Love (and money) makes the world go round

Thursday, Feb. 11
Posted 4 p.m. EST

Around Valentine's Day, it's time to think about finances. Oh -- I bet you expected me to say romance.

Well, it's no secret that romance and finances are the two topics couples fight about most. OK, so maybe romance isn't quite the word.

My husband, Kevin, and I generally don't fight about money unless we have polar opposite views on a big expenditure. Whenever possible, we treat money issues like business decisions. Our strategy is to communicate money problems and solutions via e-mail while at work. That way, everything is resolved before 5 p.m. and in the evening we can sit down and have a friendly chat during dinner. But occasionally, there are fireworks -- and I'm not talking about the fun kind.

The roof that didn't need cleaning

For instance, a few months ago, my husband decided to have the driveway pressure-cleaned. But he got a quote that included pressure-washing the house and pressure-cleaning the roof.

I told him in no uncertain terms that I did not want anyone standing on our roof, cracking our roof tiles from the pressure of his weight, and then applying pressure to our roof with water. "That will result in a roof leak," I said emphatically. Besides, we hadn't received a notice from our homeowners association about the soot on our roof tiles. We did not need to have the roof cleaned, I argued.

My dad, who is also a neighbor, told me during one of our nocturnal walks that he wasn't going to have his roof cleaned until he got a letter from the association, providing me with further ammo.

My husband didn't listen, and about a month later we noticed water damage in the ceiling of one of our bathrooms. We had to call a roofer to plug the leak and it cost $550 to fix. I derived no pleasure whatsoever when I said, "I told you so."

Help for those who need it

But for the most part, my husband and are financially compatible. I guess we're lucky, because we manage to solve problems without needing help from a third party.

But there is help for couples who need to learn how to tackle the topic of money. The titillating title "Get Financially Naked," by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar, helps readers understand where their money attitudes originated from, and points out how to spot red flags during the courtship phase of a relationship. The authors pose "Valentine's Day" questions such as: "Does your sweetie avoid answering calls on his or her phone?" (Maybe it's just Mom, or maybe it's a bill collector.) Or "Does your sweetie ask you to co-sign or buy things in your name, promising to pay you back?" Their book helps get the money conversation flowing and gives some solid financial advice besides.

Married couples undergoing more serious financial hardship -- whether caused by job loss, shrinking nest eggs or health challenges -- should read "In Good Times & Bad" by M. Gary Neuman and Melisa Neuman. This book offers profound advice to help couples strengthen ties in adversity. It is full of great anecdotes and wisdom. I'll share this one passage since it concerns both romance and finance:

"One man we know, a well-educated physician, complains that his wife isn't affectionate with him. One gets the impression that there isn't a lot going on for them intimacy-wise. He questions every purchase she makes. She continues to spend anyway. Although she has back pain and wanted to replace their uncomfortable mattress, he refused to agree to this purchase. If you're cheap and withholding from your spouse, and you draw the line at things that are important, you're expressing hostility through 'budgeting.' If you want a good life in the bedroom but won't let your partner buy a comfortable mattress, you are setting yourself up to be miserable."

This Valentine's Day, Kevin and I will exchange cards and chocolates or flowers. And I will likely tell him that my dad received a notice from the homeowners association demanding that he have his roof tiles cleaned.

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