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 before the money starts to negatively affect the matrimony. Some people might even need an objective referee, such as a fee-only financial planner, to keep it clean.
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 over loved ones' heads). Take a few minutes to answer the following questions. One of you should 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; vacation; college; car; home; clothes; 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?
9. You view money as (choose 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 is faring; 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 commingling. 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 starting up financial conversations. But you’ll need to take the plunge if you want to improve the picture.
2. Accept equal responsibility for changing your lives. 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 while 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. But 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. Get professional help if necessary. No, we’re not talking about marriage counseling (though that might help, too). We’re talking about professional financial help, such as the fee-only advisors at the Garrett Planning Network. You can pay a fee-only planner by the hour or by the project, so it’s the perfect arrangement for couples who need an independent, expert sounding board. (For a limited time, many Garrett advisors are offering a 10% discount to Fool readers. Visit the Locate an Advisor map, click on your state, and look for the Fool logo to find participating advisors.)
9. Keep it fun. Remember, you're working toward common goals. Whether it's paying off debt or saving for a pair of vintage Vespas, the Fooly-Wed Game 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, during the next scheduled financial checkup, you can celebrate with a bottle of bubbly juice.