ELLE (Canada) - - Front Page - BY ROSE­MARY COUNTER

be­fore I got mar­ried, I ea­gerly said “yes” a lot: to dates, shack­ing up and wear­ing a ring. But I said “no”—firmly and flatly—to a joint bank ac­count. (Too in­ti­mate.) For five long co­hab­it­ing years, the what’s-mine-is-mine ap­proach to love and money brought fa­mil­iar com­fort. But now that we’re all in, the stakes are up. And I want a new closet. He’d pre­fer a 4K TV. I sug­gest we save for a cot­tage in­stead. So who wins? And, more im­por­tantly, who pays?

Just like that, my new hus­band and I are right in line with the 41 per­cent of young Cana­dian cou­ples who, in 2013, told ac­count­ing firm MNP that fi­nan­cial stress af­fects their re­la­tion­ship. The same year, a BMO sur­vey found that while 98 per­cent of mar­ried cou­ples know it’s im­por­tant to be on the same fi­nan­cial page, less than half of en­gaged cou­ples dis­cuss how they plan to han­dle money once they’re mar­ried. (We were in the smarter half, al­beit just barely, split­ting ex­penses down the middle with a loose if-it-ain’t-broke strat­egy for the fu­ture. Whether it’s fair, how­ever, has been an on­go­ing de­bate.)

Toronto fi­nan­cial plan­ner Shan­non Lee Sim­mons sees young cou­ples like us all the time. But un­like your usual suited plan­ner, the red-haired and potty-mouthed Sim­mons feels your eff­ing pain. At 31, she’s the same age as the Mil­len­ni­als she caters to; her fee-only firm, the New School of Fi­nance, which launched in 2011, now of­fers on­line cour­ses like Track That Shiz and Don’t Get Effed at Tax Time. The new­est ad­di­tion to the course menu, Bud­get With Your Boo, launched late last year and has al­ready sold hun­dreds of down­loads. For $78, it’s yours to keep on your desk­top for­ever, and it’s her top-sell­ing per­sonal-fi­nances course. She has even known peo­ple to give it as a wed­ding gift to squab­bling cou­ples.

“Peo­ple are get­ting mar­ried later now, so they’ve got a full decade of fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence with their own set of habits and value judg­ments,” she says. “You’re com­bin­ing two peo­ple from two fi­nan­cial uni­verses.” Merg­ing your worlds—and do­ing so fairly, rather than merely equally— is the goal of Bud­get With Your Boo, a 90-minute on­line video course de­signed to be fun. “I had this vi­sion of a h

cou­ple stay­ing in on a Fri­day night, open­ing a bot­tle of wine and nerd­ing out over their fi­nances,” says Sim­mons. The fic­tional (gen­derneu­tral) cou­ple is Jamie and Bai­ley: One’s a nineto-fiver, while the other’s free­lance; one saves, while the other’s in debt; both want a wed­ding, but only one wants to buy a house. In short, we are all Jamie and Bai­ley.

As for my hus­band and me, we’re drink­ing coffee in­stead of wine (it’s morn­ing), but we’re seek­ing fi­nan­cial equilibrium just the same. Five months post-mat­ri­mony, quib­bling over minu­tiae has bal­looned into spar­ring over big pur­chases. We’re plan­ning for for­ever now, and it’s nei­ther easy nor cheap. But that’s why we’re here, so we snug­gle up in bed and press “play.” First up, the ground rules: “we” lan­guage only, no judg­ments al­lowed and no­body can say “I told you so.”

“Things might get a lit­tle in­tense,” be­gins Sim­mons, the video’s host, in Mod­ule 1, I’ll Show You Mine, If You Show Me Yours. It’s not as sexy as it sounds, but it’s cer­tainly re­veal­ing. We’re in­structed to use a pre-for­mat­ted spread­sheet to de­clare ev­ery­thing: the usual chequing and sav­ings ac­counts, RRSPs, in­vest­ments, pen­sions and any­thing else (“gold coins, seeds, uni­corns,” says our cheeky host).

“Take a deep breath,” she con­tin­ues, be­cause li­a­bil­i­ties are next: mort­gages, stu­dent loans, com­mer­cial debt and money owed to gen­er­ous par­ents. Last is in­come. “Even if you think you know what your part­ner makes, just hang out with me for a se­cond,” says Sim­mons, who’s also a cer­ti­fied life coach, as if she’s right here in bed with us. Once you click the tab, the num­bers crunch, and there you have good news from Mod­ule 1: “We have no more se­crets! All your fi­nan­cial shit is out.”

Al­though I’ve long thought I had this money busi­ness fig­ured out, see­ing my­self in spread­sheet form be­side my boo al­ready makes it look dif­fer­ent. First, he doesn’t pocket as much as I thought (due to some­thing called taxes). Se­cond, my squir­relling-away-money method adds up fast (mak­ing me not nearly as poor as I feel). Our net worths are very close. “I told you so!” he says, break­ing the rules. Since I’m feel­ing good, I let it slide.

Now that we know how much money we’ve got, “how can we do what we wanna do?” asks Sim­mons in the next mod­ule, Pil­low-Talk Plans. “The power of sit­ting down and map­ping your ex­pec­ta­tions is amaz­ing,” she tells me af­ter­wards. “If you’re not aligned, you could blindly walk through life and never no­tice.” In her in-per­son fi­nan­cial-ad­vis­ing prac­tice, Sim­mons has seen many cou­ples learn that one doesn’t want kids; once, some­one even re­vealed a plan to re­lo­cate to Costa Rica.

At this point, we pause the video and pri­vately write down any and all goals for the present (one to three years) and the fu­ture (three to 10 years). Even with my hubs, with whom I chat about most ev­ery­thing, this is a sweaty and nerve-rack­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s hard enough to be vul­ner­a­ble and ex­pose your silly dreams—it’s harder still to align on the first try. Some­how, we do! Just kid­ding. We don’t, of course.

“You want a baby and more va­ca­tions?” he says with a laugh. I don’t even align with my­self. But there are over­laps: Turns out we both want that closet ren­o­va­tion, the cot­tage and even the baby (a few years apart, but close enough). For th­ese goals, we set joint long-term sav­ings plans. For ev­ery­thing else, we’ll use per­sonal sav­ings, which we both have. Sim­mons’ sug­gested model is a hy­brid that pools re­sources and re­dis­tributes ex­penses pro­por­tion­ately—in­clud­ing per­sonal spend­ing cash. The sys­tem is ac­tu­ally fairly in­tri­cate—my por­tion of our mort­gage, for ex­am­ple, takes into ac­count things like my sav­ings, not just my in­come—and tries to fairly de­posit cash into four cat­e­gories: fixed joint ex­penses, joint spend­ing money and two per­sonal ac­counts. For us, the big­gest change will be grow­ing mu­tual sav­ings—money that is ours to be spent on us.

All of the above forms the third and fi­nal mod­ule, The Bicker-Free Bud­get. Our monthly in­come is $800 short of our wants, and each thinks it’s the other’s fault for over­spend­ing— mak­ing our ex­pe­ri­ence not en­tirely bicker-free. So we pause the course for a foot­ball break, dur­ing which I fall vic­tim to an on­line pil­low sale.

An hour later, we re­con­vene to cut costs, bounc­ing be­tween mod­ules and read­just­ing. One yearly va­ca­tion will have to be enough, and he’ll take home­made lunches from now on. When we fi­nally break even, it all comes to­gether like a very sat­is­fy­ing jig­saw puz­zle. Pro­vided we stick to the plan—which we in­tend to im­ple­ment at the start of the next month— we’ll know that we’re be­ing fair, no­body’s pinch­ing pen­nies while the other shops wildly, and we each have a stash to spend how­ever we see fit (video games and spa days, re­spec­tively). Stress is down, sav­ings are up and money in­ti­macy feels bet­ter than I ever thought it could. Which is a good thing, since split­ting up isn’t cheap. “Imag­ine a course called ‘Di­vorc­ing Your Boo’?” jokes Sim­mons af­ter I’ve grad­u­ated. “It’s a decade long and costs $10,000.” n

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