For Love & Money is our weekly series exploring how we navigate one of the most intimate and rarely talked about aspects of our relationships: our finances.
A relative newcomer to playing the stock market, Mike Campbell fell into a rabbit hole last year on the r/WallStreetBets subreddit and ended up buying 45 shares of GameStop stock at $270 a share. He admits it’s been one of the more regrettable investments he’s made. “I’ve experienced substantial losses in the stock market in the last 12 months,” he tells me. At its lowest point since, the stock was worth just $78 a share, and as much as it rebounded in the last week, he’s still enduring about a $90 loss per share.
Luckily, his wife took the news fairly well — aside from a “slight eye roll,” he says. But Campbell believes she was understanding because they talked beforehand about how much they were willing to risk. “If that conversation hadn’t taken place and the risk hadn’t been established, there could be a long line of problems if more money was lost than we could have afforded,” he explains.
According to Ilir Salihi, the founder of the financial publication Income Insider, that’s the bare minimum of involvement your spouse should have if you’re playing the market with shared finances. And although he’s endured his fair share of eye rolls from his wife, too — particularly whenever he invests in crypto — “the disagreement never escalates to anything more than her laughing,” because she’s an equal partner in their investments decisions.
Still, while they’ve both played the market on their own for years, it wasn’t until recently, after nearly 10 years of marriage, that they discovered the unique joy of trading together. “It started off with her just wanting to run some stock ideas by me, and turned into something we regularly get together and discuss,” Salihi recalls. Eventually, they fell into a schedule of meeting one Sunday a month to go over their shared holdings, review what they’ve bought and sold and explain their reasoning to one another. They weren’t consciously trying to strengthen their bond, but Salihi believes these conversations brought them closer together. “We’ve learned a lot about each other through these discussions,” he says.
For instance, Salihi was surprised to learn that his wife was more conservative with her investments than he anticipated, and he helped support her in taking more calculated risks. On the flip side, he says, “I’ve learned that I’m less analytical than I’d like to be. I would sometimes pick up shares of a company based on my interest in the business, product or CEO versus basing the decision on any real data.” He wouldn’t have noticed this if his partner didn’t gently point it out. “I now do more research because I know she’s going to ask questions,” Salihi says.
Laura Fuentes had a similar experience when she started trading with her husband about four years ago, at his suggestion. “At first, I wasn’t too sure about the idea; I didn’t want to lose money if I didn’t have to,” Fuentes tells me. But her husband was patient as she learned more about investing “and actually helped educate me on the subject.” They’ve also started meeting with a broker to advise them and settle any investment disagreements that occur.
Although they’ve had a lot of successes since they started investing together, the one that sticks out to Fuentes was their first — they bought 200 shares for about $60 a piece, which are now worth over $170 a share. Beyond the cash at play, it’s significant to her because “this is where it all started; this is what gave us the confidence to go all in with trading, and I believe that it’s gotten us on the right path to success.” Overall, she continues, “Investing with my husband has brought us closer, not just on an intellectual level, but on a personal level as well.”
For couples considering trading together, she recommends shopping around for the right broker: “Talk to as many as you can, and ask all the questions you can think of until you find the right one.”
A broker can certainly help couples avoid the kind of pitfalls that Eva Keller and her husband experienced last year. They had invested a few grand on the BNGO stock at pennies a share, assuming it would go up to $20 a share. When the stock finally started to increase, Keller promised herself that they’d cash out as soon as they made $9,000. But as luck would have it, it climbed to just short of their goal before plummeting again. “We were both obviously very disappointed watching our funds diminish day after day,” Keller says. On the bright side, though, they’d already established that the money was never promised. “I had always had the mindset that I would just put some money into stocks and set it and forget it for 50 years. So I wasn’t banking on having that cash to pay bills or anything.”
Salihi believes that if couples want to invest in the stock market together, they should be financially stable enough to take a hit, otherwise it’s unlikely to be a positive bonding experience. “I would first make sure that you each have a 401(k) or other retirement account set up and ideally max out your contributions before you start trading,” he advises.
When that’s not the case, it’s that much more challenging to maintain a healthy relationship. Marty Spargo learned this the hard way a few years ago, when he suffered a giant loss in the market. When he told his girlfriend, “she immediately broke up with me and told me how I was never going to be a successful business owner and investor because I couldn’t manage my risk properly.”
After the breakup, Spargo threw himself into getting his finances back on track by “going to business seminars, trading classes and expanding my network.” Through that process, he met someone who went through similar investment struggles, and they hit it off. Today, Spargo is making money on the market again, and he’s less worried about the little losses, especially now that he has a partner who’s willing to take risks right along with him.