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Warm-Up: Stress Test for Couples

This article is part of our Newlywed Financial Boot Camp series, designed to get new couples and their finances into shape. You can find the other articles in this series here.

True confessions time: How much time did you and your spouse spend planning your wedding? According to industry estimates, the average bride spends one year (albeit not continuously) getting all the details just right for the big day. Now compare that to the amount of time you and your honey spent commingling your finances. Is it safe to say you spent less time over that same year preparing for the thousands of big days that will make up the rest of your life?

If so, all is not lost. While you weren't exactly planning your lifetime financial future by choosing a cake design and flowers for the bouquet, you can mine a lot of valuable information from how the two of you handled the wedding planning.

Get ready, get set ...
Think about your wedding preparations. You:

  • were under a lot of stress (even happy events cause us strain)
  • had a number of decisions to make together very quickly
  • had to handle input from extended family (both sets of parents)
  • needed to figure out how to allocate resources
  • had to handle multiple potential sources of conflict

Sounds a lot like life, doesn't it? So take a closer look at your wedding planning experience and see what it reveals about you, your spouse, and money. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Did you argue a lot about the wedding plans?
  • Were you able to share responsibilities related to the wedding? Did one of you take over while the other took a ride in the back seat? How did each of you feel about the roles you took on?
  • How did you handle mutual decision-making? Did one person get quiet and uncommunicative? Did one of you pester until you got your way?
  • Were you able to compromise in cases of disagreement?
  • Did you and your spouse take a less costly route (e.g., going to the justice of the peace)? Was that OK with both of you?
  • Did you contribute financially to your own wedding? If someone else financed the big day, how would they rate you as a steward of their money? Did you spend more because it wasn't coming out of your wallet?
  • Did you go into debt for your wedding? If so, how did you handle the debt when the guests had all gone home?
  • Did one of you resort to an emotional argument to get what you wanted (e.g., "Don't you want me to be happy?")?
  • How thoughtful were you when asking others to spend money (i.e., choosing a bridesmaid's dress that wasn't too expensive and including gifts of all price ranges on the gift registry)?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate your experience of planning the wedding with your spouse? In hindsight, what would you have done differently? What would you keep the same?

Time's up!
So how'd you do? If you and your partner answered each question honestly, you're likely to have identified some "hot spots" that came up during your engagement. Take a look at your own answers, then be prepared to share with your spouse. Remember, this is not about pointing out all of your partner's money foibles and past mistakes; you are simply taking a "stress test" to gauge where you and your partner naturally agree and where you differ.

Now, take that a bit further: What insight can you take from that experience and apply to your financial dealings with one another? How can each of you contribute more positively to the financial health of the household?

The more frequently the two of you can discuss money matters such as these in a non-volatile, non-judgmental way, the better off you will be. The health of your lifelong financial partnership relies on how well you develop communication skills (think cardio, which conditions your heart) and increase your net worth (think of this as the strength training). In your first workout, you'll set goals in each of these areas. Ready to get fiscal?

Next: Setting Financial Fitness Goals.

Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool'sRule Your Retirement newsletter. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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