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Originally published Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 10:01 PM

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Money tip: How to make your relationship work, financially speaking

Chicago Tribune

Money is a topic that strains most relationships, especially marriages, experts say.

One survey by American Express showed finances were by far the largest cause of stress in relationships.

Money dwarfed such other stressors as intimacy, children and in-laws.

"Money is the third partner in a marriage," said Pegi Burdick, who helps women untangle their emotions about money through her company, The Financial Whisperer.

Of course, the first advice you'll often hear is to communicate, which is the solution to many relationship problems, experts say. But aside from the general advice of talking constructively about money, here are more tactical ideas for getting on the same financial page, specifically with spending money.

Mars and Venus: Couples often end up with their money-spending opposites, trying, and often failing, to live in harmony, according to the 2009 academic study "Fatal (Fiscal) Attraction: Spendthrifts and Tightwads in Marriage."

Some spending differences are specific to individuals, but men and women typically have wildly different ideas about what's important, especially for extra or discretionary money.

A recent survey by credit website MyFICO.com showed just 12 percent of people said they have the same spending habits as their partner.

The best advice is to acknowledge the different priorities and avoid thinking that what your partner wants is stupid, frivolous or a waste of money.

Finance author Matt Bell said he didn't at first understand why his wife, Jude, is so particular about buying eyeglasses for herself.

Though generally frugal, she likes to shop for pricey glasses at a high-end boutique optical shop. Bell said he didn't get it — he would buy cheaper glasses for himself — but it's important to her and reflects a perfectionist streak that is part of her temperament, something he explored in his new book, "Money and Marriage."

He now understands that the next time his wife needs a new pair of glasses, they won't be going to a department store or a national eyeglasses chain. And he has made peace with it.

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Tell all: In exploring the money part of a relationship, find out where you both stand with money, especially if you're a new couple or have separate accounts.

Break out the bank statements and investment-account summaries. Then go to www.annualcreditreport.com and download a free credit report from the credit bureaus.

It's essentially a printed history of your credit life. Swap documents and calmly ask the questions you need answers to.

"It's really important to have full financial disclosure before getting married and complete ongoing financial transparency after getting married," said Bell, who blogs at MattAboutMoney.com

Don't sweat the small stuff: Partners need to be on the same page about big stuff but don't need to micromanage, experts say. Set a spending limit above which you're obligated to discuss a purchase with a spouse. Second, each person needs access to money to spend as they see fit, no questions asked.

"No more guilt. No more fights over 'How much did you spend on that leather jacket?' " said Farnoosh Torabi, author of "Psych Yourself Rich."

Bank accounts: There's ongoing debate and little agreement among money experts about whether married couples should maintain joint or separate bank accounts.

Probably the best advice is this: If the system you're using now isn't working, try something else.

"The traditional view of relationships assumes that all money should be pooled, but it isn't always that simple," said Tina Tessina, author of "Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage."

"For many couples, separating your money makes things run smoother; you don't wind up struggling for control."

Get a system: Consolidate your money information in one place so both know what's going on. Examples are Mint.com and Quicken financial software — or a spreadsheet — available on a joint computer.

"A money-tracking system, call it a central financial operating system, is so important," Bell said. "Information about all of the household's income, expenses, debts, investments, etc., needs to be easily accessible by each spouse."

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