The following conversation was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
Acquania Escarne of Wealth Noir (WN): Tai and Talaat, I am so excited to have the chance to share your story with Wealth Noir readers. You are a power couple showing other couples how to accomplish financial independence together.
I love the fact that you were high school sweethearts. But when it came time for marriage, did you discover you were both on the same page about your finances or were you on a different page when it came to your finances and goals?
Talaat McNeely of His & Her Money: Although we both grew up in similar households with similar parent backgrounds, we both had parents that were very frugal. The way we both responded to what we saw from our parents was very different. My wife adopted the principles of being wise with money by making conscious decisions with her spending. She ended up paying her own way through college, paying off her car in only 11 months and she had outstanding credit. As a matter of fact, she went on to college and got a degree in finance and worked in the financial industry.
Unfortunately, I took the exact opposite approach. As a child, I felt like my parents were being cheap and I wanted to be the opposite of that. So when I got out on my own and entered into the military, I only purchased things that were name brand because I never was given those types of things growing up. However, these decisions landed me in thousands of dollars in debt with nothing to show for it.
When we got engaged, I had a mountain of debt that I was hiding because I was ashamed. At the time, I was slowly coming into the knowledge of being a better manager of money, but I still had my past decisions of unwise spending and over $30,000 in debt. I was so afraid to tell my new fiance about this debt, but I couldn’t hide it anymore. It was at that point that I had to confess that I had this debt and that I was not being honest with her.
We almost didn’t get married over this situation. It wasn’t so much about the money, but rather my dishonesty and the fact that I was not being forthright. For Tai, this was all very troubling and rightfully so. But through a lot of prayer and counseling, we did get married, and we became a unified team in attacking the debt. At no point did Tai say, “This is your debt, you go figure it out.” Instead, she said, “This is now our debt, and we’re going to get through this together.”
And we did just that. We ended up erasing over $30,000 of debt in the first year of our marriage. Our advice to others is to put all your cards on the table. This is the person you’re going to do life with. You have to be able to be completely transparent because you can’t create a solid plan or attack a solid plan without all of the information necessary to create that solid plan. So be willing to have tough conversations, and be willing to act as a unified team. Remember, no one outside of your household matters in these decisions. It’s all about you and your partner coming together and moving forward as one.
WN: Wow, what a story. So, what made you want to share your journey with others publicly. How did you get started in the personal finances space?
Tai McNeely of His & Her Money: As a result of us going on this journey and becoming debt-free, people in our life, family and friends, were asking questions and wanted advice. They were amazed at what we had done.
So, we helped others and gave advice for a number of years. We did it with joy as we knew what it felt like to have the burden of debt and now we knew what it felt like to not have debt in your life anymore. We wanted to help people as much as we could.
One day, we were out on a date night and we had the idea that if we took what we were telling people locally and put it online, we would be able to help more people. That’s how His & Her Money was born. We felt like this was a mission from God to be quite frank with you. I personally was never one to get in front of the camera or pick up the microphone. I was the type of person who was comfortable behind the scenes, helping people without any fanfare or recognition. But we wanted others to experience what we experienced and find freedom for themselves. We also wanted people to pass on the knowledge, insight and wisdom we shared with their children so that this becomes a generational shift from poverty to prosperity for families around the world.
WN: What was your first or biggest financial accomplishment on your financial journey?
Talaat McNeely of His & Her Money: After we paid off the consumer part of our debt, we decided we wanted to take it to another level. We didn’t want to owe anybody anything. At the time, we had seen and heard stories of people paying off their homes. So we knew it was possible.
When we bought the house that we live in right now, we made a vow to ourselves that we would never make a minimum monthly payment on the mortgage. We also told ourselves that we were not going to wait 30 years to own this home. We were going to pay it off in five years.
At that moment, we didn’t have the means to take our 30-year payment down to five years, but we had faith and believed that we could make it happen. We decided to investigate our finances to see what we could do. Back then we had a lot of moving pieces. I had just started a new job, we were moving into this new house, we just had a baby, and a lot of things were up in the air.
After we took a look at our numbers, we decided to pay at least an additional $20 towards the principal payment. Then we continued to be creative and made sacrifices in order to make extra payments. Five years from the exact day we closed on the house, we walked into the bank with our children all dressed up, and we made our very last monthly mortgage payment. We now own our home free and clear and we teach other people how to do the same so that they can experience the joy that we feel.
WN: What a great story. Glad the entire family could experience the joy of a mortgage-free home. What was the greatest lesson you learned together? Did you ever have tension over the finances after you decided to get debt free and pursue Financial Independence and Retire Early (FIRE)?
Talaat McNeely of His & Her Money: The greatest lesson that we learned was that there was nothing that we could not do if we decided to do it together as a unit. There was definitely tension at first because we were still overcoming the fact that I was not honest, in the beginning, about my financial situation.
But after we got through that, we were both so invested in creating a new normal, a new definition of our financial legacy, that everything we did we did as a team. We learned together, we grew together, and we tried things together. Everything didn’t work out perfectly, but everything that we did we did as a unit. The good, the bad, the wins and the losses we experienced as a team. That’s the biggest takeaway we learned. Basically, nothing can stop us as long as we’re of one accord.
When we coach some of our clients who are in relationships, the difficulty comes about with opposing money styles and opposing goals. In most situations, you’re going to have opposing styles and usually, there is a saver in a relationship and a spender. There’s hardly a situation where both people are savers or both people are spenders, and that’s okay.
The problem comes in when you have two opposing goals or you haven’t discussed or talked about where you want to go as a unit. Setting goals together is important. If you don’t take the time to first assess where you are currently and compare that to where you want to go in the future, then that’s a recipe for disaster.
Couples should have transparent talks and hard conversations about where their finances are currently. They should discuss where they would like to elevate themselves and some of the dreams that have gone by the wayside over the years that maybe they can resurrect and start to put effort and strategy towards achieving. When you both are allowed to add your input in your dreams into the melting pot of your collective destination, it then puts both of you in a position to do the work because you both have a vested interest in the process.
WN: How and when did you decide to become full-time entrepreneurs? What steps did you take before quitting your jobs?
Talaat McNeely of His & Her Money: So Tai has always been entrepreneurial, but I have not always been that way. I always had the mindset that if I was a stable force in the relationship, then my wife could take the risk that comes with entrepreneurship. But over time, the more we tried things in the businesses, I developed an entrepreneurial spirit.
When we started His & Her Money, we knew that at some point we wanted it to become the thing that we did full time. But that was a five-year journey, and not something that happened overnight. We had a lot of goals that we wanted to accomplish before we took the leap for both of us to be full-time in the business. For example, we wanted to be completely debt-free. Although we had all of our consumer debt paid off for a number of years, we wanted to achieve the audacious goal of completely paying off our home.
We paid off our home in five years and about eight to nine months after that we began to put the pieces in place to transition to this business full-time. It’s been a bit over a year since His & Her Money became what we do for a living.
WN: That is amazing! So, let’s change gears a bit. What is the most common question you get asked or you see come across from your community?
Tai McNeely of His & Her Money: The most common question that we get from the people that follow us and rock with us is, “How do I get on the same page with my spouse financially?”
You gotta think about it. Many of us weren’t raised to talk about money in our childhood or as adults. When you throw another person into your life, and into the mix, now you have to figure out finances with another party. And since marriages are comprised of two individuals that have different philosophies about life, different backgrounds, different upbringings, and different things that they saw in relation to money, they have to figure out the middle ground between their two views and philosophies. That’s not always an easy undertaking.
It’s important not to start with the numbers. Instead, start with a dream and a vision. What do you want your life as a collective unit to look like five years from now, three years from now, or 12 months from now? Use that information that you see when you dream about the things that you want in life to help dictate the moves that you make with your money now.
When you allow yourself to be guided by what you want in the future, you’re both accountable to that dream because you both had input into what the dream is and what you are trying to make. Also, when you both have input and piece of the puzzle, you can work together lock and step because you’re both moving in the same direction to a clearly identified destination.
WN: That’s powerful advice. If you could flip a switch and get everyone to do one thing related to their personal finances, what would it be?
Tai McNeely of His & Her Money: I would tell them to be aware of your actual situation. Far too many people spend too much time in ignorance because it’s more comfortable. If you don’t know exactly how much debt you have or where your credit stands, you cannot improve your situation. The only way to improve the situation is to know the critical state that you are in.
So, I would encourage people to know exactly how much you are in the hole. Call everybody that you owe and ask for your balance, your monthly due date, your monthly minimum payment, and align your debt from the smallest balance to the largest balance. Then, attack your debt and just know that every dollar that you put towards debt is a dollar towards your freedom. You’ll start to feel better about your situation because you’re taking charge. If you continue to be ignorant and continue to operate without the proper information, you’ll never be able to make the progress that you desire. You’ll just be in the same spot 12 months from now or 24 months from now or 36 months from now because you didn’t take the time to attack the problem head-on.
WN: Great advice. Before we wrap up, are there any exciting products or offerings you have coming up? Anything you are currently working on now?
Tai McNeely of His & Her Money: Right now, our focus and our energy are going into the online mentorship program that we call Power Couples University. Here we are helping people get on the same page financially, figure out where they stand and how to move in the direction of their goals. We help couples learn how to communicate about everything from finances to even the most intimate parts of their relationships. We are helping all these couples get to the level that they want to achieve and are having a great time doing it.
Acquania Escarne is the creator of The Purpose of Money, a community of women building generational wealth for their families one dollar at a time. As an entrepreneur, real estate investor, and licensed insurance agent, Acquania has always been passionate about financial literacy. On her website, Acquania blogs about ways to help you improve your money habits, create wealth, and invest in real estate. Follow Acquania on social media for daily tips.