Nothing takes the romance out of a relationship quite like financial stress, and money troubles often steer couples towards breakups. For Lesley-Anne Scorgie, founder of MeVest, a financial planning company, the hurdles couples face when dealing with money could fill a whole book—specifically, The Modern Couple’s Money Guide.
Illustration by Mike Kendrick.
“Financial challenges for couples are avoidable,” says the author. “They are the leading cause for separation and divorce, and it’s a shame because if the behavior is understood, addressed and coordinated together towards common goals, then couples can achieve a lot together as a team.” Published last year, The Modern Couple’s Money Guide uses basic principles of budgeting and open communication to help couples achieve financial parity, get out of debt and plan for the future.
Scorgie, BCom ’05, devoted her young life to helping people better understand and manage their money and investments. At 17 years old, the Calgarian appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2001 for a segment about her growing investment portfolio and financial smarts. After getting the endorsement of one of the world’s richest and most powerful people, Scorgie published her first of four books, Rich by 30: A Young Adult’s Guide to Financial Success, which landed on Canada’s best-seller list.
Since founding MeVest in 2007, Scorgie and her team of financial coaches noticed how many of their clients seeking financial planning assistance were married or in long-term relationships.
Combining finances and household duties can be hard to navigate, and couples can experience problems when disclosing debt and spending, or when holding their romantic partners accountable for money management. “No one’s financial situations are really that unique. It’s all behavior. If you are willing to make those changes behaviorally, you will be able to control your finances,” she says. “It’s so unfortunate when one partner wants to make the change and the other doesn’t. That is the couple that is probably going to get divorced.”
For chemical engineer Trevor Cristall, CME ’11, and visual merchandiser Katherine Cristall, financial anxiety started after they got engaged and lived together. “One day in bed, Trevor asked me if I had any debt, and I just started crying. I freaked out. All I could think about was ‘Oh no. He just put a ring on my finger and now I have to tell him the truth.’” She revealed her debt amount—a lie—then cried again before telling him the real amount. “I liked everything to be separate, so to talk about finances was really uncomfortable. It made my skin crawl.”
To avoid unnecessary friction, says Scorgie, couples like the Cristalls should have honest conversations about the state of their bank accounts and credit bills, and not cower from divulging their daily expenses. “They don’t know how to be better with their money, so they are embarrassed and they don’t feel that they are equipped with the skills to improve it. So you combo all of that, and couples just sweep it under the rug,” says the financial coach. But the mess is bound to come to light eventually.
Trevor got serious about saving money after graduating, so he felt confident helping his new fiancée—who grew up believing “budget” was a bad word—build a plan to crawl out of consumer debt. Using the online budgeting program, You Need A Budget (YNAB), Trevor and Katherine analyzed their spending and started trimming. Sticking to a set budget, the young couple paid for their wedding last summer, got Katherine out of debt, and are now saving for a house.
Setting financial goals brought the couple closer. “Now that we budget together,” says Trevor, “it’s like we are agreeing about priorities, and that determines what we are going to do with our lives. It’s all interconnected.” It has even evolved into somewhat of a romantic ritual. “Every two weeks, we sit down with a bottle of wine and look over our budget.”
Jyllian Park is the Edmonton editor of Western Living and a fashion stylist. She was nominated for two Alberta Magazines Awards.