Tai McNeely, mom of three and co-founder of His & Her Money, paid off $30,000 of consumer debt and a $330,000 mortgage by following simple and actionable financial steps. Now, alongside her husband, she helps other families learn better money practices.

By Tamara Pridgett
September 03, 2020
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Tai McNeely and husband of 14 years, Taalat McNeely, had contrasting philosophies when it came to finances. They attended premarital counseling and had money talks, but three months before their wedding, Tai discovered Taalat was in more debt than he led her to believe—$30,000 more to be exact. But the exercise of paying off their debt was just the beginning to what has now become a booming financial guidance business, His & Her Money.

Having dated for five years, Tai thought she knew what she was getting herself into financially. "I thought I was having all the right conversations with him," she says. They talked about money, and about how they would manage their finances and debt once they got married. They even covered their respective comfort levels when it came to debt so they'd both feel prepared when they tied the knot.

Tai seemingly always had a knack for finances—she put herself through college without taking out student loans and paid off a car loan in less than a year. After graduating from college, that inherent skill that was fostered in school became a career. She began working in finance as an investment and personal banker. "I dealt with all various kinds of financial needs that anyone could come to me with—that could be investing for their future [or] investing for retirement," Tai explained. On any given day, she would also help people pursue their dreams, such as taking out a loan to purchasing their dream home. As Tai puts it, she dealt with the "important money dreams" and the money goals that people had.

And while she was helping others accomplish their financial and big-moment goals, she also set her sights on chiseling away debt that her then husband-to-be had initially downplayed. At the end of the day, Tai didn't care that he had debt, what she cared about was how he managed it. "And because I was able to see that my soon-to-be husband wanted to handle his finances better, he was trying to get out of debt, he was trying to make better money decisions, I knew that 'Hey, I could work with that,'" she says.

Although Taalat had more consumer debt than Tai initially thought, they made it work, paying it all off within a year of being married. With that taken care of, they went about paying off their $330,000 mortgage in five years, becoming 100 percent debt-free in 2018. Once the McNeelys had children, who are now 10, 8, and 7, it was clear their expenses were going to increase, but they were strategic about their purchase planning, even stocking up on diapers and other essentials while Tai was still pregnant to help them stick to their budget.

When injury forced Tai to take time off from work, she started to reevaluate her career plans. "It was time for me to return back to work, [but] I just felt like my time here was up," she says. In that moment, Tai decided to become a stay-at-home mom to their children.

Despite no longer working full-time to help clients achieve their financial dreams, she still felt compelled to help people. When Taalat approached her about starting a company together, Tai was ecstatic. They blended their personal experience of getting out of debt with Tai's passion for finance to help others and launched His & Her Money in 2014.

The couple built their company with just $500. "And now, six years later, we're making a full-time, six-figure income," Tai explains. The mission of His & Her Money is to help couples get on the same page financially, teach them how to have better money practices, and guide couples on how to live better lives. They also want to show other Black families that they, too, can live debt-free. If your goal is to pay off your debt, here are a few tried-and-true steps the McNeelys followed to achieve financial freedom.

1. Go on a dream date and then get candid about money.

"There are a lot of couples, a lot of [people in] marriages that don't talk about finances," Tai explains. To encourage people to discuss their finances, she recommends going on a dream date with your partner, discuss what you want your life to look like sans debt, and lay all your financial cards on the table. "Dream big. There are no limits and then plan from that," she says. After your dream date, start planning how you and your partner are going to achieve your dreams and begin having money talks in order to reach your goals.

2. Learn how to balance saving and spending.

"I had to learn how to have a little fun," Tai says, and Taalat had to learn how to save for the future. "We didn't get it right starting out. It was not perfect starting out," she emphasizes.

3. Both partners should have a say when it comes to your finances.

"We both thought because I was the one who was better with money, that I should be the one that handled our finances, but we got that wrong," says Tai. She explains that although she had a background in finance, it didn't mean Taalat shouldn't have a say or be involved in how they spent their money, tackled their debt, or saved. They quickly realized that they needed to sit down together and go over their finances, having conversations about their money and how to best spend it each month.

Having honest conversations with one another was the turning point for Tai and Talaat. He went from feeling like it was a mother-son relationship when dealing with their finances to feeling confident in both of their decisions, and Tai no longer felt like the hard work she was putting in to turn around their debt was being taken for granted.

4. Don't live off of both partners' incomes.

This may sound completely odd and against everything you've ever thought, but hear Tai out. After reading the book The Two-Income Trap, Tai and Taalat decided they weren't going to live off of both of their incomes. "A lot of couples get that wrong where they think, 'Hey, we can buy a house on both incomes, we can buy vehicles on both incomes, we can literally support our lifestyles off of both incomes," Tai says.

But this mindset can leave folks vulnerable for life's curveballs. "We never lived off both incomes from the very beginning. We took one income to live off on—that meant paying the bills, buying the groceries—and the other income we used to actually save money and pay down debt, but we also used the other income to take more risks," she explains.

5. Prepare an emergency fund if you're thinking about starting a family.

Create an emergency fund. If you're planning on having children, start an emergency fund ASAP. You don't need to start with a lot, but you've got to start somewhere. The McNeelys goal was to have three to six months of money saved for bills, their mortgage, and the rest of their essential living expenses.

6. Cut some coupons.

It may sound tedious, but couponing can help you save money on everyday essentials. Stock up on expensive baby items pre-baby. One great piece of advice the McNeelys received was to purchase a box of diapers every time they got paid before the birth of their kids.

"We started doing things like that [loading up on diapers]—little things. I think that people make the mistake of thinking that it has to be this big thing, but it's all the little things that add up that really makes a big impact for your family."

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