Understand Your Finances
6 things about money we wish we knew as a young gay couple
How the Debt Free Guys applied tried-and-true tactics for financial freedom
Pride Month is a time to celebrate our personal accomplishments, and how far our community—the LGBT community—has come toward becoming full, equal participants in American society. It's also a time we look to the future.
Like many couples, we got together mainly because of pheromones, not credit scores. We met 17 years ago, when we bumped into each other on a dance floor in Denver, Colorado. For three years, we were friends, and eventually the relationship turned romantic. The gay scene in Denver was thriving, and there was literally a place to dance, drink, talk or sing every night.
We immersed ourselves into the social scene, which led us to living large, and spending larger. Paying $1,000 a week to socialize felt normal. So did spending $600 a week on clothes.
We never talked about money and we didn't budget—which was strange, considering we'd both worked in the financial services industry for 15 years. Not unlike our straight friends, money was an uncomfortable topic, and our credit cards made it easy to avoid.
Finally, about a year and a half after we started dating, we confessed that we'd accumulated $51,000 in credit card debt—more than $10,000 of it was accrued interest. We helped others with their money, but not ourselves. We were the cobbler's kids, just with better shoes (that we couldn't afford).
Compared to our straight friends—and not unlike millions of Americans without the tools and information at their fingertips to better manage their money—we were no better with our own finances. We faced financial ruin.
What followed were lengthy discussions about what we wanted in life, why we were together and our financial goals.
Here are six key things we learned:
1. Wealth building requires conscious living
To reach our goals, we had to be strategic.
We did a deep assessment and eliminated things blocking us from our personal, professional and financial goals. We documented spending in a journal, we meditated, and we had honest talks with each other, and our friends, about how to live intentionally. Sure, we enjoyed our clubbing days, but they no longer fueled us.
Living consciously meant cutting out designer clothes and fancy vacations we couldn't afford. By staying true to our goals, budgeting accordingly and investing in our 401(k) plans, we turned our lives around. Within 10 years, we had $700,000 in the bank.
2. Be prepared for financial emergencies
We were always stressed about money, so we started an emergency savings account with $500. That may seem small, but it helped us handle unexpected costs, like a plumbing issue or a tire blow out. We've saved more than eight months worth of living expenses. We invest in the stock market. (We are, by the way, proud Chase customers.)
Standard advice is to save three to six months worth of living expenses. But as a gay couple, we need more financial protection. For example, we can get married in all 50 states. But we can also get fired in 28 states for putting a picture of our spouse on our work desk. (Colorado law protects LGBT people from discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity.)
3. Credit cards are good for people who are good with credit cards
We failed at credit cards.
There are trivial ways—and strategic ways—to use credit cards. We amassed our debt with the former. One of us was a nickel-and-dimer, the other a big spender.
We're now strategic with our credit cards—using them for travel perks, but paying off the balance every month.
4. Every dollar needs a purpose
When we committed to becoming debt free, we assigned a purpose to every dollar.
For example, we synced our debt payment plan with travel to a friend's wedding in Mexico. We became debt free just before leaving. Every extra dollar went to either our credit cards or that vacation and we returned home with no debt—and a fortune in memories.
5. Live within your means
We learned that being fabulous in every way is a television cliché. We chose three things to go big on: traveling, saving for retirement and giving back to our LGBT community.
Our best decision since becoming debt free was buying a home that we could afford. Our condo only cost one and a half times our combined annual incomes. Avoiding buying a super-sized house like many other people helped us comfortably travel the world—without debt.
6. Plan a big encore
We weren't adequately preparing for retirement. That's costly for many Americans—but particularly so for LGBT people.
Like nearly 60 percent of LGBT people, we don't have children, and don't plan to. Having kids doesn't guarantee a support system when you're older, but there's a better chance of having one if you do.
Congress is still considering the Equality Act, and many states and institutions don't have protections for LGBT seniors. LGBT retirees face a greater risk of being abused, forced back into the closet, or being separated from their partners.
Consequently, we got clear on our retirement goals so we'll have the retirement we want: no debt, lots of travel, and financial security. We purchased long-term health insurance to help with medical costs. We bought life insurance with an accelerated death benefit rider to protect ourselves and each other, leave an inheritance to our family and a legacy to causes and organizations important to us.
Our personal finance evolution was a hard-learned lesson, but we're better for it. In order to be true to ourselves, paying attention to our finances was critical.
Please consult your own financial advisor for guidance.
John Schneider and David Auten are Chase News contributors. Their work has appeared in Business Insider and Forbes. They own and manage the blog Debt Free Guys.