Couple Money

Setting Up Financial Wins for This Year and Beyond

Just like chess, having a strategy can help you have some big financial wins this year.

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Today we're going to talk about how you can pivot your money as a couple so you can have some big financial wins this year!

Creating Big Financial Wins

How are you feeling about this past year? Were you able to hit most of your goals? Or are there a few things you wished you could've knocked out, but life got in the way?

Understandably, you're probably looking forward to resetting a few things, including your finances.

Today we're going to be focusing on that – looking at how you can set things up so that the two of you can manage your money easier and actually hit your goals this year.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Peter Polson the founder of Tiller, which is a fantastic and customizable way to budget using the power of spreadsheets.

During our discussion, we get into:

I hope you enjoy!

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This interview transcription is edited for clarity and time.

Resetting and Refreshing Our Family Finances

Elle Martinez: Thank you so much for joining me this evening talking about hopefully having some big wins in 2021, especially when it comes to finances, we've all had to adapt. So I'm glad to chat with you [about] how can we reset things to have a good year for our finances and beyond that?

Peter Polson: Absolutely. I think we're all looking for that right now. 2020 was the most unexpected year. With that behind us, I think everyone wants to use this as a chance to get a fresh start, a different start.

We don't know what we can control. I think that was a big lesson from 2020 was that, there is a lot, we can't control, but there are those things we can and flipping the page to a new years is a good chance for us all to dig into those things we can control.

So here's to that in 2021.

Elle Martinez: Like you, the date in particular, does it matter. you can always start fresh, any month of the year, but just naturally a lot of people are thinking new year maybe I can change some things.

it's interesting that you were mentioning things outside of our control because you look at what people have for goals and typically. The top three goals are talking about paying off debt, saving more and, getting a budget that actually works for them.

I was reviewing and for 2020, what people had for the past year

when they started the year off as goals and money came up several times on that list, number two was saving more. And then number seven, I thought this was interesting. Not just have a budget, but actually this year to stick to the budget.

Peter Polson: I mean, who would have thought that would be so hard? I mean, raise your hand anyone, if 2020 played out according to your budget right?

actually, there are some people for whom 2020 turned out to be, Had certainly some wins, for many people that had some losses.

I don't think for anyone did it play out as expected.

How to (Actually) Achieve Your Money Goals This Year

Elle Martinez: I know for us, we definitely could say while we try to focus on the positive and there are definitely some wins. There is also dealing on the personal side with everything that was going on.

I wanted to talk to you because people make goals and it looks like they don't quite keep them.

We're all guilty of this. We start off with high hopes that things are going to go well. but I was looking at several numbers and it seems to be consistently, the surveys are saying less than 10% of people actually hit their goals.

This is just my perspective, talking with my community. And I'd love to get your feedback on this. I think part of it is relying solely on willpower.

I've noticed for us, one of them was we had to set up a system personally. Not just, we wanted to save more. We actually had to put a plan into place.

have you ever seen, some hurdles that families have with actually keeping their goals; either with your work at tiller or personally ?

Peter Polson: I love new year's because it is this sort of fresh perspective that we have. It's a chance to, you set those goals, but to your point, sometimes we get a little ambitious with our goals and it is easy to say, okay, I'm just going to, I'm going to fix everything.

I'm going to, all those house projects, all my work ambitions, my financial goals, like put it out on the sheet of paper and I'm just going to tackle it all.

actually, I would say that's great like, write it all down. that's fantastic. I think the thing that can help so much is if we make progress.

We speak about finances, one of the things we talked about here is this keystone habit.

we actually have a blog called forget resolutions, make this one financial habit instead. one of the things that it focuses on let's track.

Let's see, let's pay attention to where our money is coming and going.

We can ladder up from there. We can build budgets, we can set goals. we can do so much from there, but that fundamental habit. Backing and seeing where our money is coming and going.

I think a lot of people have a pretty good sense of where the money is coming from even if you have a variable income.

very few people, unless they have that habit, very few people dare. I say, no one without that habit knows where their money is going .

So laddering up everything else is really hard. for us, When we're doing well in our family, with my wife, Shannon, what that means is that we are in our finances a few times a week, just paying attention.

What are the transactions? we're talking about it once a week together. And that could be a short conversation. That can be a long time vacation, but we're having that conversation once a week.

so maybe we've blown a budget one month, or maybe there's an expense that's actually really important that wasn't planned and we're like, That's really important.

so we're going to make it and funny that we didn't even think about it when we set the budget all that's okay if we're tracking, but that feeling of coming to the end of the month and it's like, Whoa, how did I spend that much on the credit card?

How do we make this work? Having that surprise at the end of the month? that's tough. that's just gonna set anyone back. It's gonna make it harder to reach any goal. It's going to make it, frankly. You just going to want to tune it out.

Creating Systems and Habits to Push You Towards Your Goals

Elle Martinez: Yeah. I agree with you and I think it's interesting you bring up habits and how important they are.

I know we're talking about financial habits, but really with a lot of goals that people have for the year with their health, taking care of themselves, taking care of their family, the building blocks seems to be habits.

how can you develop those Keystone habits that kind of snowball into more positive things.

One of the things I had planned on 2020 since we were staying home more was, you know what, well, That extra time that I'm not driving around taking care of things. I can use that for exercise.

then it was a matter of, okay, how do I make this easy for me to do, which is laying out the clothes ahead of time and doing it first thing in the morning.

you've mentioned with the foundation of a budget, is that habit of keeping tabs on it. I know it, tiller just makes everything automatic pulling it into the spreadsheets.

why do you check pretty often? Some people, feel like, do I need to check that often? How did you guys figure out for you what was the best habit or frequency of doing that?

Peter Polson: Right. Honestly, keep it simple. A lot of habits are easiest you do them daily.

the thing about checking in on your spending. And again, my world is built around our tiller, my financial habit. There is built around our pillar money spreadsheet in our family. So every day see the new transactions that might take….

there might be two transactions from yesterday. There might be none. There might be 10 depending on the day. And that's a really, really quick, like. Snap snap and we're done.

it doesn't have to take much time, but if we tell ourselves okay, I'm going to do it on the third day or like that becomes a really hard habit to figure out and to remember.

so a daily habit, and just like you said, if you, if you set things out, maybe it's a sticky on your laptop. And it's like, okay. When I opened my laptop in the morning, I'm just going to check my tiller money sheet and just see what's there.

boom, boom, boom, categorize a few things; maybe I've set up AutoCAT with my own rules and it's running.

maybe there's not even anything to categorize. Just going to pick a look and that's going to build this awareness and everything else is easier.

yeah, I would say a daily habit telling someone, I want you to floss on Tuesday and Friday. You're not going to get much traction, say floss every day.

Okay. Probably flossing. It benefits to do every day. But even if it didn't, I'd say do it every day. Cause it's a heck of a lot easier to, yeah. Remember after I'm done brushing, I've flossed.

So find that metronome in your day and it's after I do this after I opened my laptop or when I make my coffee, I work something.

when I'm on lunch break, first thing, I'm going to check my telematics sheet and just see that everything's in order.

some days that may take 30 seconds some days I might be like, Oh yeah, okay. It's the end of the month or, Oh yeah. I had that question. I wonder if we tried to do this next month, how would that work out?

So some days you may spend 10 or 15 minutes in it. Other days it literally could be 30 seconds do it every day. It's an easy habit. Find the the reminder, find that helps you to get in there every day.

It's going to change your relationship with your money and your spending. It's going to give you an awareness that you haven't had before and you're going to feel empowered.

Why Tracking Your Money Matters

Elle Martinez: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. You mentioned how most people don't know where their money goes.

we have two kids, we have work, so our day is pre-filled and it's so easy to , forget, Oh yeah, I did spend here or I did spend there.

writing about personal finance, podcasting about personal finance is a part of our lives, but like we also have to have a look at our spreadsheet just to make sure. And it's like, Oh yep. We spent over here. That's why the balance is this because it just, it goes so quickly and so easily.

So I love that you have that as an essential habit. Families, they're planning for the years and those two big ones paying down debt, and saving more. what are some habits or advice that you would give as first steps for a couple or a family that's looking to start tackling those goals?

Peter Polson: That's a really good question. So the couple dynamic is an interesting one, right? We're talking couples and money.

I actually think it's your secret weapon, but you've got to figure out how to, how to get there and the challenge is money can be tough for couples.

it can be amazing because you have your buddy, your accountability partner, your sort of co-conspirator to sort of get through this. that's where you want to get.

So first step is a conversation around goals. And your goals aren't gonna necessarily be the same, but pick a few goals that are the same.

why are we doing this? Maybe it is, let's make some progress this year on paying down some debt. Maybe it's Hey, we went through this whole pandemic clears. We really need that family vacation. Let's make sure we have that saved for, so we can do that or fill in the blank, the emergency fund. You tell me.

pick up two goals. those are your, those are your North star. Those are the reason why you're working on this together. And again, that doesn't mean you're perfectly aligned in everything, but there are going to be a few goals you share, and that's going to be the glue to help pull you guys together as a couple who to do this.

then also, I would say figuring out your roles and in most couples we see, the nature of our solution is it's highly collaborative because we have a lot of customers, Google sheets, especially as collaborative. Although Microsoft Excel is as well too.

we have a lot of our customers where one half of the couple is in the a lot. the other half of the couple still has access to the sheet so there's some visibility and there's awareness because they can both take a look.

One of them may be doing the tracking, categorizing and building out a plan. the other is just checking in, but you can share that together.

the collaborative nature is really helpful so figure out your roles and figure out which of you, maybe you both want to roll up your sleeves and be in it, or maybe one of you wants to be the one who's rolled up your sleeves and the other is just checking in.

we've talked about those goals, maybe it's saving for saving for a vacation or, or paying off debt. We actually, , I speak about our tools, but this is really generic to a lot of other ways you could do, you don't have to use Tiller money to do this, but we have templates that work with our spreadsheets around debt and around savings and so it's really easy.

You don't need a template. maybe it's a balance. I mean, you can it's payments towards that debt that you're tracking and like, what can we do this month with an extra payment towards that debt? Or maybe you're just saving in a separate account and what can we do this month to transfer a little extra money to that and get there.

budgeting is really key. some people have an aversion to budgeting and I get that. Some people think, you know, this is my money. I don't want my budget telling me what to do and that's okay.

But budgets can also be, think of it. It's your tool. It's your way to track your money.

Your first month's budget is going to be a really hard one, because if you haven't budgeted before, you're not gonna necessarily have very accurate estimates for the different budget items.

you may think your grocery are going to be X and your utilities are going to be Y and it could be really odd. That's okay.

Because you've actually in that first month, you've learned something. And so what I recommend is once you're ready to move beyond tracking a full month's worth of income and expenses.

And if you've signed up today for our service or service like ours, you're going to have all that data.

So look at historically a full month, come up with some rough budget numbers based on that.

it's the beginning of the year, it's the beginning of the month. It's a really good time to do, to say, okay, what do we think we are going to be. spending this month, let's put those down. And then based on that, we think there's a little leftover for our goal.

our goals may also be like, Hey, we're right now because of the pandemic we're without some income so we're living off of our emergency fund or we're maybe racking up more debt. maybe our goal is to manage our expenses so we're not growing our debt as quickly. That's a reasonable goal for some in this unusual time.

So figure out that goal and now you're going to go through the month you're going to see how you compare against your budget. You're going to see if you have something leftover to save or to pay down that debt.

And yeah. and be easy on yourself. Right?

at the end of the month, they're going to say, okay, wow, these were the surprises. This is what we didn't expect. I guarantee if you do that, the following month is going to be better.

You're going to do better budgeting. You're going to be better at figuring out what's actually the realistic progress you can make towards your goal.

And so do it again. It doesn't need to be hard. And I know each month is going to be better because you're going to, you're going to have more experience and starting from zero, if you've never tracked your numbers are going to be way off, but that's okay.

So just cut yourself some Slack, remind yourself of the common goals that you have as a couple and use that to guide your way.

Elle Martinez: Yeah, absolutely. And I love how you mentioned giving ourselves some Slack. I know some people feel like they should be completely ambitious. I mean, you have this energy, you want to do this and it's Really about acknowledging, where are we, you know, currently with our finances or just, you know, with our work schedule, what can we handle?

take it one step at a time.

I love that too, because even if you do step one, which is being aware of where your money is going for January, that's the challenge we're doing in our community. Let's set up your budget just to track it and see where is the money going that way you can have a baseline.

That can be powerful. Next month, you improve 5%. Next month, you improve 5% end of the year. That's a significant change and you've built something that's sustainable.

we've talked about this a couple of times, on the podcast, but especially now when people are really looking to, make some progress with their finances is, you know, as you're having these wins, You definitely open up more options.

I know for us, paying off debt gave me a certain amount of freedom to be able to work from home. And then when we had the savings, I felt a little more confident. Now I could work around my kids' schedule.

But for you, as you're making these improvements, you're having these financial wins. What opportunities have you noticed with you and your family because you're making this progress?

Peter Polson: Great. That's a good question. Yeah. So, for us , one of the outcomes of that for us , we live in a small community.

one of the things that we discussed, some years ago was that in our small community, one of the big needs was we didn't really have a community gathering place.

my wife is a writer and speaker, but she can't have enough books and so for her, she really was looking at the library and thinking , we really need the 21st century library in our community.

it was this sort of, over dinner over many nights, a few years ago. We would talk about this dream and both nod and my wife had a ton of passion for it.

at some point she realized, if this is going to happen, like this could be a game changer for all ages, especially the youth in our community.

We have economically diverse community, but also for everyone to have a gathering spot, a place where people can learn, a place to celebrate knowledge, a place to provide opportunity.

So anyway, long story short, we realized this was going to be a priority for us. And that manifested in a few ways , that would never have been possible if we hadn't had some conversations already and practice around our finances.

One, is we decided this was something that we personally wanted to commit to financially. the big audacious goal was let's build a library so we wanted to commit to that personally.

Second, is my wife was wanting to create a friends of the library board and raise the funds and actually, see if this could happen. so she struck down her work, which had impacts on our income and started , it seems a second full-time job, but let's say it's a half-time job at, on a good week, has been for the last few years, focused on fundraising.

recently they broke ground on this new library and that's something that she has given generously of her time.

We've given as a family and that's something that's been really rewarding. when we think about those things like, are we spending our time and how are we spending our money?

that's been really meaningful for us to say that this is an area where we want to spend our time, which is especially my wife's time. And so how do we allocate around that?

this is an area where we want to spend some money where in the success of this library, we're a small donor and my wife has become a very big, organizer and so that is all like having a handle on her finances has been that possible in order to allow her to do that at the time volunteer role and in order for us to, to support that.

So that to me, I think at the end of the day, when we think about how we have spent this portion of our lives, both of us have meaningful work we love, but this side project I think will be something that we're really proud of, that we were able to do.

I guess proud is probably the wrong word, but it feels like a meaningful contribution, and that would never be possible without some handle on our finances because it didn't come easily.

it's still not easy and yet, It's something that with some deliberate planning we've been able to do. So I think that's been a huge win for us.

And I hear in all, so many different ways from our customers and just a story that I love to tell is a woman who wrote in and she talked about, they had a newborn and she was using tiller money to figure out how she could give up her income and they could live off her husband's income so she could be at home with the child.

if you look in our community, there are so many stories like this, but that's a deliberate choice. And for them, that was what they chose to do. Different couples can choose so many different things with where they spend their time and their money, but at the end of the day to feel like it was what we did deliberately.

we look back and gosh, we chose to spend our time and our money in a certain way and, we realized that at least some of that is a huge win. it doesn't, it may not be, it, those places manifest in small and mundane ways every day. And that's what I want for everyone.

I want for your listeners to look back and to say with the circumstances that we didn't have control over this year in 2021, we set some goals and at the end of the day, we were, deliberate and felt empowered to the degrees that's possible. We felt empowered with, how we were using our money, and our resources as a couple.

Elle Martinez: Yeah, I love that. we're definitely like a family that, before the pandemic, like weekly, we'd be at the library.

find all the crafts and projects that are available so I personally like really love that story.

but more importantly you and I are aligned in that we want other families to have some financial wins.

I'm doing this money challenge with getting people aware with their budget, but you over at tiller, you guys are doing a 30 days of financial wins challenge.

So I kind of want to wrap things up , what is that about? How's it working and how can people join?

Peter Polson: absolutely. So we're kicking off at the start of the new year and you can go there now and sign up. It's live. it's a 30 day financial winds challenge and it really aligns with what you're doing with your listeners. we recognize is that we need to help people build the habits to start the year.

Our service has a 30 day free trial. We wanted to offer, this challenge and this lens that fits within that free trial. And it's all about getting your finances in one place, building some habits around tracking, setting your first budget. We're really excited.

It's an awesome course. It's awesome content. I'm actually taking it and as well.

all of us who are taking it can make comments with each of the twice a week in your inbox, there's a financial win opportunity. there's a link in the community where you can share your experience, share your win. And I'm going to be in there posting and sharing our wins.

I'm going to be doing it alongside everyone else. I am doing it. And so if this is a fit with some of your listeners would love to have you come to our site, sign up for the challenge and, join in.

let's see what, how we can help you with your wins and getting started with, with, on the right foot in your new year.

Elle Martinez: Yeah, that sounds fantastic. So if anyone's listening and you guys want to join in, and I recommend if you're looking for, a way to, make a change.

I highly recommend the community is a big help having that positive peer pressure. Just go over to couple Thank you so much, Peter, for joining me. I appreciate it.

Peter Polson: it's great to be on your show again, and I wish all your awesome audience . the best in this new year. Thanks so much.

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Photo by Charlie Solorzano

This episode was originally published in January 2021. Show notes have been updated January 2024.

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