Talaat McNeely from His and Her Money talks about how his money mistakes led to financial infidelity. Most importantly, he shares how he was able to rebuild trust with his wife Tai and successfully work towards common financial goals together. Through Talaat and Tai’s story, you will learn practical ways to build the financial trust that many couples hope to achieve.
Before Talaat proposed to Tai, he described his money choices as very reckless. He had never really understood how money worked, so he had to learn through his mistakes. From payday loans to financing a stereo system for his car, the mistakes began to add up. From the age of 17 to the age of 25, he continued to accumulate consumer debt until the total was over $30,000.
At age 25, everything had changed. He proposed to Tai and decided to leave the destructive financial cycle he was in for a better life. Talaat knew that Tai had worked hard to build a solid financial footing for herself by paying her way through college, building a great credit score, avoided all debt, and worked in finance. Basically, he felt like a financial wreck marrying a financial rock star.
I was 17 when I enlisted into the military and so I basically had to grow up in the military and I had to learn about money and figure things out, bump my head, and I bumped my head hard. I made every wrong choice you can make. You know, payday loans, financing cars, financing the sound system in the car. I had paint jobs that were customized and just a bunch of young foolish things… Fast forward to age 25, I ‘m engaged… I was tired of being in a destructive financial cycle and I was working my way to understanding money more… but I still had the consequences of my earlier decisions.
Instead of coming clean about his debts, he made a decision to keep these debts hidden from Tai with the plan to pay it off in full before their wedding date. The couple had planned for a long engagement, so he was hoping that he could handle this by himself before Tai ever had to find out about this crushing financial burden.
Throughout their engagement, Tai asked all of the right questions but Talaat continued to deflect the questions. When the faith-based couple went through premarital counseling with their pastor that including financial topics, Talaat stayed silent about the debts. The pair even sat down to talk about their budget before the big day, Talaat did not bring up his effort to pay down his consumer debt. At every opportunity to come clean about the debt, Talaat continued to exclude Tai from this part of his life.
I fall in love with a person who is the complete opposite financially. She had never been in debt. She had perfect credit. She had paid her way through college. She was working in finance. She had a finance degree. So here I was, a financial wreck about to marry a financial rockstar. So, for me, I was like, I cannot tell her about this debt because if I do, she is going to run the other direction!
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The plan to pay everything off before the wedding date was easier said than done. With their wedding date just weeks away, Talaat knew that he had to come clean before their wedding. At this point, he was absolutely terrified to tell her but there was no other option. In truth, he was scared that he would lose her because of this debt that he had hidden throughout their engagement.
After agonizing about how to tell Tai about the debt for weeks, he finally just asked her to come over and told her the truth. Even though it was one of the lowest days of his entire life, he knew that it had to be done.
When he confessed, she was rightfully mad and hurt. Although the debt was a shock, she more upset that Talaat had broken her trust by not talking about the situation sooner. Tai was unsure if she could trust him to tell her the important things because he decided to keep his financial situation a secret for so long. In the end, it boiled down to the fact that money can be made but trust takes time to build.
I confessed. She lost it. She was mad. She was hurt, rightfully so. And it wasn't the dollars and cents, it was the trust. I broke her trust. She didn't know if she could trust me, that was the big problem. It wasn't the money. The money can be fixed. Money can be made. Money can be lost. But trust is something that once it's broken it's hard to put back together.
In the days following Talaat’s confession, the couple talked to each other and prayed about their situation. Tai was open-minded enough to take a step back and look at the situation completely. Instead of focusing on the financial infidelity, she looked the whole picture of Talaat. In general, he had the qualities of an upstanding man that loved her. Even though he made money mistakes, he was able to show his efforts to pay off this debt. At the time, Talaat had a second job, lived with his parents, and was showing an interest in personal finance.
The steps he was taking to change his financial situation proved that he was serious about fixing his money mistakes and moving forward with their lives. Of course, he should have been honest from the beginning but one mistake does not define a person. What they do to move forward is more important.
Eventually, Tai decided to forgive Talaat for this heartbreaking financial infidelity and move forward with the wedding. It was critically important for their relationship to find a way forward. For many of us, it would be very understandable to never forgive secrets of this magnitude but Tai’s forgiveness allowed the couple to build an even stronger relationship.
Thirteen years later, they are still happily married with three lovely children.
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Talaat and Tai moved forward with their wedding but the new information about Talaat’s financial reality drastically altered the life they had been planning together. When Talaat confessed, that was just the beginning of their journey. From that point, the couple worked to create a solid financial footing with a strong relationship built on trust.
The first step towards rebuilding trust was a show of good faith by Talaat. He was already working hard to pay off his debt, which proved to Tai he was determined about changing his financial situation.
Next, Tai and Talaat had to discuss the dirty details of the debt. She needed to understand how he got there, exactly how much he owed, who he owed the money to, and all of the other details that accompany debt. Once Tai was brought up to speed about the details of Talaat’s financial mess, they built a plan of attack together.
After the confession, Tai chose to turn “his” debt into “their” debt and tackle it as a team. The fact that Tai chose to willingly take on this debt together was critically important for their trust in each other. With Talaat already working hard to eliminate his debt, he gave Tai a sign of good faith that he was seriously committed to their financial goals.
The couple discussed their goals at length and determined their shared financial goals. The first goal was to eliminate their consumer debt.
Once Talaat and Tai agreed to the goal of paying down this debt, it was time to buckle down. With a background in finance, Tai crafted an aggressive plan to get themselves out of debt ASAP.
Throughout the process, the chose to do everything together. Whether they were reading personal finance books, watching Suze Ormand on TV, or even discovering the somewhat new FI movement, they discussed everything they were learning along the way. Each lesson they learned would be applied to their own financial situation along the way. The learning process gave Talaat a new understanding of money that empowered him to make changes to the spending behaviors that got him into debt in the first place.
It was incredibly encouraging to be forgiven. And two, for her to be so determined. Like, we can get through this. We can figure this out, cause for me, it felt hopeless… and she looked at it like, yeah, we can do this!… I was very receptive to the plan that she was coming up with… We decided we were going to go through the process together so that meant that not only from a dollars and cents of budgeting and looking at credit and paying off debt. But also in the sense of growing together. We would read money books together, we would send each other money-related articles, we would watch money-related television shows… and we would talk about it together.
One of Talaat’s favorite books from this learning process, Elizabeth Warren’s “The Two-Income Trap ,” lead to their biggest weapon. Creating a life based on just one income, instead of combining both of their salaries to cover their expenses. When you think about it, this simple concept makes a lot of sense because building your life based on two incomes sets you up for more risk over time.
The couple decided to set up their life around Talaat’s income because his father taught him to never make his wife feel that she had to work outside of the home. They were able to use their second income to pay down their debt.
As they learned more about money, they realized that personal finance is not all about the numbers. Although numbers are important, your personal interactions with money are also important. All of this shared knowledge allowed the couple to grow closer as they discovered new possibilities together.
Amazingly, their plan allowed them to pay down $30,000 of consumer debt within their first year of marriage!
Next Financial Challenge For This Power Couple
A few years later, they decided to buy a home for their growing family.
It was a big transitional period for the family because they were pregnant with their third child, Talaat had just started a new job, and they had bought a new van to fit their family. At that point, they were living on a single income because Tai had left corporate America to raise their children.
After impressively conquering their consumer debt, they knew they did not want to wait 15 to 30 years to pay off their mortgage. So as they closed on the mortgage, the couple set a goal to pay off their mortgage in just five years. On a single income that might sound impossible, but they were determined. At first, they were only able to put an extra $20 towards their mortgage payment each month.
As time went on, the couple got more creative about ways to pay off their mortgage and started picking up side hustles. Flipping furniture and mystery shopping were just a few of the things they did to widen the gap between their income and their expenses. All extra income that came in went directly towards their mortgage.
We made [paying off the mortgage] our whole focus. This was all we focused on and so we looked around this house and we sold everything that we could, that we weren't using anymore. We also did a bunch of side hustles. Things like mystery shopping. We would flip things from thrift stores. We would have all kinds of garage sales. And one thing we did… we locked our lifestyle at a certain number, so even as raises came, even as tax refunds and bonuses came, our lifestyle didn't move… If I got a raise we literally called our lender and set up an auto draft for that money to be added as an additional principal payment. Every dollar we could squeeze out of our budget, every extra dollar we could find through side hustles, we put towards the debt.
Five years later, the family was able to successfully pay off their $330,000 mortgage. On the day they accomplished their goal, they dressed up their kids and went to make the final payment at the bank. You can watch the memorable moment here. You can tell these second-generation FI kids were extremely excited about the accomplishment, even if they weren’t exactly sure what a mortgage was.
How To Accomplish Similar Success With Your Spouse
Talaat and Tai have shown that couples can recover from financial infidelity and completely turn their financial situation around. The key is that they worked together as a team, which is completely possible for every couple. Building a solid team with your spouse is critical to reaching shared financial goals.
Remember, teamwork is not always divided into 50/50 pieces. Sometimes, one player on the team will bear more of the burden that the other. Take advantage of the strengths that each partner has while you are deciding how to build your team. Everyone is different, so try not to turn your spouse into you. Accept that not everyone can get excited about every nitty-gritty detail of personal finance but each person will have strengths they can bring to the table. Whatever your team looks like, the important part is for both partners to be involved.
Do not leave all of the decisions to one person. With one person doing all of the work and the other getting “an allowance” to spend, it is easy for resentment to build up quickly. Instead, take the time to communicate openly about your financial plan.
A big mistake we made up front at the very beginning… I had the bright idea to say that “since you know money well, you do this for a living, why don't you handle our finances and you just let me know what I can spend… we'll just do it like that.” The problem with that was Tai was doing all the work and I wasn't involved at all. So what happened was we were both beginning to build resentment towards each other… I was building resentment because I was feeling like a child being handed an allowance… And I knew how much I made for a living vs how much she was saying I could spend and it just didn't add up… She was getting frustrated because she was doing all this work… and felt I was appreciating her hard work. She was doing 100% of the work and I was doing zero.
As you work together, you also need to dream together. Find the why behind your shared goals. Do whatever it takes to understand the reasons behind your goals. As you start to understand your why, make sure to value your spouse’s. If you leave their opinions out of the financial game plan, then it will be more difficult for them to stick to the plan. Use those reasons to make a commitment to your financial plans.
If you have trouble finding the commitment to your financial goals, then consider adding “Inc.” behind your last name. Treat your household finances like a business and set goals accordingly. For example, “McNeely Inc.” set the goal to pay off its mortgage in five years and accomplished it.
Now that the McNeely’s have paid off all debt, they are working to build a legacy of wealth for their children. Instead of focusing on debt repayment, they are focusing on wealth building. The goal is to build a legacy that will last for generations of McNeely’s.
Talaat’s Advice about Talking to Family About Money
As the McNeely’s build a legacy of wealth for their family at a nuclear level, they offer advice to their extended family. However, they realize that it is an awkward conversation that most family members prefer to avoid. And that’s okay!
Most of us have the desire to share our FI knowledge with family and friends but it is not often received well. We talk, they might barely listen but we have to learn to be okay with that.
As somewhat financially savvy people, we have to realize that we are in the minority. It can be hard to watch family members continue to work through the hamster wheel but we have to respect the fact that each person is on their own journey.
The best thing to do is to let your life speak louder than your words. You should provide solid information when asked and understand that it might not stick. Always encourage them and share helpful information when possible.
We need to come to terms with the fact that our world is just not set up for the FI community, it is set up for consumerism. Everyone in the FI movement has reached this place through their own journey, so let your family have their own journey.
Favorite blog: Making Sense Of Cents
Favorite article of all time: Stock series by J.L. Collins
Favorite life hack: Living off one income.
Biggest financial mistake: Hiding his debt from his soon to be wife which would have started their marriage off with a lie.
The advice you would give your younger self: Not be afraid of risk.
What purchase have you made over the last 12 months that has brought the most value to your life? Business course that helped him to understand something very beneficial to their company.
Best way to connect with Talaat
New to FI? Be sure to check out Episode 100: Welcome To The FI Community!