Expert Interview with Lisa Joy Thompson on Marriages and Money for Mint

People always say one of the biggest causes of tension in a marriage is arguments over money.

And now there's research to back that up.

"Arguments about money is by far the top predictor of divorce," says Sonya Britt, assistant professor of family studies and human services and program director of personal financial planning at Kansas State University. "It's not children, sex, in-laws or anything else. It's money - for both men and women."

But as much as fights over spending can split a couple up, when both partners are on the same page, it has the power to make a relationship stronger.

Frugal living expert Lisa Joy Thompson can attest to that.

"The biggest thing I learned is that when you and your spouse have the same view of money, it makes for a much happier marriage," she says. "Our marriage wasn't bad before, but when we decided to tackle our debt together, it really gave us an 'us versus debt' mentality that really improved our marriage."

The weekly budget meetings she set with her husband also gave the two lots of time to talk about all aspects of their lives - not just their finances.

We recently checked in with Lisa, who blogs about personal finance and lifestyle-related topics on Simplified Saving, to learn more about how her family dug out of $80,000 in debt and strengthened their marriage and their bank account along the way. Here's what she had to say:

Can you tell us about Simplified Saving? When and why did you start your site?

SimplifiedSaving.com is dedicated to helping moms and dads save time, save money and save their sanity. I share deals, frugal living tips, recipes, crafts and tips to make life easier or more fun for families. I also share glimpses of life in our family.

I started SimplifiedSaving.com in January 2009 as a way of keeping myself accountable to get out of debt. At the time, I was just sharing deals that I found and occasionally other things that were helpful in saving money. Since that time, the focus of the site has grown into helping families get the most out of life!

Your family had to dig out of $80,000 in debt...at what point did you realize you needed to make a change to how you were handling your finances?

It's amazing how easy it is to find yourself in financial trouble. For our family, we had been spending like crazy after we adopted our two oldest girls from Ukraine. We weren't budgeting, and every month, we found ourselves further in debt. We made some poor financial decisions that ended up putting us even further in debt, and we had some circumstances that were out of our control that affected our finances.

I think the breaking point for us came during Christmas 2008. We were spending money we didn't have to buy Christmas presents. Our stress level was at an all-time high. We knew something had to change.

Where did you start when it came to figuring out how to pay off your debt?

On December 30, 2008, my husband went to Barnes and Noble and bought the book The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. He read the first four chapters and said, "You really need to read this book. I think it could help us." I read the entire book in one sitting and felt financial hope for the first time in a long time!

What spending/saving habits did you develop early on to pay off your debt that you still use today?

The first one that jumps to mind is that we set aside an "allowance" for my husband and I. We each got a certain amount of money each month to spend on whatever we wanted. The amount was extremely small at the time, but increased when our finances improved. This helped to alleviate discussions on frivolous spending. By allowing my husband and me to each indulge every once in a while, it gave us a sense of freedom. To this day, we each enjoy our allowance.

The other two habits that were extremely helpful were setting a budget and sticking to it and creating a meal plan and sticking to it. The months that I do these two things are far more peaceful and we spend far less!

How was your debt affecting your and your family's lives outside of finances? How did paying it off impact your lives?

When you have a lot of debt and your spending is out of control, it can be really stressful. It didn't help that my husband and I weren't on the same page financially. By setting a budget, having weekly budget meetings/date nights and really talking about our money, our dreams and our goals, we were really able to feel like a team. And when we paid off our debt, the feeling was incredible!!! We both felt like we weren't living in bondage anymore!

What's been the most gratifying part of living a debt-free lifestyle?

In November 2012, we were asked to consider adopting a pair of twins that had been abused and neglected. It would be a private adoption, which meant it would be expensive and we wouldn't get any government assistance. They also needed therapy, tutoring and a host of other things. We were able to say yes without hesitation. And within six weeks of receiving that phone call, we were granted legal custody by the courts. In October 2013, we finalized our adoption of the twins. We are so thankful to have them in our family, and that would never have happened if were still drowning in debt.

The other gratifying part of a debt-free lifestyle is being able to support ministries we believe in. We have loved to see our money being used for causes close to our heart rather than paying off credit card interest each month.

You say that you're not naturally frugal...so what have been the easiest ways you've found to save money?

That's a hard question because I have quite a few favorite ways to save.

Ask for a Discount: This may seem crazy, but we've been able to save thousands of dollars this way. On the day before my oldest daughter graduated from high school, our washer died. It had been a busy week and I was behind on laundry, so this couldn't have happened at a worse time. We needed a washing machine and we needed it right away. I stopped by an appliance store and found out that they had a delivery opening the next day. I found a washing machine that was in the scratch and dent section and was discounted a few hundred dollars. I also found the matching dryer in the scratch and dent section. The set would have normally been $1,900, and with the scratch and dent prices, the set would only cost $1,200. I told the salesman that if they could do the set for $1,000, I'd buy it. They agreed and I got a great set that I love! I also saved over 10 percent on my husband's birthday gift (an RC helicopter) by asking the hobby shop if that was the best they could do on price. Sometimes the price stays the same, but we've been amazed at how many times we've gotten a better deal just by asking for it!

Cashback Portals: If you're shopping online, you can go through a cashback portal like Ebates and you'll receive a percentage of your purchase back in the form of a quarterly check. This is a great way to save that doesn't take any extra effort.

Store Loyalty Programs: Signing up for store loyalty programs can save you a lot of money and net you some sweet freebies. My birthday was this past Monday, and I received some great offers through the loyalty programs I'm a member of. Sephora gave me a lipstick and mascara, White House Black Market (my favorite store) sent me a $10 birthday coupon and Godiva gave me $10 of FREE chocolate.

When do you let yourself splurge, and why do you think it's important that people treat themselves from time to time?

I think it's important to treat yourselves from time to time so that you don't feel miserable. You don't have to spend a fortune on your treats and splurges. Sometimes spending $5 on a manicure at the local beauty college will do the trick. One of my favorite inexpensive splurges is going to our local beauty school and getting a deep conditioning scalp treatment. It costs $12 and includes a 20-30 minute head massage. It's absolutely heavenly!

Also, my mom and I do a mother-daughter shopping day twice a year...once in the summer and once around Christmas time. It works out perfectly for me because I have Christmas money to spend during our winter trip and our summer trip tends to be the week of my birthday so I have birthday money to spend. These days are full of fun, laughter and splurges. Some trips I spend a lot (or what's a lot to me), and sometimes I don't spend much at all. (I actually still have some of my money from my December trip, which I've been saving for my trip this week).

What are some of your favorite tools or resources for managing your family's finances?

We LOVE mobile apps for managing our finances. From bank apps like the Chase app to apps like Mint, we like our financial info to be readily accessible and at our fingertips. (Note: If you use financial apps on your phone, make sure your phone is password protected. Even though these sites require you to use a password, it's still smart to protect yourself with a phone or table passcode.) We also love Dave Ramsey's resources. They've been a great source of wisdom and encouragement.

In addition to helping people save money, you also like to help save people's time and sanity. So can you share one of your favorite time-saving techniques?

One of my biggest time savers (and sanity savers) is menu planning. Not only does it keep me from running to the store (or drive-thru) on a daily basis, but it also allows me to only have to do a task once. I can prep my food immediately when I get home from the grocery store. For example, I put organic baby carrots in my kids' lunches every day, so I buy five-pound bags of baby carrots and when I get home from the grocery store, I immediately divide the five-pound bag into a zillion Ziploc bags so that when I'm making lunches, I can just grab prepackaged bags of carrots to toss in their lunch bags. I also chop veggies for any meals that require chopped veggies and divide large packages of meat to the size of individual meals.

What about one of your favorite sanity-saving techniques?

My favorite sanity saver is my allowance. We spend a lot of money on our kids, and it's nice to be able to buy something for myself without guilt. Sometimes I blow my entire allowance during a month, and other times I save for months on end and splurge on something fun like a Kate Spade bag (or two)!

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