Plenty of couples aren't on the same page of the checkbook register. One's a tightwad, the other's a spendthrift, and they haven't found a way to meet in the middle. Or they fight about how much to save and whether to carry debt. Some hide purchases from their partner and avoid broaching the topic of money altogether.
I asked some experts to share their strategies for achieving marital money bliss. Here's a compilation of the best tips.
-- Establish a money meeting. 'Tis the season for State of the Unions. Why not have your own financial-state-of-the-union meeting, suggests Christina Boyd, a financial planner with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management in Wayzata, Minn. Use this annual meeting to have an in-depth discussion about both long- and short-term goals.
Others have money meetings more regularly. Cherie Landwehr and her husband sit down monthly to discuss how they'll spend their paychecks, "so the other person isn't 'surprised' by the new bass boat in the driveway," Landwehr, a CPA, explains. "It is the only way we can really be in touch with the other about our money and where it goes."
-- Create a plan to reach long-term goals. Studies have shown that opposites do attract, even when it comes to money. How should the saver make sure the spender will be able to retire? How should the spender convince the saver it's time to go on vacation? With a list of shared goals and a strategy to achieve them, said Kay Kramer, of KLB Financial in Edina, Minn.
In my household, we automate savings so money goes toward retirement, our emergency savings and our vacation fund every month without debate. We also each get $200 a month in "his" and "her" spending money to pay for everything from clothes and haircuts to nights out with friends.
-- It's OK for one of you to handle the money. William Doherty quickly learned that his wife was better at paying the bills and tracking the money. So she took over the day-to-day finances, and has been managing them for much of their 40-year marriage. But that doesn't mean the University of Minnesota professor and author of "Take Back Your Marriage" is in the dark. "In a marriage, both parties have to know everything about their finances. Ignorance creates imbalance in the relationship, and secrets kill trust," he said.
-- Have a plan if you're hit by a bus. No one likes to think about what happens to your loved ones if you get sick or die, but taking steps to care for and protect your family when you're no longer able to is a sure sign of love. Have a will. Let your family know your final wishes, and where to find your important papers. Review your life-insurance policy. Consider a disability policy. And think about long-term care.
Mike Westling, a long-term-care insurance specialist in Richfield, Minn., has watched his father, who was in a serious car accident in 2004 and is in assisted living, spend about $4,000 a month on his care. "A long-term-care insurance policy is the best form of saying 'I love you' to your spouse and family, because removing the looming responsibility of day-to-day care-giving on the family is truly a gift and a blessing," Westling said.
-- Set up a threesome. "It's too bad couples are an even number of people. Nobody is there to break a tie when there's a conflict," said Jeff McComas, founder of the Minnesota Diehards, a local group of investors who believe in Vanguard founder John Bogle's passive approach to savings. Need a third opinion? Get one, suggests Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis vice president Richard Todd in this poem:
Money trouble makes honey trouble, and
Honey trouble makes money trouble,
So if you have one or the other,
See a counselor on the double.