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by Sarah Colwell

My little brother married his college sweetheart this past weekend, and instead of getting him a set of knives or towels, I decided to give him something he could really use to help his life and his marriage - tools for his finances.

Money is often a heated topic of discussion early and often in a marriage. According to a CNN Money study, 84 percent of couples surveyed said money causes tension in their marriage and 13 percent say they fight about money several times a month.

Managing money can become a source of arguments within a relationship because it often is synonymous with power. A person might feel entitled to have more of a say in money decisions in a relationship if he or she earns more income than the other person. One person in the relationship might be a spender, while the other person might be a saver. One or both people in the relationsh ip might bring a lot of debt to a marriage. The list goes on and on.

The right tools
I wanted to give my brother some financial tools and pieces of advice I wish I had been given earlier in my marriage, and hopefully prevent some arguments in his marriage, at least those involving money.

The first tool I got him was Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach. I found Smart Couples Finish Rich helpful because it begins by focusing on the goals the couple has, not talking about money. They are not specific goals like "become a millionaire by 55" or "visit every continent", but rather broader goals such as security and adventure.

Each person in the relationship determines his or her five goals and then compares with the other person. A group of common goals is established and any individual goals that do not match are prioritized and chosen by the couple to set five common goals.

Once the goals have been determined, a couple's current budget is analyzed. Are they spending their money in line with the goals? Perhaps "travel" is one of the top five goals of the couple, but they currently are not saving any money each month to go on trips near or far.

The budget then might be adjusted so money is spent in accordance with the couple's goals. In theory, both people in the relationship should be satisfied about how their money is being spent from that point forward because it is being allocated to both the individual and mutual priorities.

Uniting vs. dividing
By focusing on how a couple can work on common goals together, the book brought to light the idea that money can be something that further unites people rather than pulls them apart. In marriage you learn how to share a ot of things: living space, chores, kids, etc. So, as David Bach says, why not learn how to share money and use that money to achieve common goals together.

Nothing can be more unifying than to work on and accomplish things tog ether as a couple.

Also, when two people are working on common goals together, they usually become more committed to sticking to the budget. Arguments like, why did you spend $300 on shoes this weekend, or you need to stop going out to eat with your friends, in theory, donšt happen.

It also creates a non-threatening platform to have a dialogue about money, because the couple is talking about progress toward their common goals rather than dollars and cents.

Everything in order
The other tool I got my brother and his new wife was a file cabinet. I created files with labels for banking, credit card debt, medical paperwork, insurance, bills, car payments and receipts, taxes, retirement savings and investments. In some files I put manila folders for sub-categories. For example, in the credit card debt file I put four manila folders: one for each credit card they own and one folder to keep track of their credit reports.

I also included a tip sheet ab out how long they should keep paperwork. For example: You should hang on to tax returns and proof of filing forever, just in case you get a not-so-friendly visit from the Internal Revenue Service; documents that support the tax returns should be kept for six years, same with stock, bonds and mutual fund statements; and medical bills should be kept for six years if you deduct them on your tax return, otherwise you can toss them after one year.

Better to be safe
The final tool I got him was a paper shredder. It is a tool that I use at least once a week to shred the dozens of pre-approved credit card applications I get. It is something, I feel, is essential when managing your personal finances to help prevent identity theft.

I am hoping that these three things will prevent my little brother from ever having to spend a night on the couch.

Good luck Matt and Kareena in your years together, because, in the wise words of our late Grandpa Bill, You're married now, baby!

Sarah Colwell covers banking and finance for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.