The $266k Couple Whose Wife Created an App to Track Their Spending

The couple make $266,000 a year.

Cellphone infographic
(Image credit: Morgan McMullen)

Welcome to Couples + Money, where we break through the confines of polite conversation. Forget questions about your sex life. We're getting even more personal. Let's talk about what you and your partner are doing—and not doing—with your paychecks.

Every other Thursday, a couple will get candid with about how they split their finances. We’ll break down what each person pays for individually, what they split, and all the gritty details—from who picks up the bill in restaurants to who picks fights over bank statements.

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This week, we're talking with Aditi Shekar, 35, an entrepreneur who makes $86,000 per year ($7,166 per month), and her husband, Dalmar Hussein, 35, a research manager who makes $180,500 per year ($15,000 per month). They've been officially together for 15 years and live in San Francisco, CA.

How It All Happened

Aditi: Dalmar and I actually met in fifth grade in Ethiopia. My parents both worked for the diplomatic corps, and my mom worked for the UN.

Dalmar: We started dating a year later for a few months, then again toward the end of middle school. Aditi was unlike anyone else that I had ever met, full of energy, full of life, full of opinions, full of personality, extremely sure of herself. She seemed larger than life.

Aditi: We ended up moving all over the world because of the nature of our parents' jobs.

Dalmar: We'd stayed in touch on and off. I happened to sit down at the computer in the library, opened an old account I hadn't checked for a long time. Sitting near the top was an email from Aditi saying, "This is the last message I'm going to send you. I'm not interested in maintaining a friendship with people who are in the habit of ignoring messages." Had I waited even a day, I never would've seen that. She was in Tanzania at the time, and she was looking at schools that offered her an opportunity to study business. It's exactly what I wanted to do. I had a very good guidance counselor, so I sent her my list. And we ended up going to the exact same undergrad in 2002.

Aditi: We got married in 2015, totally off the cuff. We were planning never to get married. One weekend we were hanging out and said, "You know what, it'd be really convenient." So the next week we went to the courthouse. We also wanted to have a prenup because we wanted to know our rules of engagement. My parents had gotten divorced. So I was the person who plans for all scenarios. We realized that each person's typically represented by a lawyer. But the cost was $6,000 each. So we downloaded a prenup template from Rocket Lawyer or Legal Zoom. We went through it together, filled it out independently, and signed it. And we joke that we're not sure it's a legally bound document, but it was the exercise where we found the most value. And it's the rules we use when we navigate financial conversations together.

Dalmar: Aditi's idea behind creating [finance app] Zeta really grew out of our relationship. A lot of these tools treat individuals and money decisions like a single player game. But once you enter a mature partnership, you're no longer making those decisions in isolation. We realized it was just too much stress, having those conversations when everything wasn't visible. And so, it treats a couple and money decisions like a multiplayer game.

Our Dependents

Aditi: We have two animals now, and we were very conscientious when we got one. Dalmar and I had, not a pet-nup, but a conversation: Who would have the dog in case anything happened to either of us or if we chose to break up? And then our parents are self-sufficient. But we every so often might help out if needed.

When We Told Each Other Our Salaries

Aditi: We actually started talking about money very early on into our relationship. We were both in college. I believe in going Dutch. So I said, "I just want us to split everything if that's okay with you." He was like, "Wow, I found the right girl." Then it really came up in earnest when we were living apart. We agreed that we were only going to do long distance if we actually saw each other at least once a month. It was sometimes easier for one of us to come than the other, so we decided we'd pool money to pay for whoever was coming. That required a candid conversation. We opened a joint account at that point.

How We Handle the Cost of Living

Dalmar: We have a shared credit card. We have a joint savings account, a couple of joint checking accounts for joint expenses like the house. We each contribute the same amount. And then we have our own personal savings and checking that we spend on things we individually want to pursue. Zeta goes a long way toward helping us keep tabs on where we are. I may put a big expense on my credit card. Zeta allows us to split that right down the middle, giving me a sense of what I owe her. The primary benefit wasn't just highlighting all of those things, but helping us coordinate together.

Why We Have Joint and Individual Accounts

Aditi: One of the first things we opened was the card. We'd get our bill and it would be insanely high. I'd say, "What is this??" I told him what I thought was the right solution: "Why don't you take ownership of the card?" And then we'd still get a huge bill. My biggest lesson was that I kept forcing Dalmar to lean into his financial weaknesses rather than my financial strengths. He can own some other aspects in the relationship, because we treat it as a partnership. And that really, really transformed the conversation.

How Often We Talk About Money

Dalmar: It's another tradition that we have, one initiated by her as our household CFO, to have once a month "money days."

Aditi: It's shifted these common conversations that pop up when something bad happens into dedicated time slots that we've scheduled into our calendar. It's been one of the healthiest money muscles that we've developed as a couple.

What We Keep Secret

Aditi: We don't talk about individual transactions or our personal funding. Both of us, we can get judgy about each other's expenses and then we say, "Why am I saying this? This is yours. Do whatever you want with it." We use Zeta to manage our finances, but we actually don't share the details of our credit card. We can only see balances.

Dalmar: Nothing, I don't think.

How We Learned To Budget

Aditi: My parents were very open about finances with us as kids. When we were young, they opened savings accounts for us and had a matching system. So we were highly motivated. My parents wouldn't go to a toy store and say, "You can have one toy." Instead they were like, "Let's sit down and figure out how much money you have to save." My parents actually drove a lot of entrepreneurialism. Every time we wanted something and we couldn't afford it, they'd encourage us to start companies to make money.

Dalmar: I think my parents had two primary goals for us growing up. One, to give us the best education they could, and two, to make sure that we were debt-free. The first manifested in putting us in whatever schools they could afford. Other than that, they handled the finances. There were really never any discussions about money or finances or savings. So I really didn't have much education around money. And it manifested in how I related to it. I spent, and still spend, relatively freely. My financial education really started in our relationship.

Our Biggest Fight About Money

Aditi: Two years ago when I started the company, and it was backed by venture investors, we decided to get an estate plan. We were expecting that it'd be super-easy because we'd talked about this with the prenup. But it includes guardianship agreements for future kids and current pets. It was not as straightforward. We didn't fight, but we were shocked at each other's responses. It took us a good week to figure out.

Dalmar: I decided to stay in North Carolina after we graduated. She had a full mattress. She's someone who thinks, How can I make the most of what I have? So she was planning on selling it. I said, "Why don't I take the mattress?" She says, "I can sell it to you." And I say, "What do you mean sell?" She was seeing it as a win-win and I wasn't. Eventually I ended up paying for the mattress—she gave me a bit of a discount!

How We Pay For The Non-Essentials

Dalmar: If it's a trip, we'll plan for ahead of time and allocate the money. When it comes to small things we do when we're there, we just go with whatever we feel like at that moment.

Aditi: One of my favorite things about him is he's good at saying, "It's okay to splurge," because I have a tendency not to.

What We're Banking On

Aditi: We're architecture nerds, so we want to build a home together. That's something that the two of us are super excited about and have 10,000 Pinterest boards about.

Dalmar: Aditi is investing a lot of her energy and time in her company. I've just started a new job and I'm doing the same. We've individually invested separately, and we've talked about angel investing together. We've on and off talked about having children. We're in our mid-thirties, so, that's become a much livelier discussion in the last year.

Aditi: We joke that our job is half-finance, half-marriage counseling. We talk to people, we have a podcast, we create guides, we write content. And then we publish with partners like Business Insider, CNBC. It's a lot of fun. We're trying to be like Oprah for couples' finance.

Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity. Reporting and editing by Katherine J. Igoe. Design and illustration by Morgan McMullen.

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