My late husband taught me 3 essential rules for managing my money

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Allison Nichol Longtin (left) and her husband.

I’ve made some expensive mistakes with money, but my late husband taught me valuable lessons.
I built up a lot of credit card debt — he helped me create a plan to pay off all of it.
He also helped me get used to actively think about my money — and stay vigilant.

I learned many of my money lessons the hard way — by making expensive mistakes. But the best money lessons and habits I learned from my late husband.

I met Remi when I was in my second year at university in Montreal. I’d already made a few money blunders in the short time I’d been living on my own. Remi was six years older than me, a Ph.D. student at the time. A little over a year after we met, we moved to Switzerland together for Remi’s work. Romantic, yes. Expensive, YOU BET!

At first, I didn’t have a visa to stay in Switzerland, which meant I couldn’t work there and had to make several trips back to Canada every year. That’s when I started accumulating credit card debt that would take me years to pay off. Over the 11 beautiful years Remi and I spent together before his sudden, tragic death, Remi helped me develop good money habits.

In Remi’s absence, I’ve slowly assembled a team of financial experts I trust to help me manage my money as I build my own financial literacy without him, but I’m also relying on everything I learned with him. Here are the best money lessons I learned from him.

1. Pay off your credit card debt to $0 every month. No skipsies.

This may seem obvious, but not all of us are doing it. In 2013, I finally paid off years of credit debt, and I’ve never looked back. For years I only made the minimum payments, barely making a dent in my debt. Once I was legally able to work in Switzerland, Remi and I worked together to create a payment plan that involved putting nearly all of my earnings directly toward paying off my credit card debt until it was down to $0.

This was only possible because Remi was able to support us financially during that time, while I took on all household duties. Of course, the bulk of my debt was from plane tickets that I wouldn’t have purchased had we not been living abroad and in a place where I couldn’t legally work at first.

What’s important here is that we both agreed to the situation, understanding that it was only temporary. In hindsight, there were other options available to help us through this difficult financial time, including transferring my credit card debt to a line of credit with a more manageable interest rate, for example. But the lesson was loud and clear to me: Don’t carry credit card debt. 

2. Out of sight is far from out of mind

Before meeting Remi, I didn’t have a budget. I worried about money all the time, but I rarely looked at my finances. I had a seriously avoidant attachment style when it came to my money. I was no stranger to a bank account balance in the two figures between paychecks. I even learned the hard way that you should NEVER take out cash from an ATM using your credit card. Ugh.

Remi had a balanced approach to managing his money. He looked at it unemotionally and saw it for what it is: a necessary part of life. He kept a close eye on our money without obsessing over it. We had monthly money dates where we’d open a bottle of wine and comb through our expenses together, check in on our investments, and plan our savings.

I whined through most of it, but now it’s a habit. I do my bookkeeping every month, and I actually enjoy it. What’s more, I’m much less anxious about money in general now. I know what I’m spending and where my money’s going, and I keep an eye out for any activity I don’t recognize.

3. Trust no one who hasn’t earned it

Remi’s first language was French, and he had this saying that doesn’t translate very well into English: “You gotta check people.” Essentially, it means, trust no one.

As a young person just learning to be independent, I had my credit card information stolen multiple times and didn’t even realize it until my bank notified me of the strange activity: “Miss Nichol, you don’t have a car, why are you buying gas all across the country?”

When it came to managing our money, Remi was very hands-on. In the last years of his life, he’d even nerded out on actively managing some of his own investments, learning everything he could about the stock market. It’s not like he didn’t trust our bank and he definitely didn’t keep his money in a shoebox under our bed, but he was careful about who he chose to help us manage our finances.

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