Does love really conquer all?
Not when it comes to money matters, it doesn’t.
As Get Financially Naked states in its opening pages, when it comes to relationships, financial compatibility is as important as emotional and physical compatibility. In fact, it is one of the greatest predictors of whether your relationship will survive long term.
To drive home the point, the book cites a Money Magazine survey that found that money causes tension in 85 percent of all marriages. This is especially true when one spouse tends to be a spender while the other is a saver.
And so, in their noble quest to lower the national divorce and bankruptcy rates, co-authors Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar put together this guidebook that aims to reduce that tension by teaching you and your significant other how to communicate about money by “getting financially naked,” which the authors use as a catch phrase for getting in touch with your inner financial-self and achieving financial self-acceptance and self-knowledge.
It all sounds kind of Zen-like, doesn’t it?
On several occasions I did find myself fighting off the urge to sit in the lotus position and say an “Om” or two.
The authors’ thesis is that true financial harmony can really only be achieved by couples who are willing to open up about their feelings regarding money. Only then, with that mutual knowledge in hand, can couples work to develop an effective collaborative plan.
Get Financially Naked is a very easy read – I finished it in less than three hours – written in layman’s terms and virtually absent of the distracting numbers and calculations that can make some personal finance books difficult to follow. No complex financial tax planning tips or emerging markets index fund mumbo jumbo here.
The advice is practical and straight forward.
A series of short workbook-style questionnaires and quizzes are sprinkled throughout the book to help draw out your thoughts and help you learn about yourself.
The book uses a three-part process to teach you how to interpret your current financial condition, create and sustain a financial plan, and then move that plan forward using the authors’ “five power steps to financial success.”
The book is loaded with double entendres that also make the book entertaining. It’s hard not to smile when the authors implore us that “it’s time to get naked – together,” or that we should “forget size – what really matters is financial compatibility.” The authors also ask us to engage in “financial foreplay,” tell us when “It’s time to do it with your partner!” and describe those who choose to have separate “yours, mine and ours” banking and investment accounts as doing a “financial three-way.”
Is it getting hot in here?
I’m not ashamed to admit to you that, by the time I was three chapters into Get Financially Naked, I had already taken two cold showers.
What’s Beneath the Cover(s)
Thakar and Kedar, who are both Chartered Financial Analyst charter holders armed with MBAs, divide their book into three separate sections.
The first section entitled “Own Your Finances, Own Your Life” gets you started down the road to understanding your own ideals regarding money and finances. The authors note that before you can achieve financial satisfaction with your mate, you must first understand what makes you happy with respect to money – as a result, they ask us to identify how we would live our life once we reach a position of financial strength.
Because your attitude about money is one of the key driving forces behind your success with money, the authors also guide the reader in uncovering their current financial beliefs. To do this, they ask a series of questions to help the reader define their financial philosophy.
The last part of this section helps the reader begin to cross that dreaded Rubicon and broach the money topic with their partner.
The second section, “Talking Money With Your Honey,” focuses on exactly that. A financial compatibility quiz that you and your spouse take helps reveal where you are compatible and where potential land mines lie.
I had the Honeybee take this quiz and, after comparing her results with mine, it confirmed what we both already knew – we were already highly compatible with respect to how we treat money.
This section also had an informative yet entertaining Q&A called “Are You Dating a Deadbeat?” that is useful for the unmarried set. One potential warning sign: “Does your sweetie have a large but sparsely furnished home?”
“Talking Money with Your Honey” also introduces five power steps to financial success, which are essentially a basic framework to help you make decisions on what are, for most people, the five biggest lifetime expenses: home, car, retirement, kids and extended family obligations. The authors observe if you can plan and spend wisely in those five areas, then “…you’ve just turbocharged your financial future without adding a lot of complexity to your life.” I think the key nuggets of advice they give with respect to those five major expenses is, for the most part, spot on. For example:
For your car and home, ask yourself how much can you really afford.
For retirement, don’t blindly assume you’ll need to set aside 10 percent of your earnings each year. Instead, first figure out what you want out of retirement and then plan accordingly.
When it comes to starting a family, figure out if you are financially prepared. That includes considering your thoughts on whether or not you will be responsible for some or all of your kids’ educational expenses.
The third section is called “Time to Get Tactical” and focuses on the science of saving money as a couple. What should you be saving for and how do you and your mate go about doing it in way that will minimize conflict?
This section is chock full of money rules of thumb and good basic financial advice that the newly-communicating couple can use regarding such topics as why saving is important, the power of compound interest, credit card debt pay-off strategies, the impacts of inflation on money over time, and investing tips.
There is also a chapter on how to sustain your newly developed financial plan. The authors then conclude the book with their own personal money histories that included testimonials from their husbands on how the Get Financially Naked process helped them.
My Q&A with the Author
I recently had the opportunity to interview coauthor Manisha Thakar regarding her book.
Me: For two-income couples, when it comes to deciding whether to implement joint finances, separate finances or going with the financial three-way, do you feel one option in particular is better-suited for higher-income households? How about lower-incomes?
Manisha: My observation is that the deciding factors on how to handle money have to do with (1) your personal beliefs about the role money plays within a marriage and (2) how close you two are on the saver-spender scale. For instance, some people just believe in their heart of hearts that marriage is a merger… of EVERYTHING. If that’s your belief, I’m not going to try and convince you to have separate accounts. Instead, I’d counsel you to make sure you communicate openly and honest and set some wiggle room for you each to have some fun. For instance, in this scenario I’d strongly suggest each person have a dollar amount they can spend each month no questions asked and a dollar amount above which they both agree to consult each other. Other couples view marriage as a melding of souls, but not necessarily of material possessions. In that case I’d suggest considering joint or the financial three-way… and particularly if one spouse has a strong tendency towards saving and another has a strong tendency towards spending. If that’s your base natures, they are not likely going to change dramatically over time so the pragmatic thing to do is to set up your finances in a way that joint goals can be met without you wanting to poke each other in the eye.
Me: Manisha, you stated you prefer a three-way (I’m speaking for your bank accounts and investments – what you and your husband, Randy, do in the privacy of your own home is your own business). Are there any drawbacks to that system? Could you see yourself ever going to the other extreme and merging your finances with Randy?
Manisha: One of the fundamental tenants of Get Financially Naked is that the conversation has to be ongoing. People change during a marriage as life circumstances evolve and thus, yes, I can absolutely see the possibility of a change in how we handle our finances. For instance, I recently left my nice, lucrative job in Corporate America to go out on my own as a personal finance expert for women. I’m in full out start up mode and that has required a change to my spending habits. Thankfully, I have the most amazing husband on the planet and he’s been very open to rethinking how we handle finances while we go through this dramatic career shift on my part. A willingness to constantly reassess as a couple how you handle money is the best way to address the biggest drawback of ANY system – which is that life isn’t constant so your system has to be flexible enough to evolve as your life does.
Me: My only disagreement with your entire book, can be found in Chapter 6. I agree with your statement in Chapter 5 that people must ask themselves how much home they can afford, and how much car they can afford before committing. But then in Chapter 6, when it comes to kids, that tack goes completely out the window. Why? You state “If your budget is already tight but you want to have another child, it will likely be time to think creatively about what kinds of trade offs you can make to achieve your goals. We know of families who (quite literally) have chosen to turn their living rooms into group bedrooms to affordably house their growing flock of kiddies.” You then suggest that it is acceptable to consciously bring children into the world despite having the means to pay for them: “There are no right or wrong answers here.” I find this to be out of character with the rest of the book. Along with our home, I think kids are the biggest expense a family will encounter. I understand that surprises happen. That being said, what is your response to my assertion that a far more financially sound, albeit less politically correct, recommendation would have been to state that people consciously considering expanding their families should not do it until any budget pressures have subsided? (In other words, they need to ask themselves “how many kids can I afford?”)
Manisha: So I’m very torn on this issue. First, let me state that I’m not a parent. I’ve always known I didn’t have the mom gene in me. But I do have several close friends who, for religious reasons, believe to the cores of their souls that they were put on this earth to procreate. Now who the heck am I to tell them their religious beliefs are wrong. A more appropriate response, I think, is to highlight the cost of having children and equip people to make the decision for themselves as to what trade-offs they will have to make in order to support their desired family. In other words, because children – unlike homes and cars – fall into the realm of humanity / spirituality, a subject everyone will have their own feelings about, I think it’s much more practical to pose the question “If I want to have X kids, what does this mean in terms of other trade-offs?” rather than “How many kids can I afford?” From a purely financial standpoint, a strong argument could be made that the latter is the “right” question. But, personally, I don’t think you can reduce human life to a “purely financial” discussion.
First, the bad news. Although the subject matter of Get Financially Naked is for everybody, one thing you’ll quickly notice is the authors directed the book towards women; in fact, the book is dedicated “to all women.” Although I found this to be a bit of a distraction, especially in the early part of the book, that female-centric nature tended to wane a bit in the latter sections of the book. But that shouldn’t discourage men from reading this book too.
If you and your spouse already have a good relationship with respect to your personal finances, and you’ve got a good handle on the basics of personal finance, then this book is probably not going tell you anything you don’t already know.
Now the good news. All things being equal, I found this book to be an extremely well-written guide on the topic of relationships and money matters. I find it to also be a terrific primer on basic personal finance management.
So who is this book for?
Naturally, this book is a must-read if you are currently in a relationship where you find it difficult to discuss your personal finances with your significant other and are unwilling (or find it unwise) to resort to multiple shots of whiskey or Jägermeister in order to build up your courage. In fact, I think it’s a perfect non-alcoholic ice-breaker when it comes to broaching the topic of money with your spouse.
Then again, couples who have have no trouble discussing their finances but nevertheless have lots of questions regarding how to manage their money will also find this book useful if only for the last section of the book, which I found to be a very effective Money 101 primer.
The ultimate target audience, however, is newlyweds and couples who are seriously considering marriage. In fact, if you’re looking for a really thoughtful wedding present this spring, you might want to consider including Get Financially Naked with the blender or casserole dish you choose from the wedding registry.
Who knows. You just might end up saving a marriage before it even starts.