You've probably heard that financial grief is the No. 1 cause of marital strife. Which is why we at The Motley Fool encourage couples to discuss their inflow and outflow -- and make a plan -- before money comes between the matrimony.
But let's face it: Wrangling over the state of the union doesn't sound like much fun. Unless, of course, you play...
The Fooly-Wed Game
Remember The Newlywed Game? We've created the fun, financial version for you and your partner. The only things missing are the cardboard signs (we discourage smashing objects on loved ones' heads). Take a few minutes to answer the following questions. Read the question aloud, then each partner should record his/her answers on his/her own sheet of paper. Don't peek at each other's answers. The fun part of this exercise is comparing your responses at the end.
1. What would your partner say is the annual income your family would need to be happy? $__________
2. Place the following items in order of importance (1=top financial priority, 8=lowest financial priority):
____furniture ____retirement ____car _____clothes ____vacation ____college ____home _____entertainment
3. When was the last time you made financial whoopee... or at least talked about your finances?
4. How much would your bank account have to sink to before you panicked? $______
5. How much is too much to spend without consulting your partner? $______
6. If your main squeeze were a superhero, which superhero would he/she be? ________
7. What are the three best purchases you've made as a couple? The three worst?
8. You get $1,000 back as a tax refund. What would you spend it on? What would your partner spend it on?
I would spend it on: ________________________________________
My partner would spend it on: ________________________________
9. You view money as (circle one):
A) A necessary evil B) The path to happiness
C) Nice to have, but I won't sweat over it D) Where's my wallet?
10. Which of the two of you is more likely to:
__________Know how much is in the checking account
__________Buy an expensive gift
__________Look for the best deal
__________Know how the stock market fared
__________Do the taxes
So did you learn anything? Did you find more areas of agreement or more areas of disagreement? Are you still in the same room? C'mon... it's time for a group hug.
We're not marriage counselors. But we have heard from some knowledgeable sources -- including our happily married friends -- that anticipating problems and heading them off at the pass is the first step to healthy co-mingling. Therefore, keep the following ground rules in mind and you're on your way to a lifetime of productive financial conversations:
1. Agree to try. You may be skeptical about doing things differently, or of even opening up financial conversations.
2. Accept equal responsibility for changing your lives around. Creating a better financial future falls to both members of the couple. That means you share the angst, the jobs (balancing your checkbook, filling out spreadsheets, cutting coupons, etc.), and the rewards (taking that great European vacation! sending your kids to college!).
3. Don't play the blame game. No fair bringing up outside issues and attacking your partner's views. You can play the blame game with your tone of voice and posture, too, so watch out for these silent accusations as well as the louder ones.
4. Be honest. It won't do any good if you hide expenditures when you're trying to make a joint budget and assess your spending habits. If you feel the urge to lie, ask yourself what's going on -- what are you afraid of? If you know this is a problem in your relationship, deal with it constructively and creatively -- like keeping some money separate in a small account earmarked just for you.
5. Be realistic. You don't want to say you'll have a two-hour conversation about money every Sunday if the two of you never have even 15 minutes to sit down. Find some small ways to keep each other updated, like Post-It notes on the refrigerator with your weekly bank balance on them. Combine your money conversation with another activity you need to do. For example, you might rake leaves while deciding how much you can spend on your family vacation.
6. Take a break if your conversation gets heated and unproductive. Cool down, review your list of ground rules, and make sure you set a follow-up date to talk again. Don't use this rule as an excuse to avoid tough subjects!
7. Play fair. If one of you takes on the lion's share of the financial upkeep, or picks up the other person's slack, make sure there's a reward for the extra work. Unload the dishwasher for once. Or get your number-crunching spouse a pair of massaging slippers.
8. Keep current. Your summit will go much more smoothly if you are regularly updating your Bit-by-Bit Budget. If you've slacked in recent months, do yourself a favor and catch up as best you can. At the very least, whenever you get retirement statements and bills, put them in a file so that you're not searching the entire house looking for your last Master Card bill.
9. Keep it fun. Remember, you're working towards common goals. Whether it's paying off debt or saving for a pair of vintage Vespas, the Financial Check-up is all about achieving your dreams.
10. Stay the course. If you notice your numbers starting to slip, don't panic! (Well, go ahead and take three minutes and 18 seconds to let out a primal scream, then it's back to work.) Every business has down cycles. As the CEO (or co-CEO of your empire), it's up to you to keep your troops on track. If you find that your debts have started creeping back up, resolve to more aggressively attack them in the next fiscal quarter. If you needed to dip into the emergency fund a few months ago, make a mental note to replenish those coffers. Then the next scheduled financial check-up you can celebrate with a bottle of bubbly juice.
For more tips on handling money with your honey, check out The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples & Cash. And for everything you need to know about building a budget -- and bigger net worth -- with your better half, consider The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook.
Robert Brokamp's wife whacks him with a cardboard sign every night, because he deserves it. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.