Frugal millionaire couple: 3 things we always do when we talk about money—and the No. 1 phrase we use

Courtesy Jonathan Sanchez

The first time my wife Jacqueline and I had a serious talk about money was when we were planning our wedding. Money can be a fraught subject, but for us it was the start of a strong foundation. We've been married for 12 years, and ever since, we've continued to work on our finances side by side. 

We became millionaires in our 30s, thanks to a combination of frugal habits, a diversified investment strategy, passive income and sharing our knowledge. In 2020, we founded Parent Portfolio, a website designed to help other parents build wealth for the next generation.

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More than anything, I believe that we've been able to reach these money milestones because we are committed to growing our wealth together. The phrase we often use to make it easier to talk about our finances is, "I want to understand." 

Here's how we talk to each other about money.

1. We lead with empathy

When discussing our finances, we always err on the side of patience, rather than judgment. We set aside our devices and distractions to make sure that we are fully present.

Money is so personal. Everyone has their own perspectives, insecurities and even anxieties about it. That can make it difficult to talk about even the most seemingly basic expenses.

For example, my mom was a single parent and she never talked with me about our family's finances. It almost felt like a faux pas, and that led me to have a negative outlook on money — to the point I felt guilty when I spent it. 

My wife's first experience with this was when we ordered plane tickets together for a trip. I wasn't used to seeing amounts that high, and it gave me anxiety. But I shared how I was feeling and my wife assured me she found the best price, taking into account departure and arrival dates along with no baggage fees. We even continued to monitor prices just in case they went down.

It went a long way toward making me feel like my reaction was understandable, especially given my history, and that I wasn't alone.

2. We don't keep secrets

Early on we agreed that we would not keep each other in the dark when it came to our financial choices. That meant not having any secret credit cards, impulse splurges or other habits that could lead to serious debt. We also promised that we would always be forthright about our feelings, especially when it came time to plan for our future. 

Over a decade ago, my wife suggested we buy a rental property downtown as a potential side hustle to earn additional income. I was honest with her and initially told her it felt like unwanted stress. 

The irony of the story is that we now own multiple investment properties in our local market. But this was only possible because my wife and I continued talking about it. We revisited the idea in a low stakes, exploratory way until we both felt ready to pursue it. 

We need to always be on the same page, especially with big purchases or investments. It's important for both of us to understand the risks before moving forward. We never want to be in a situation where one person fails, and the other person's response is, "I told you so." 

3. We treat each other as co-pilots

After my wife graduated from pharmacy school, she made more money than I did. But she also had over $250,000 in student loans. I made it clear that she wasn't going to have to handle the debt on her own. So we worked together to budget for both our basic living expenses, while still setting aside enough each month to cover her payments. 

We had to prioritize our immediate needs, compromise on some expenses, and temporarily delay some of our wants, like travel to see our extended family. The key is that we are always in agreement when we make significant decisions, and are candid about our points of view. 

One of the questions we always ask each other is, "Where do we see ourselves in five years?" 

We often speak about our goals, and what is required to afford and achieve them, whether that is buying a property, expanding our business or something else entirely. We regularly update our financial plan to eliminate unnecessary expenses, or put more toward a specific category. And we meet with our financial advisor once a year to gauge what is next.

Whether we are decreasing our expenses, or looking for ways to boost our income, we are always open to suggestions from the other person about what we can do to make our dreams a reality. 

Jonathan Sanchez is the co-founder of Parent Portfolio, a website that helps families learn to grow wealth and raise financially responsible kids. Follow him on Twitter @TheParentPort.

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