Nicole and Matt make $50,000 and live paycheck to paycheck. Just a few years go, when they were both working, they were living on $190,000 and had a very nice lifestyle. But when Nicole's difficult pregnancy forced her to stay at home, they found their income cut in half.
To make matters worse, Matt lost his computer sales job a few months later. Immediately, they cut back on everything and sold their house and motorcycle. Matt finally found another job making only a quarter of their former income. They were starting over with $19,000 of debt.
Nicole once shopped at department stores—today she shops at dollar stores. "I'd really like to get this worked out because our marriage has suffered so much through all the financial hardship," Nicole says. "Our marriage is slipping away."
Financial expert David Bach says Nicole and Matt's situation is not uncommon these days. Many couples who are used to living on two incomes suddenly find themselves trying to survive on just one. In order to prepare for this, couples must practice going from two incomes to one—for six months to a year so they can actually see if it will work.
1. David says Nicole and Matt can stop fighting about money if they first start talking about it. He suggests they each take time to jot down their values. This exercise helps couples determine what issues matter most to them and set goals to achieve them together.
2. David says Nicole and Matt are already taking the most important step to becoming millionaires: paying themselves first. Matt puts a portion of each paycheck into a pre-tax retirement account—and if he continues to do so, he could have more than $3 million in 35 years, David says.
3. There's not much fat to trim in their budget, but David says the couple needs to save just five dollars a day to start an emergency fund so they never face financial ruin again. He advises them to fund that emergency account automatically. "We want to get money taken out of your checking account the day you get paid and moved into an investment for emergencies," David says.
4. Finally, David says they can still get the new home they've been dreaming of. He advises them to set up a separate account and again, fund it automatically from each paycheck.
The Action Plan
Nicole and Matt need just $20 a day to accomplish all of this this—to start an emergency account, a home account, and pay off their credit card debt. But where will they find that extra $600 a month?
"I have to get a job," Nicole says. Talking things over with Matt, discussing their values and taking a close look at their finances gave Nicole lightbulb moment. If Nicole makes just one-fourth of her former income, David says they can truly have it all.
"A lot of people say 'Values, they're airy-fairy,'" David says. "But they're not! They're what matter most to us…So five minutes together talking about your values—what you care most about—can put you on the same page and get you working as a team."