student loans. 

I was the guy that asked Jonelle if we could "play" while you were gone. Glad it made you smile.

Read the live chat post from Jonelle Marte.

I told you guys. I read all your comments and questions, even the ones that don't get posted. I figure if you took the time to come into my chat, the least I can do it read everything. I don't often have enough time to answer everyone but I want you to know you are being heard!

So when I saw that, I laughed so hard. So, so funny. Thank you for being so loyal.

We bought a house 2 years ago and plan to stay in it at least another 10 years. With mortgage rates falling, how do you decide whether it's worth refinancing? And is it a good time to get away from the adjustable rate mortgages?

My husband are asking those same questions literally right now. Well not literally right now cuz I'm talking to you guys. But we've build a spreadsheet to look at the various offers and see if the time is right. For us we want to lock in at the lower rate since we too will be in our home for a long time. But we also looked at how far along we are in our mortgage. We've been making extra principal payments to get rid of the mortgage before we retire. So we've knocked off a lot of years. Therefore, we wouldn't' get a 30 year fix. That would be reseting the loan and we are well pass that. We are considering a 15-year.

If you have an ARM the Fed has indicated it plans to raise the fed rates. So yes, ARM folks should be considering locking. But look at:

-- How far along are you. If you are close to paying off your loan then it might not make sense. A lot of interest is front loaded into your mortgage

-- Fees. Watch the fees. Some crazy stuff out there.

-- Points.

-- What's your house worth. Right now we don't have PMI. And refuse to put ourselves in a situation to have it. We were never upside down AND we've been paying extra so we won't have to pay PMI or bring money to the table to make the deal work.

-- Don't just focus on the monthly payment. Sure you may have a $100 or 2 or 3 but if you are far along in your mortgage and plan to stay put if your refinance into a 30 year you will end up erasing that savings with higher interest costs. 

Look online for refinance calculators that help with making this decision. 

How much time should couples spend taking about money before they get married?

They should discuss it throughout their entire premarital period which is at least 6 to 12 months. We recommend 6 to 12 months because that provides enough time to observe money habits.

I love your column! My funds are very tight and I am thinking about not to contribute to my 401k TEMPORARILY until I can save $1k. This will take 2.5 months, then I will start to contribute the company match again. By then, I will start paying my credit card bills using the debt snowball. Your thoughts?

I agree with your plan. You need some savings. So as long as you promise to go back to contributing for retirement, stop and save. You may even go for $2,000 to make sure you've got some good cushion. 

Hi Michelle, Thanks for all of your advice. I am about to receive an inheritance and want to make sure that it is put to good use. My wealthy (and brilliant) extended family has used a wealth management firm for decades and they have found it to be worthwhile. The thing is, it is a 1.25% fee for management. While I know that is high and usually not suggested, I am in my late 20s, and if I invest this money well (which the firm would do) it can be really important later on. I am not financially literate enough to direct my own investments, and they would make decisions based on my situation. Do you have any thoughts? And any questions I can ask them to learn more? Thanks.

You might instead hire a fee-only financial planner. You might pay about $1,500 for a solid plan but it's a one-time fee for the person to look over everything and give you a 5 to 10 year plan. That's what I would do. Try Garrett Planning Network. 

You actually don't know that they can afford it! Just because someone has something, doesn't mean they actually have the money to buy it

Very true. 

Which is why if you are going to marry this person you talk, even about the ring. Forget the romance movies where the guy surprises you. That's Hollywood. 

Talk this out. I told my husband to be what kind of ring I wanted. He told me what he could afford. 

Didn't get the ring I wanted BUT got the man I needed.

I wasn't happy when my 10 yr old car needed unexpected repairs, but I was surely glad I had my rainy day fund to cover the cost. And I asked the repair place if they would consider giving me a discount if I paid cash vs using a credit card - and they gave me a discount! Now to start saving again to replenish the rainy day fund.

My first Thursday Testimony.

I love, love, love that you negotiated a cheaper price for cash. And it makes sense. They have to pay a fee when you use your credit. So why shouldn't you get a break if they don't have to pay the fee.

Good for you!

I'm recently married and am looking for suggestions on merging finances as we are now beginning our search into purchasing a home. It's been interesting talking to friends about how they manage finances - a complete merge vs. a mixture of 100% separate finances or a particular combo (ex: one pays for housing costs, the other pays for household costs like groceries etc.). One couple I know of Venmos each other for things like dinner out, which sounds terrible to me. On one hand, I think it'd be more convenient to completely merge since all payments will come out of one pot, but my husband also likes the ability to have his own spending money, etc. An additional wrinkle - he has student loans from law school while I do not. If anyone has recommendations on what works best for them, I'm all ears.

Our recommendation would to be to include all funds in one pot and allocate an allowance to each other based on remaining funds. We also suggest that you read Michelle's book the 21 Day Financial fast so you may develop tighter spending habits.

Merge baby merge. That's my motto for couples. You are supposed to be "one." So be one. And really, if you are married why are you acting like roommates? 

If your spouse has debt that was brought into the marriage, it's your debt now too. Maybe not technically according to credit law but any money he or she need to pay for it impacts the family. So treat all income and expenses like it becomes to both of you and come up with a joint plan to manage it all together.

You are young, with a long investment horizon ahead of you. Here's something to consider: If you take your inheritance and put it all into index funds with dividends reinvested, it will grow at the rate the stock market does, which has averaged about 10% per year since 1900. (Your long time horizon is what makes the historical average relevant; of course it won't be that good every year.) Can your wealth management firm make it 11.25%? If not, they're not worth it.

Like your thoughts!

"Didn't get the ring I wanted BUT got the man I needed." Someone better trademark that phrase quick before we hear it on the radio! :-)


I'm too clever for my own good. And on the fly! :)



What do you do if the husband - a Godly man -- doesn't handle money well? The wife, however, is better at handling finances. The couple currently keeps their finances separate because one spouse has a number of outstanding liabilities, including tax debts.

You have to blend finances and let the wife handle if she has a gift in that area. However, she needs to consult and provide regular reporting to her husband.

When it comes to money fights, what are couples actually fighting about? Can you give some examples of what you've seen? Dish!

People fight about when one person owns a home and another person does not. They also fight about when one person has co-signed on a loan for a family member and that potentially becomes the debt of the new spouse. They also fight about child support payments ... a new spouse going back to school or supporting able bodied parents. 


Seen that and so much more. It's crazy out there with couples. And most of the time they NEVER discussed any of this. CRAZY!

That's why I lOVE the concept the Littles have come up with. They take couples BEFORE they are locked into getting married and make them talk about a lot of stuff. The point is to get to them and maybe break them up before they get married and create a legacy of craziness for future children and family members. 

Doesn't all this money talk take the romance out?

NO it does not. Talk about it before marriage and use the principles from our book. Couples must establish a budget that each party is committed to. Get married and "make it rain" in the bedroom. 

That's what I'm talking about. Ok, this is only for the grown folks and well married folks (I'm old fashioned). But when the money is right, the sex is "dyn0mite!"  

Should we start talking about how we are going to pay bills before we get married. Getting married in three months.

Absolutely! Please check out the chapter in our book So You Think You Want to Get Married that has to do with expectations.

I love this question because it's so innocent and so telling.

In this day and age people expose so much of themselves including their bodies to their intended but then haven't talk about the nitty-gritty details of their financial lives?

Yes, talk about the bills. The debt. The savings. Investing. If you are going to lend money to mama and Peaches and them.

Talk about EVERYTHING in great detail BEFORE you say 'I do." And if you find some major conflict, hold off on getting married until you work it through. And I'm serious. Because divorce is serious and expensive. 

My now husband gave me an amount he was willing to spend. I found ring I liked. Turns out he meant that amount for engagement ring and wedding bands. He paid for the engagement ring. I paid for the wedding bands. Problem solved.

Glad you were able to agree. This practice of financial agreement will be key in your marriage.

After reading your latest column about your children's summer jobs, I have a few questions. 1. Do the children continue to get their allowances while working? How much do they receive? 2. What would you do if a child chose to take an unpaid internship? Most students cannot find paid internships in the non-profit sector.

So love these questions. So much that you gave me a great idea for a column. I'm going to table answering for now so I'll have more time to go through your questions. Look for the answers in next week's column. 

Hi Michelle, My boyfriend is starting a career in financial planning and while I would love to support him, I just don't think I can afford a financial planner at the moment. I recently graduated as well and am not as well of as him and pay all my bills myself and while I've set up myself with a budget and am doing great saving, I am at a loss at to whether 'hand" him my finances... not because I don't think he would be capable, but rather because I just don't feel comfortable with him knowing ALL there is to know about my financial situation. I have a great credit score, pay all my bills on time, save 52% of my net income, ( I haven't been contributing to my 401k but I will as soon as I get these major expenses out of the way this year), but I just feel uneasy. Finances is a sensitive topic.

Follow your gut. Don't do it. Besides he won't be as independent as you should have. And what if you break up? Would you want your ex- to be your financial planner? 

I wouldn't do it. And if he pressures you because he needs the business -- red flag.

Skip & Beverly,

People often balk at sharing their credit reports and scores. What should couples do with the information they find? Should they dump their honey if he or she has too much debt? And if not, how do you counsel them to work through the relationship when one person is a spender and the other is a spendthrift? 

You should see how they responded to correct their credit problems. Everyone will experiences money challenges that will impact their credit. Is their response acceptable to you?

Paid off my student loans this month, 3 years early! Threw all available money at them (2.5x the minimum each month) and feel great that they are done and the only debt we have is our mortgage. We have one car (always buy with cash!) and will now start building up our retirement and 529s for our kids. Love reading all your sound advice each week.

(  )

That's a virtual hug. 

So proud of you.

Thanks for another Thursday Testimony!

Fiance bought a cheap-o ring off Amazon to propose. He didn't know my ring size so he wanted to buy me a ring of my choice after proposing. I said I don't want a ring. When we got married my ring cost $45 - my grandma's simple band had to be resized :-) This is not to say I don't have some ring envy every now and then. I do admire the pretty diamonds I see on other women's fingers.

Such a sweet story.

I have ring envy too sometimes.

But then I look at my FINE FRUGAL man and I'm like, "I got the golden ring!"

Going to a fee only planner *is* a good idea. BUT so can a management company. You have to figure out if THIS one meshes with *your* financial style. And never be afraid to change if you don't think it's working out. At some point, my husband and I took our retirement savings and put it under a financial planner (with similar fees, also check if they charge less the more you have) -- because it was getting too large (good problem to have) and we felt comfortable with this. Partially because we were keeping control of the money outside of retirement which isn't nothing also. At some point, you are correct, you probably don't have the skills to do it all *and* even if you did, unless you have the time to spend watching it then you can't always do the best thing. We have been happy to have someone oversee our money while the market has been crazy. And we are two people with vast financial backgrounds.

Thanks for the perspective.

As you are dating,what are some other things that you should be looking for to see if you and the other person are financially compatible? Like if he or she has a savings account or if she or he uses a checkbook or if he or she prefer to use cash or debit or credit cards? What are some ways to see if you and your potential are financially compatible?

The things you mentioned are good however, we would suggest that you both read Michelle's book, The 21 Day Financial Fast.

When dating look for the following:

-- If you're a saver and the person is a spending how does that make you feel. Does it bother you so much that it might keep you up at night? I could not have married a spendthrift. It would have driven me crazy. But that's me. Maybe you could handle it. But you've got to know your own financial spirit

-- Look for similar financial values. My husband and I tithe. I couldn't married someone who didn't believe in that. We both believe in helping family members who have fallen on hard times. In fact, we set aside money -- actually save for it -- to help. Now we don't enable folks but we do give when people are experiencing financial challenges. But if you believed in that, you wouldn't marry a miser.

-- Look at how you both handle debt. I love that my husband hates debt -- maybe not as much as me -- but similar. 

-- Are you a Escort type of persona and other significant other an Escalade? I don't really care what type of car I drive and neither does my husband. So we keep our cars for YEARS. But if I married someone who wanted to get a new car every four or five year and with a LOAN, I would go nuts!

See what I mean. Don't look at what the person makes or if they have a saving and checking out. Look at their values, their financial character. Then see if you can handle the differences. If you can't move on. 

Any suggestions on how to actually go about combining finances after our marriage? We are going to merge everything, but don't know where or how to start. We will have duplicate bank accounts (same bank), many more credit cards than we need, etc. Is this something we do one at a time? All at once? Do we enlist the help of a financial planner?

Our recommendation is to start putting each other's names on all accounts and establishing a household budget with the goal of reducing all debt as quickly as possible. Please refer to Michelle's financial resources for additional information. 

At what point in a new relationship should you have the credit/debt discussion? I'm not sure I'd get past the dating stage if I were to find out my potential partner had money management issues. And, I wouldn't want to fall in love with a person and later have to reconsider a possible future together.

We would suggest having the discussion regarding finances within the first three months of serious dating. 

I think you talk about how they handle debt/credit. No need for great details at the beginning of the relationship. 

So you are right. Look at their money management and if that person is careless financially, you should walk away if you aren't willing to hand hold or the person isn't willing to change and that's important to you. 

Look, I'm not saying folks with debt or money management issues can't make good spouses. But the point is would he or she be a good spouse for YOU!

Hi Michelle! Love, love, LOVE your chats. My BFF has an absolutely gorgeous engagement ring and wedding ring. Truly, a work of art. I love it, but I don't covet it. My own band sits in my jewelry box for the past 14 years because the stone is loose. When it first became loose we could not afford to have it repaired. Now the kids are grown, and our savings has, as well. My dear husband wants me to have it repaired and a larger stone included, but I just don't want to. Too much money for something not really important. Ladies, enjoy the sparkle, but don't covet it. My Mom taught me that.

You are so sweet. May I suggest you get the ring fixed. I do believe couples should wear their rings. Just a wonderful sign and keeps the dogs away or most of them.

Further, I get you. As I said didn't get the ring I wanted and my husband often offers to have me upgrade it. To which I say, "I'm not upgrading you, so no, I don't need to upgrade my ring."

Every guy I meet asks for monetary help at some point (way too soon). I'm a single mom of two. Is this just par for the course nowadays if you are doing well?

Whether it's the "in" thing or not. So not appropriate. Wish some new dating guy would have asked me for money. 

He would be kicked the to curb quick!

Hi Michelle! I wanted to thank you for the advice you've given in the past about how to discuss purchases with your spouse and setting ground rules. We have never had a problem in the past, but recently my spouse purchased a new (expensive!) piece of furniture while I was out of town. Spouse thought it was okay because they had spent a lot of time researching the quality and price. So now we have a ground rule that we talk about any house-related changes before the decision is made.

This is one of the top rules my husband and I have and that we teach couples. NO major purchases can be made without both of us saying YES!

Newly married here! My husband and I talk openly and often about money, and had originally intended to keep all accounts separate as we both have multiple properties and accounts and it just seemed simpler to keep things as they were. We're now looking at one joint account for food/utilities for where we live together now (and future vacations!) Would you recommend a joint checking and a joint credit card? Or one or the other? Thanks!

Our recommendation is to combine ALL finances with joint checking and credit cards. Our perspective is when things are separate it creates space for secrecy and deception.

One of the main reasons that marriages fall about is fighting about money. If you can't have many open and honest discussions about money and financial values before you get hitched, don't bother marrying.


Not quite sure why people think the diamond has to be big enough to flash signals to overhead aircraft. My daughter actually tried different sizes and wanted under one carat. The soon to be SIL used a diamond from an unused family ring his mother gave him. My ring is about half a carat and just fine thank you very much.

Not mad at people who want big bling. Not for me. But if you can afford it. Sure.

But love your story.

I knew I had found the right man when my (now) husband proposed to me with a note rather than a ring because he didn't want to start our married life with debt. My favorite aunt had a family heirloom ring that she had been planning to leave me (unbeknownst to me at the time), that she pulled out of a safe deposit box and shared upon DH and me sharing our engagement news with her. Free and I get to think of her (now deceased) every day I put my rings on. After 10+ years of happy marriage.

Lovely story.

You guys got anymore ring stories like this?

I would love to pull them all together. 

My boyfriend and I hope to get engaged soon. He and I are both financially responsible (no debt except for his mortgage and my student loans), and we both budget monthly. The only difference is that he is MUCH more particular with his budgets (i.e. I give myself a pot of "general discretionary spending money" for all my "fun money" whereas he parcels out his discretionary funds to particular categories like "clothes budget" and "entertainment/tickets budget"). That totally works for him, but I prefer a little bit more flexibility. I have proposed doing it his way for all shared expenses, but giving each other an "allowance" for personal spending. My question -- do you think it's okay for each spouse to have a (small) pot of money for which neither is accountable to the other? Do you see another way to reconcile our different budgeting styles?

We believe that personal spending should also be itemized as your potential spouse suggests because there may be funds that could be more efficiently handled. Keep in mind you should always live below your means and be prepared for the future.

What a great chat today. Love the stories. Keep them coming. Thanks so much to my guests. 

See you next week.

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Thursday and Sunday and is carried in more than 120 newspapers.

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Skip & Beverly Little
Skip and Beverly Little, authors of "So You Think You Want to Get Married," have assisted thousands of people navigate the road to marriage.

They currently serve as the director and assistant director (respectively) of the Couple’s Ministry at First Baptist Church of Glenarden (FBCG).
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