MONEY Financial Planning

What Every Married Couple Should Understand About Community Property Laws

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5 must-know facts about marital property.

So Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck are splitting up. It’s a sad story (hey, I like Ben and Jen both), but there’s an interesting lesson for all of us in this news: That they agreed to divide their assets amicably (or so we are told) and mediate their divorce. This type of adult behavior is indeed rare in a split.

More importantly, they resided in California – it’s one of a handful of community property states, which has an effect on your finances as a couple (or to-be-former couple).

Community property statutes date back to when the U.S. annexed the southwestern states when it was Mexico’s territory. The states adopted the communal rules of family, a traditional approach to property rights that was based more or less on a homemaker and a working spouse (here’s a current list of community property states).

Community property is simple: Most assets accumulated during marriage are split equally between the spouses, no matter how they were earned. I am not a lawyer so I don’t give legal advice, but I am educated in this area and have been involved with divorces informing clients of what the general community property laws mean for them. Every state that has this law is different, so check with your state for specifics. Keeping that in mind, here are five must-know things about community property.

1. Retirement Accounts

Even though they are accumulated separately, they are considered community property and divided equally between spouses. Social Security is an entitlement account and is handled differently.

2. Inherited Money Is (Usually) Separate Property

Inherited money is usually considered separate property, but there is a catch. If the money is used to purchase other assets after the inheritance or new assets are generated, then it can be considered community property.

3. Businesses You Own

This is considered community property. This one can get ugly since the value is split with the spouse. It may be tough to raise the cash to pay the spouse. Imagine also having other shareholders involved or partners! It can get complicated. Talk to an experienced attorney about getting a spousal exclusion to those assets (like a postnuptial agreement). This is a very overlooked area in planning.

4. Prenuptial Agreements

It may seem sad that a contract for the possible end of a marriage is made before the marriage commences, however this is the contract that will effectively stand up in court against the community property laws. Since this is a true contract, it should by all rights be a pre-division of assets. If you move from a state without community property laws to one that has them and there is a prenup in place, that is usually still binding.

5. Property Acquired Prior to Marriage

Assets accumulated prior to the date of marriage are considered separate property, but there is a catch. Make sure you detail those assets and valuations before the date of marriage. Remember I mentioned retirement accounts? Take inventory of your stuff prior to the marriage date. This will avoid the cost of a forensic accountant trying to figure out what belonged to whom.

As you go through a divorce, and after it’s final, it’s also important to check your credit to make sure all accounts you’re responsible for are being reported accurately. You can get your free annual credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies from

These are some of the basics, but it is not comprehensive. What ultimately happens though if a divorce suit is filed? Well, like the Garner-Affleck story, as long as both parties agree to the terms, community property laws may not come into play since there is an agreement. If not, then a judge in a court may ultimately decide on the division of assets based on state law.

If you are a person with a simple or complex wealth plan and are getting married, or remarried, and you live in a community property state, consult a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or a family attorney to get good advice about your situation. You may not want to think about your marriage ever ending — nor the laws that apply if it ever does. However, you might one day be faced with the inevitable, so it can help to make sure you are ready for it.

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MONEY Financial Planning

8 Steps to Financial Wellness

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Sergio Kumer—Getty Images/iStockphoto

Financial wellness isn't just about wealth. It requires developing emotional and physical wellness as well.

The goal of comprehensive financial planning is to help our clients achieve financial wellness. That’s not the same as helping them get rich.

Building wealth and accumulating assets are important, but they make up only a slice of the wellness pie. Financial wellness also incorporates the ways wealth and income affect our emotional and physical well-being.

Financial wellness requires developing emotional and physical wellness as well. Searching for one inherently will expand to a search for all three. Just as with emotional and physical health, developing financial wellness is a journey—one which few people choose to make, and one in which there’s always a chance of going further.

Here’s some guidance for clients who want to embark on that journey, and for the planners who want to help them:

  1. This is an individual journey. Traveling the path to financial wellness for the sake of a spouse, parent, or friend—or because a financial planner recommends it—won’t work. If the motivation is a “should” or an “ought,” calling off the venture will save a lot of frustration and pain for both client and planner.
  1. You can’t guilt, shame, or manipulate people into this journey, and you shouldn’t help them guilt, shame, or manipulate anyone else to accompany them. We can’t find financial wellness for anyone else but ourselves. We certainly can join with others along the way, but all those on the path need to be there for themselves regardless of whether others are on the path.
  1. Be prepared for naysayers. Not everyone in a person’s life will support his or her quest for financial wellness. Many will try to convince him or her to stop or turn back. Often, the closer people are, and the more dependent they are on the client’s financial choices, the more threatening the journey may be to them and the more they will resist it.
  1. Lower your expectations of how quickly a person’s attitudes and behaviors around money and finances will change. Chances are it has taken a lifetime to develop a client’s relationship with money. Unlike the journey that Ebenezer Scrooge took to financial wellness, those of us in the real world won’t miraculously transform our relationship overnight.
  1. In the early stages of the journey, resist the urge to give people practical, logical information about money instead of looking at their emotions and beliefs around money. Most of the journey to financial wellness is not about the money. It’s about the thoughts and emotions we have about money and wealth.
  2. Be open to new awareness and knowledge. Planners should encourage clients to let go of their most deeply held “truths” about money. The more stubbornly we cling to strong beliefs about how systems work or people function around money, the more likely that those beliefs are not serving us well.
  1. Be gentle with people and encourage them to be gentle with themselves if they get off the main path and have to backtrack. Everyone on the journey to wellness takes his or her share of wrong turns.
  1. You can’t help people go where you are not going yourself. Planners can be trusted guides for clients, sharing their wisdom, missteps, and experience. For us planners to be such guides, it’s essential we be on the road to financial wellness ourselves.

Rick Kahler, ChFC, is president of Kahler Financial Group, a fee-only financial planning firm. His work and research regarding the integration of financial planning and psychology has been featured or cited in scores of broadcast media, periodicals and books. He is a co-author of four books on financial planning and therapy. He is a faculty member at Golden Gate University and the former president of the Financial Therapy Association.

MONEY Financial Planning

9 Money Lessons from Baseball

Haila Rosero / EyeEm—Getty Images

Just like on ball field, financial planning involves optimizing for past results and probabilities.

From time to time we bring you posts from our partners that may not be new but contain advice that bears repeating. Look for these classics on the weekends.

As you cheer your team in this year’s World Series, consider that America’s favorite pastime can teach you a lot about America’s main preoccupation: money.

How does baseball resemble your investing or financial decisions?

1. Probability of outcomes matters, whether concerning stolen bases or investment returns and financial goals.

2. Separating a manager’s skill and luck takes a long time.

3. A quality process matters more than immediate or short-term outcomes.

4. Dazzling past performance clouds present decisions and doesn’t guarantee future outcomes.

5. Specialists work best where they add the most value.

6. Scouts are to fans as investment managers are to average investors, making informed decisions using advanced data and resources. No informed decision is foolproof.

7. Best to worry only about what you can control.

8. Good teams and investment plans use a documented approach to evaluating present conditions and building for the future.

9. Most mutual fund managers are the equivalent of common baseball cards.

Baseball is our most statistically driven sport; we can digest piles of data about each game. Investing offers a similar ton of data to evaluate company stocks, bonds, economic conditions and investor psychology, to name just a few conditions. Beyond past returns and the price/earnings ratio of a stock, investment evaluation goes much deeper with formulas, algorithms, and even a measure called “batting average” that evaluates how an investment manager’s results compare with an unmanaged benchmark.

When I was a kid I loved Strat-O-Matic Baseball, an old-fashioned game in which you roll dice to manage a team and consult player cards for the outcome based on probabilities from past performance. Luck did figure heavily in any single roll of the dice; play long enough, though, and probabilities won out. Much as on Wall Street.

Baseball also evolved into a game of specialists filling specific roles. Pitchers, catchers and shortstops use distinct skills. Investment management is similar: A balanced approach that considers the broad universe of return-seeking opportunities and risk management requires a diverse mix of specialists.

The mix of luck and skill can be hard to evaluate in investment managers. Sometimes you misinterpret a single lucky event to the point of inflating the performance of the manager for years to come.

The probability of any investment manager consistently identifying winners and timing entry and exit with such holdings is low. Just as past performance doesn’t stop baseball general managers from offering obscenely lucrative long-term contracts to players whose careers are fading, investors steer a lot of capital toward money managers based on past market performance and returns.

How does the probability of scoring change if a baseball team has no outs and a runner on first base, compared with one out and a runner on second? Who’s at bat and what’s that batter’s past performance against the pitcher?

Will company earnings continue to grow and justify higher stock prices? How far and fast will interest rates ever climb? Will eurozone stagnation drag down the global economy, and, if so, how far?

To cite one financial firm as an example, my partners and I rely on probabilities of outcomes when creating long-term financial planning and asset projections. We use Money Guide Pro software – the Strat-O-Matic of financial planning – to model how assets, future income streams and expected investment returns might satisfy your retirement income, college savings, travel, health care and other long-term goals. We’re comfortable with a 70% to 80% probability. Insisting on much higher probability means building a plan for only the worst possible financial scenarios and can cause shortfall in your funding.

The investment world always carries an element of uncertainty, the relationship between risk and reward. Even if we accurately gauge the probability of investment outcomes, we won’t make successful money decisions every time. Fluid factors can disrupt probabilities.

An untimely double play quickly ends a promising rally. Retire a year early or spend more than you planned right before your golden years and your probability of funding retirement income changes. Lose your job and automatic payday funding to your investments temporarily dries up.

The challenge in financial planning and on the ball field: We optimize for past results and probabilities and still retain little control over outcomes, especially when we move beyond numbers and into your situations and goals changing through your game of life.

Gary Brooks is a certified financial planner and the president of Brooks, Hughes & Jones, a registered investment adviser in Tacoma, Wash

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MONEY Financial Planning

Two Founding Fathers Who Died Broke and One Who Retired Early

What can the men who adorn our currency teach us about our own finances?

In theory, the founding fathers should be the ultimate financial role models. After all, they’re literally on the money. Warren Buffett might be every investor’s hero, but even he can’t count his earnings without seeing the faces of Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, and Jefferson. Even John Adams, perhaps the most neglected of the founding fathers, has been commemorated on the dollar coin.

What can the men who adorn our currency teach us about our own finances? Quite a lot, actually, but not because they were all as good with money as they were at creating a nation. Jefferson, for example, amassed a great fortune but later squandered it and ended his life all but penniless (despite, of course, the economic advantages of being a slaveholder). But others, including Washington — a shrewd and even ruthless businessman — died very wealthy men.

Read the full text here.

MONEY financial advice

How Vanguard Founder Jack Bogle Invests His Grandchildren’s Money

Ahead of Father's Day, Bogle also talks about the investment advice he gives—or doesn't give—his children.

Just a few days before Father’s Day 2015, MONEY assistant managing editor Pat Regnier interviewed John C. “Jack” Bogle, the founder and former CEO of Vanguard, the world’s largest mutual fund company. The elder statesman of the mutual fund industry—and a pioneer in index investing—talked about the investing advice he gives his children, one of whom runs a hedge fund, along with how he invests, and doesn’t invest, on behalf of his grandchildren. Look for an in-depth interview with Bogle in an upcoming issue of MONEY.

Read next: Where are Most of the World’s Millionaires?

MONEY stock market

A Financial Planner’s Investment Advice for His Son — and Everyone Else

family on roller coaster
Joe McBride—Getty Images

Father's Day has a financial adviser thinking about important lessons to be passing along.

A friend recently asked me to recommend a book for his son on buying and selling stocks.

As I pondered his request, I started thinking about the various books I’ve read or skimmed over my 24-plus years of working in financial services. Initially, I was overwhelmed with titles. Then I started thinking about my own teenaged son and the difficulty I was having getting him to think differently about his money—that he won’t always be able to depend on his parents to help him out. Anyway, I thought if I couldn’t compel a 14-year-old to change his ways, what could I say to my friend’s son, who’s in his 20s?

Finally, I asked myself what would I say—not bark, I promise—to my own son if he were in his 20s and came to me for investing advice? This is what I came up with:

You can go to just about any investment site (e.g. Vanguard, Schwab, or Fidelity) to learn the fundamentals of investing. You need to know, however, that the process of buying and selling is not hard. The real challenge is knowing what to buy, when to buy, and when to sell. If you plan to make investing a career, there is a lot more you need to know than you can learn from a website or book. That would require another conversation.

For now, I would advise you to think long and hard about why you want to invest. In other words, take time to map out your life goals for the next three to five years and the financial resources you will need to achieve them.

Simply saying you want to invest “to make money” will not work when you are invested in a fluctuating market. Short-term volatility can be a bear (pun intended). You have to be willing to ask how much money you can withstand losing when the market goes down, as well as how much profit is enough. As the old Wall Street saying goes, bulls make money in up markets, bears in down markets, and pigs get slaughtered. You also have to be willing to ask yourself how long you plan to stay invested, no matter how much the market fluctuates or falls.

Why am I focusing on declining markets and roller-coaster, up-and-down markets? It’s because people tend to fixate on rising stocks and profits, but pay very little attention to the markets’ inevitable declines. Everyone loves bull markets, which are great for the average investor. But when the market heads south quickly or takes a long, slow journey to the cellar, someone who was looking to make a quick profit can suffer a lot of stress.

Finally, I hope this short note does not come across as too preachy. I congratulate you on your interest in investing, and I will end by saying you are way ahead of the game because you’re thinking about investing now instead of later. Good luck.

Read next: The 3 Most Important Money Lessons My Dad Taught Me


Frank Paré is a certified financial planner in private practice in Oakland, California. He and his firm, PF Wealth Management Group, specialize in serving professional women in transition. Frank is currently on the board of the Financial Planning Association and was a recipient of the FPA’s 2011 Heart of Financial Planning award.

MONEY psychology of money

Here’s How to Know If You Need a Financial Therapist

Gregory Reid; prop styling by Renee Flugge

Looking to have a healthier relationship with your money? This could be the answer.

Imagine that you know exactly what you should be doing with your money, but can’t quite bring yourself to do it. Maybe you’re still giving cash to an adult child who probably should be supporting himself. Perhaps you and your spouse have constant arguments about money. Or maybe you’ve lost plenty taking risky bets on the market—and now you’re taking even bigger chances.

For some problems like these, you could consult with a financial adviser. For others, you might be better served by seeing a psychologist or couples counselor. But a small number of professionals propose you should consult with another type of practitioner: a financial therapist.

Using both psychology and fiscal expertise, financial therapists try to fill a vacuum they perceive between psychologists who are unsophisticated about money and financial advisers who are inattentive to the human side of personal finance.

The field is a tiny one with a brief track record: The five-year-old Financial Therapy Association trade group has 200 members, compared with the Financial Planning Association’s 23,000. Anyone can call himself a financial therapist; no license or training is required. So finding a good therapist might be hard, but well worth it for certain types of issues. Here’s how to figure that out.


The aim of financial therapy, says Brad Klontz, a psychologist and financial planner, is “to find out what aspects of your upbringing, your money beliefs, or your relationship with money are causing you distress, sabotaging you, or keeping you stuck.”


Therapists, then, try to help you match your actions around money to your goals. Do you have a budget but can’t stick to it? Did your financial planner tell you last year to raise your 401(k) contribution, but you still haven’t done so? A financial therapist can help you out of your rut. If you and your spouse can’t resolve disagreements over supporting aging parents or investing your retirement savings, a therapist can help break the logjam.

What a financial therapist can’t do depends on his or her particular background. An investment adviser who has studied financial therapy can’t treat psychological disorders or fix your marriage. A psychologist specializing in money issues can’t pick investments for your IRA. Amanda Clayman, a social worker and financial therapist in New York City, won’t participate in decisions about buying or selling assets. “That’s outside of my training,” she says.


Some financial therapists will delve into your past in sessions reminiscent of psychoanalysis; others assign homework to get you to change your habits. One exercise Klontz suggests is writing down associations with words like “spending,” “investments,” “power,” and “work.” Exploring those answers can articulate and help alter what he calls “money scripts,” or core beliefs that underlie your behavior around money.


To find a therapist, start with the FTA’s member directory ( Practitioners tend to be mental-health professionals, social workers, or financial planners.

Ask potential therapists about their approach and their training. Those who aren’t financial planners should have some kind of therapeutic licensure, such as an advanced degree in marriage and family therapy, psychology, or social work. If you’re talking to a financial planner and not a counseling professional, look for a willingness to refer you to such a therapist if your problems are beyond her area of expertise.

Also clarify a therapist’s limits. Though Klontz, for example, is both a psychologist and a financial planner, he won’t handle the same person’s therapy and portfolio.


Rates vary widely, but psychologists and social workers charge about $100 to $150 an hour, on par with conventional therapy. Financial advisers tend to charge more. Financial therapy per se isn’t covered by insurance, but sessions with a licensed health care provider are covered for diagnosed mental-health conditions. “Anxiety or depression can be an issue,” says Maggie Baker, Ph.D., a financial therapist in Wynnewood, Pa. As with couples counseling, though, therapy for two will come out of pocket.

Read next: Are You and Your Partner a Money Match?

MONEY Kids and Money

The 3 Most Important Money Lessons My Dad Taught Me

father letting son swipe credit card at cash register
Monashee Frantz—Getty Images

Many of our financial dos and don'ts are instilled by parents at an early age. Here's what my father passed along to me.

One of the responses I often hear from clients toward the end of a financial planning meeting is, “This sounds good. I’m going to talk to my dad about it.”

For many of us, our mothers and fathers have played a profound role in shaping our financial habits—so much so that we still discuss our plans with our parents well into our adult lives. Whether it’s deciding where to invest retirement savings, how much to pay for a first home, or how much of each paycheck to invest in a 401(k), we sometimes go to our parents to help make decisions and to doublecheck we’re on the right path.

These conversations with many of my clients have me thinking about the values and habits my father instilled in me at a young age. Three very powerful lessons come to mind:

Live Within Your Means

On my eighth birthday, my father began to teach me how to live within my means. As I write those words, it sounds funny, even to me. He sat me down and taught me about an allowance. He was going to provide me with a weekly stipend that I would later come to realize was my means. I was going to have a set amount of money that I could spend on anything I’d like. The only catch was that once I spent it all, I couldn’t buy anything else until the following Friday when I received my next allowance. At the age of 8, I began to learn how to budget, how to save, and how to spend wisely.

Plan For the Future

At 14, my father took me to his bank’s local branch to open my first savings account. We sat down at the desk with the bank manager and I shared that I had saved $370 and I needed a place to keep it so it would grow. Entering high school, I knew I wanted two things on the day I turned 16: a driver’s license and a car. If I was going to make them both happen, I was going to need a plan. Dad and I worked out a savings plan to help me save the money I earned from a part-time tutoring job. It took me a bit longer to save up for my first car than I anticipated, but planning and saving to reach a future goal is a valuable life lesson—one I share with my clients every day..

Start Today

When I was 16, I sat down again with Dad to learn about a Roth IRA, retirement planning and perhaps, most importantly, compound interest. I learned that by starting early and investing, my money could grow. By opening an investment account and saving into my Roth IRA with the possibility to earn compound returns, I could potentially become a millionaire when I was older—a crazy thought for a 16-year-old. We charted out a simple savings plan to invest a portion of each paycheck I earned—a savings and investing program I follow to this day.

On the occasion of Father’s Day, I thank you, Dad, for instilling many of my financial values and habits at a young age—habits that will continue to shape the decisions I make for years to come.

Read next: 3 Financial Lessons For Dads on Father’s Day


Joe O’Boyle is a financial adviser with Voya Financial Advisors. Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., O’Boyle provides personalized, full service financial and retirement planning to individual and corporate clients. O’Boyle focuses on the entertainment, legal and medical industries, with a particular interest in educating Gen Xers and Millennials about the benefits of early retirement planning.

MONEY migraines

Don’t Let Migraines Hurt Your Finances

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Americans lose an estimated 113 million work days to migraines.

If you have never experienced a migraine, consider yourself blessed by a thousand angels.

Sarah Hackley wishes she could say that. The Austin-based writer and editor suffers from headaches so severe, “it feels like someone is jamming an ice pick into my temple while dropping an anvil on my head.”

Nowadays, she gets attacks at least twice a week, sometimes daily. But twice in her life time, the 31-year-old mom of two has experienced migraines that lasted for an astonishing two years.

Migraines may not exert just physical pain or emotional duress. They could hurt the pocketbook, too, and blow up the most careful financial planning.

Hackley quit her job, working part-time from home, and has spent many thousands of dollars visiting specialists around the country. She isn’t saving much for retirement.

“Migraines are a huge deal for your finances, because they influence what you can do,” says Hackley, author of “Finding Happiness with Migraines.”

Saving is already hard for most Americans. Throw in a debilitating condition that can leave you bedridden, wracked by pain, sensitive to light, noise or smells, and unable to work. How will your bank account fare then?

“Part of the suffering is that migraines take such a huge hit on people’s lives and finances,” says Carolyn Bernstein, clinical director of the Comprehensive Headache Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Brookline, Massachusetts.

“You are unable to go to work, you are using up all your vacation time, and you are prevented from being able to advance in your career,” Bernstein says.

Costs to Wallet, Life

These recurring headaches torture a surprising number of people – about 36 million Americans, or 10 percent of the population, according to the New York City-based nonprofit Migraine Research Foundation.

Each year, that translates to 113 million lost work days, a cost to employers of $13 billion, and $50 billion in annual healthcare services.

Migraines can torpedo finances at multiple stages of your career. They can affect your education, by encouraging sufferers to drop out; your prime earning years, by hampering productivity and promotions; and your golden years, with the pain pushing you into early retirement.

“When migraines are out of control, they can set people up for a lifetime of underachievement,” says Dr. Richard Lipton, vice-chair of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.

Part of the challenge is that migraines are mysterious and individual in nature.

Still, there are a few key strategies migraine sufferers can use to minimize the financial hit.

Don’t Suffer in Silence

“See a doctor and get treatment right away,” advises Lipton.

A tailored personal strategy might include taking preventive medication on a daily basis, avoiding triggers that could range from missing meals to getting irregular sleep or drinking alcohol, and having additional medication on hand for when the migraines hit.

To control ongoing healthcare costs, consider medical savings accounts. You will be forking out for everything from deductibles to co-pays to out-of-network services, and you should at least be using pretax money to cover all that, saving you on the order of 30 percent.

Bernstein provides this example: If you are on three different medications to control your migraines, each one with a co-pay costing $10 a month, that’s $360 for the year.

Add in physical therapy 10 times a year, each session with a $25 co-pay, for another $250 annually. Other treatments like acupuncture could prove effective, but might not be covered by your insurance plan.

Protect Yourself

If attacks are causing you to be away from work fairly consistently, you may be seen by higher-ups as someone who cannot be counted on, and miss out on plum assignments or promotions. Or worse, be first in the firing line if there are staff cutbacks.

As a result, “ask your doctor for a letter to give to your Human Resources department,” advises Bernstein. “That way you won’t get penalized for having migraines. Once it’s documented, you have some degree of protection.”

As for Sarah Hackley, she is able to work only a few hours a day, or a migraine is triggered, laying her out for a full week.

But with the help of doctors and fellow sufferers at online communities like, she can at least manage her money and her migraines.

“It’s an expensive condition, but all the support out there is invaluable,” she says. “You can’t put a price on that.”

MONEY credit cards

6 Credit Card Vows Every Newlywed Couple Should Make

uniquely india—Getty Images/photosindia

Never commit credit betrayal.

You might think new marriage survival is all about figuring out how to divide household chores, but marital money discussions are just as important as whose turn it is to do the dishes.

As these couples and experts share, setting up some credit rules after the wedding is the best way to ensure that plastic doesn’t put a damper on your post-honeymoon bliss.

1. Get the conversation going.
Although it helps if you have a handle on your partner’s finances before walking down the aisle, once you decide to co-mingle money in marriage, it really makes sense to talk about credit guidelines, says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert and author of “How to Give Financial Advice to Couples.” “Especially in the beginning of a marriage, you’re both more open,” she says. If you’re already working with a financial adviser, you can easily add credit cards to your meeting agenda.

Otherwise, you should start your own dollar discussion. “It may sound boring and dull, but spend 15-20 minutes once a month to check in on spending, savings, credit cards and debt,” says Kingsbury. If you’re the spouse who is more money conscious, you can say something like: “I’ve heard about some couples getting into trouble when they’re not talking about money, so I want to make sure this part of the marriage is cared for.”

You can even try to make the task more fun, says Jeff Motske, author of “The Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility,” by planning a “Financial Date Night.” “Couples can discuss their short- and long-term goals with one another at a favorite restaurant over a nice bottle of wine,” he says.

2. Set limits that work for you.
Paul Moyer, owner of, and his wife Amy (who are both personal finance coaches in Anderson, South Carolina) started having financial meetings in the very first month of their marriage.

“That is also when we laid down some ground rules for spending. With credit cards, we started with no spending that was not in the budget, and when we did spend money, if it was over $20 we had to consult with the other person,” he says.

No matter what amount you decide on (author Motske and his wife go as high as $400), you can follow the same principle. “Working together is the only way to make our budget work each and every month,” he says. “In fact, we have never really had a fight over money in 10 years,” says Moyer.

Setting limits doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around a dollar amount, says Kingsbury. What works for her own marriage is that she and her husband have come to understand what the other person values. “My husband and I spend a fair amount on skiing. But we’ve consciously decided we are allowed to spend that money for those experiences,” she says. If your hobbies don’t mesh, that’s fine, too, as long as each person is allowed some judgment-free flexibility to enjoy their own thing.

In addition, take the time to understand your partner’s spending style. “It’s important to be respectful about your partner’s money personality. Someone can come into the marriage thinking credit is only for emergencies. Another might use credit for everything to earn points,” says Kingsbury. An honest conversation is more productive than finger-pointing, she adds.

3. Share statements.
In their three years of married life, Amanda and Chad Harmon of Provo, Utah, have moved “from ‘proving’ themselves to trusting each other,” says Amanda. Because her job is with a credit card security company, SecurityMetrics, she instinctively is on watch to protect her personal credit accounts from being hacked.

“When hackers test the authenticity of stolen credit cards, they often make small purchases at fast food restaurants or gas stations. I want to make sure I catch any type of fraudulent activity,” she explains.

Her method is to save every single card receipt. “It was a pain at first and took a few months to get my husband on board, but now we save all our receipts in a little basket and have a mini finance meeting at the end of each month to reconcile the receipts with our credit card statements,” she says. That way, not only are they guarding against fraudulent purchases, but they each know what the other spends during the month.

Kingsbury says that the Harmons’ strategy is smart. “In my marriage, I’m the one who pays the bills, but when the bill comes in, my husband and I review it and have a conversation,” she says. Ideally, no matter who is in charge of sending payments, both members of the couple should look over the statements.

Motske and his wife take statement sharing a step further by using what he calls the “three-highlighter method” to identify any excessive spending that might be taking place, and ultimately avoid bitter arguments later. “Use three different colored highlighter pens to differentiate a) necessary expenditures; b) those that you really wanted; and c) frivolous ones,” he explains. Seeing your spending habits in living color helps both of you make better decisions moving forward, and achieve financial goals together.

4. Don’t downplay secret spending.
In our society, it’s almost become a sitcom punch line that spouses go on spending sprees behind each other’s backs. What may start out innocent enough — maybe a sale that you couldn’t pass up and then just “forgot” to mention — can quickly grow into a pattern of credit betrayal. “Secret spending breaks down one of the pillars of a relationship — trust,” says Motske. “A lack of trust here soon spills over into other areas of your relationship, which can ultimately erode the bond between you.”

When you consider that a March 2014 Money magazine poll found that the No. 1 source of money arguments was “spending too much on frivolous purchases,” you can see why some spouses opt to avoid conflict by hiding their credit use. Of course, once you go down that path, now you’ve done something worse by lying to your partner.

5. Make future credit decisions as a team.
Another rule to have once you’re married should be regarding new credit accounts. Because lines of credit can be opened as an individual, it can be tempting to just go ahead and do so any time a retail store asks if you want to apply for a card, but that approach can be dangerous.

“As a rule, we do not take out new credit,” says Moyer. “The only time we even consider new credit is if we are making a large purchase (appliances, furniture, etc.), and the store offers us a reasonable percentage off to get a credit card with them,” he says. In those cases, the Moyers make sure they have the cash on hand to pay off the new card immediately.

Having a similar guideline in place for your marriage can help prevent debt from getting out of control.

6. Nip problems in the bud — together.
Not every marriage starts off debt-free, and credit card balances can creep up, but how you handle such situations can set the tone for your marriage. “Be compassionate if your partner has credit card debt. Chances are they didn’t intend to get in over their head financially,” says Kingsbury. Ask questions to find out how it happened, and make a plan to pay off the credit cards as a team, she suggests. If you feel you need assistance to deal with debt to meet your bigger financial goals as a couple, then get help. “Finding a skilled couple-friendly adviser can be important step in a marriage,” says Kingsbury.

Read next: Are You and Your Partner a Money Match?

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