Newlyweds should be extra mindful of that “for richer or poorer” marriage-vow promise. Indeed, effective money management for married folks is vastly different from how singles handle their finances.
To help avoid this potential shock, couples are heading to Marriage Money Bootcamp (MMB), an online interactive course that teaches how to manage money as a family unit.
In an interview with ThinkAdvisor, Bootcamp co-founder Richard Davey, a Certified Financial Planner, maintains that the course whisks conflicted “touchy stuff” about money “off couples’ chests.”
Co-founder and managing member of Fiduciary Financial Group, a wealth management firm serving the ultra-high net worth and others, Davey discusses why he established the Bootcamp as a separate entity without intention of converting the couples to wealth management clients – though, of course, they could very well be in his book down the road.
MMB, zeroing in on personal finance with downloadable spreadsheets and videos, and currently priced at $49.99, aims to prompt couples just starting out to communicate about finances. These include hot-button issues like debt, separate property and inheritances.
But the biggest money conflict Bootcamp couples struggle with is each accusing the other as the big spender in the partnership, Davey points out.
The Bootcamp team of FFG advisors teaches students to change their goals from vague to specific and to openly discuss career risk, taxes, retirement planning and investing comfort level. Couples also benefit from video interviews with a marriage therapist and estate planning attorneys.
Davey, 32, began as a CPA and auditor with Grant Thornton in San Francisco in 2009. He changed careers to investment advisory and financial planning upon joining Waddell & Reed a few years later.
In 2014, he began building a practice of his own at a small independent in Marin County, Calif., then launched FFG with two partners in 2018. Today, with offices in Marin and Sonoma counties, the San Francisco Bay area and Boise, Idaho, the firm manages about $70 million in client assets.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Davey, speaking by phone from Boise. He describes his RIA as “a CPA-branded wealth management firm [because] the CPA brand is viewed as conservative and trustworthy,” he says. “We pride ourselves on being a firm that won’t blow anybody up.”
Here are highlights of our interview:
THINKADVISOR: You say that skills needed to manage money as a couple are different from those for managing money when single. Please elaborate.
RICHARD DAVEY: This is super-important: It’s a completely different equation when you’re married. The longer you [manage money] alone, the harder it is to merge [money management] with someone else. You [need to consider] things like taking on debt, tax debt, starting a new business, accepting a job offer that’s higher risk but higher reward. And if you’re a swing-for-the-fences investor, now you’re using community assets to do that. It can cause huge problems.
Quite a different ball game, isn’t it?
Yes. These aren’t just your decisions anymore. They’re family decisions, and the implications or consequences are for both of you.
What’s the main purpose of your Marriage Money Bootcamp?
To get a couple talking to each other: Often there are grudges or things that are being held back by one of the spouses that need to be brought to light. It’s very common for couples to have stuff they want to get off their chest, but they don’t know [how or where to do it]. There can be matters like inheritances, separate property, bringing debt into the marriage. They’re touchy subjects. People pretend they’re not issues, and oftentimes they wait too long to dig into this stuff.
What have you observed to be couples’ biggest money conflict?
Each spouse tends to see the other as a [big] spender. I work with quite a few same-sex couples, and it’s no different with them. So we use a spreadsheet for people to rank their spending priorities. There’s definitely tension that can rise up too when one person views the other as being financially irresponsible. A huge point of contention is the amount of money that should be spent on children.
Broadly, where do you start with a couple?
We teach them how to change their goals from being vague to specific and measurably stated. We ask them about taking career risks, insurance, taxes, what type of investing they’re comfortable with. Then they go back and compare notes.
What sort of financial information do you ask them to provide?
None. They download a spreadsheet, which is a large online workbook they fill out as they go through the course. It covers home-purchase planning, goal setting, risk management, spending, money values, debt, savings, education savings, a new-parent check list, budgeting in retirement.
What do you talk about concerning retirement planning?
We keep it pretty simple. We have a two-step process where we have people first build a budget. The budget spreadsheet flows into a retirement goal-setting spreadsheet. In real time, we show them how to fill these out with their specific information.
What issue do couples need help with the most?
The question we get the most is about home-purchase planning. It’s a hot-button issue. So there are a lot of questions about whether to rent or buy, mortgage affordability, mortgage down payments.
How much of the course is about investing?
None because that’s a compliance restriction. The second we’d get into the field of investment advice, it would become part of [our] registered investment advisory firm; and we don’t want to [mix] those two. We built Marriage Money Bootcamp to be a stand-alone product, a completely separate entity for compliance purposes.
Do any couples fight about money while they’re taking the course and contact you in real time to resolve disputes?
We’ve had that happen, when someone will say, for example, “I want to do this, and my husband is saying that. Is this course going to help us!”
Did you form the Bootcamp so that you can convert the student couples into RIA clients?
No. A wealth management firm, for the most part, works with higher net worth, higher income professionals. I wanted to do something that would provide value to people in their mid-20s who don’t have assets to manage and aren’t capable of paying professional CPA fees. It’s a way of not turning away those who aren’t the ideal fit for a wealth management practice and give them a great starting point so that one day they can have assets to shift to a wealth management focus vs. a just-getting-started focus.
Any other reason you started the Bootcamp?
I just like working with young people who don’t have a lot of assets. There are two ways you can do that – [bill] hourly or charge a retainer fee. It’s pretty expensive for someone in their late 20s or early 30s to shell out that kind of money. And because [our clients] tend to be fairly tech-centric, they don’t value face-to-face professional service very much [anyway]. That’s why we built a self-paced product.
Why don’t they value face- to-face services?
In the [San Francisco] Bay area, the culture of people who work in tech is that they get so much for free through company benefits — like grilled salmon for lunch and yoga classes – that they find it hard to stomach paying $200 an hour to work with someone.
How did you come up with the theme and format for MMB?
There are money management courses for young couples that have a religious [basis]. But we received feedback from non-religious folks saying they felt that type of course wouldn’t address their issues. So we decided to build a completely non-religious, purely digital offering.
You started out as a CPA. Why did you want to shift to become a financial advisor?
I was a financial-statement auditor for a big international CPA firm and met with comptrollers and chief financial officers about their companies’ financial statements. It was completely impersonal. I’m much more of a people-pleasing person. I like being involved in intimate, major life-changing decisions. As an advisor, clients make decisions based on your advice, and you see the immediate impact. I love that direct gratification.