Love and money

Christine Larson

Photo By Larry Dalton

Christine Larson grew up in Orange County, attended Tustin High School and graduated from Princeton in 1990. She started working for magazines in Manhattan, including a stint with Cosmopolitan, in the books department. When Larson’s husband, Richard Rojo, got a job in Redding, she moved with him and became a night reporter for the Redding Record Searchlight while freelancing for financial publications, including The Wall Street Journal. Now based in Sacramento, she teamed up with Mary Claire Allvine, whom she met at Princeton, to write The Family CFO: The Couple’s Business Plan for Love and Money, a book aimed at bringing clarity and understanding to domestic finances.

Is marriage a good investment?

Marriage is a great investment. You’ve got two incomes to achieve your goals instead of just one. Plus, if it’s a good marriage, you’re happier, and that’s the whole point of money management. It’s not to end up with a lot of money; it’s to be happy.

Is it necessary to shop with a calculator in one hand and save all receipts?

Definitely not. I tried to give the book a really practical sense because I am not a numbers person. I am really well-intentioned, but I am not super organized. So, we tried to come up with simple systems that would work for people who don’t shop with calculators. One of my favorite things that I learned writing this book is that I didn’t have to write down every single thing that I bought. On Mondays, I take out $100, and that $100 has to last me for a week, and it has to pay for all my lunches, for my gas, for coffee and anything I need during the week. And what’s left over, I can spend for fun; I can go out to dinner that week. That’s a lot easier than writing down every single thing you spend.

What goes in your shredder, and when do you shred it?

First of all, shred your junk mail. I shred every credit-card offer that I get. Anything that has my name and address on it, I shred. And you don’t have to use a shredder; you can just tear it up. The other thing that you should shred is your junk. A lot of people keep records around that they just don’t need anymore. You actually don’t need to keep your old telephone bills, unless you are using them for tax purposes. Then, you need to staple them and keep them with your tax forms. But you don’t need to keep piles of every single bill you’ve ever received. Shred it; don’t dump it.

With banks, does size matter?

It depends what you want to do with a bank. I’m a really big advocate of online bill paying. The biggest banks have well-established online banking. With smaller banks, it’s more difficult for them to make that investment. So, if online banking and bill paying is something you want to do, it’s really important to compare what your local bank can offer to what the bigger banks can offer.

Is love a successful business strategy?

It absolutely is. If you really love and respect your partner, you’re going to communicate better with them. Successful businesses and successful marriages are all about good communication. With marriages and relationships, we’re not used to communicating about money, so we don’t really know how to do that, a lot of us. Business can teach us a lot about communicating about money in sort of an even way, without being emotional.

What’s a romantic deal breaker, business-wise?

I would never say that any money thing is a deal breaker, because we talked to couples who worked it out. I think couples who are really committed to each other can work it out. I talked to one couple who had $140,000 in non-mortgage debt: credit cards, back taxes and bills. They got out of it in four years, even though she took a pay cut. She changed jobs and was earning half of what she used to earn, and they made it work. So, after talking to them, I think there are no true deal breakers. There are plenty of people that you shouldn’t be with, for very good reasons, but money is not necessarily one of those reasons.

Is financial planning a good way to avoid marriage counseling?

All I can say is that money is the thing that couples fight about most frequently. They also fight about it more intensely and more ferociously—engaged couples and couples in first marriages. If you can reduce those fights, then you will certainly have more peace in your house. I think that anything that can improve your relationship is always a good investment.

Is there a tax advantage to having a family chief financial officer (CFO)?

The tax advantage of the family-CFO system is that if you follow the system, your money records will be more organized all year long, so tax season won’t become such a nightmare. Typically, we recommend that the "investment manager" in your family partnership be in charge of taxes, since that person is already keeping an eye on investments that offer tax advantages.