RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's give some thought now to money and marriage. It might be nice if one had nothing to do with the other, but in sickness and in health, through good times and bad, money is one of the things most likely to cause discord in a long-term relationship. Whether you're just starting out or you've been together for years, NPR's Chris Arnold has some tips on the best way to achieve marital monetary bliss.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Mary Fusillo met her husband Bob on a blind date in Houston, Texas, and she knew right away that she liked him.
MARY FUSILLO: This was somebody who was very intellectual - like, read jazz biographies of dead jazz musicians (laughter). And I was used to guys that went hunting on the weekends. And he was a chemical engineer.
ARNOLD: Nothing against hunting, mind you. But anyway, they fell in love, got married, a house, kids - twins actually. But within a few years, there was trouble.
FUSILLO: It's not - he was a good husband. He's always done all the cooking, which is great. He gave the kids a bath. The money thing always made us crazy.
ARNOLD: Fusillo says she was working fewer hours to juggle taking care of the kids, and she was a nurse. Her husband was making more money than she was, but they were splitting their expenses down the middle. And so after paying her share of the child care and some bills, Fusillo says she was pretty much always broke.
FUSILLO: It would be a week before payday and I would have, like, 20 bucks. And I would go to my dad and say can I have $100? And my dad would be like, well, what's up? And I'd say please, just give me a hundred bucks. It was bad.
ARNOLD: Oftentimes, the spouse in a relationship doesn't even realize how big an issue this is becoming for the other person. Fusillo says that's what was going on with her husband. But over time, Fusillo got increasingly frustrated about it to the point, actually, she says she's surprised that they didn't get divorced.
FUSILLO: Because I had such overwhelming resentment.
ARNOLD: Money - nobody teaches us how to deal with this stuff in school, how to manage your finances with your spouse or partner. And part of the problem often seems to be that it's just very hard for couples to talk about money issues and resolve anything.
LAUREN PAPP: We know that these conflicts concerning money are difficult for couples to handle.
ARNOLD: Lauren Papp is a psychologist and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did a study where she followed 200 married people who kept diary entries about their arguments. And she found that we squabble more often about the kids or household chores, but she found that money can be one of the most damaging areas of conflict. That's because so much is wrapped up in it.
PAPP: Feelings about our self-worth or how much we're contributing, how much we've accomplished.
ARNOLD: OK, so what's a good approach to dealing with all of this?
KITTY BRESSINGTON: I get clients in all the time right for that question.
ARNOLD: Kitty Bressington is a financial adviser who specializes in helping couples. First up, she says...
BRESSINGTON: Get all of the issues out on the table, work through a budget, come to some agreement on yours, mine, ours, some spending limit types of things. Those all come from being able to talk about money, which as a society, we're not very good at.
ARNOLD: Bressington says, actually, she doesn't think it's a good idea to just throw all your money together into one account and hope for the best. But, she says, it is good for a couple to have a joint account to cover the basic bills. Then you need a plan for retirement savings, college, other long-term savings. But then there's the fun money that's discretionary.
BRESSINGTON: If you decided, say, $250 a month and that fits within your budget, and one person wants to blow his 250 and the other person wants to save her 250, that's OK 'cause you've set those ground rules.
ARNOLD: As far as Mary Fusillo, she and her husband eventually did figure out a better system. Now she's pretty much in charge of managing all of their finances.
FUSILLO: And that changed our relationship completely. We're a team now. I mean, he still makes more money than I do, but we're a team about it.
ARNOLD: And that is a very good place to be. We've got more tips online and in our Facebook group at npr.org/moneyandlife. Chris Arnold, NPR News.
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