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Fight-Proof Money Management? 5 Couples Swear Their Plans Work

July 02, 1988|JAN HOFMANN | Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Before you read any further, let me assure you that Family Life has not been temporarily replaced by Ripley's "Believe It or Not."

This week, we have five couples who insist that they never argue about money. Ever. One of the couples even claims that dealing with money "has actually helped improve our relationship."

I don't know about you, but that struck me as a bit unusual. And according to one of our examples of financial bliss, a pair of psychologists, it is indeed.

"The top three causes of family fights are money, sex and children," says Jeffrey, a psychologist who lives in Huntington Beach.

His wife, Maureen, also a psychologist, agrees: "A lot of the problems I see in my practice have to do with money."

"Money is such an obvious reinforcer of values," Jeffrey says. "The way it's handled says important things about the balance of power, the quality of decision-making and problem-solving."

"Money symbolizes power, status, success," Maureen says. "We're all so insecure, we tend to look at those more superficial things in order to feel good about ourselves. It can get very complicated."

So how have these lucky few managed to stay above the fray?

Nothing to it, they say.

The couples adhere faithfully to a sure-fire system they claim is absolutely fight-proof. The catch is that for every one of them, it is a different system.

Bill and Donna, a Cypress couple, follow what they call "The 50-50 Plan." It is "a common-sense approach to managing our finances that prevents conflict, allowances, begging for money and erosion of human dignity," according to Bill's letter.

They both work, and their incomes are about the same. He is a teacher; she is a controller for an insurance brokerage.

Each has a 20-year-old child from a previous marriage, "so to protect the interests of our children, we have maintained separate identities with our finances, for the most part," Bill says.

"We each have our own checking and savings accounts, though the other spouse is on the signature card or is beneficiary of the account.

"Each of us has his/her own investments. She owns a condominium which she rents out. We live in my condominium, so she pays me $300 a month 'rent,' which equalizes our expenses in mortgage payments. Each house is willed to the owner's child 50-50 with the surviving spouse."

Once a month, they sit down for a "reconciliation of expenses," Bill says. During the month, he says, "grocery receipts go into a receipt box on the kitchen counter. I pay all of the utility bills. My wife pays the auto insurance monthly through her company. On the first of the month, we add up the month's expenses, divide them in half and reimburse the partner who has paid more than his/her half for the month.

"Our arrangement avoids arguments, having to ask the spouse for money, and feelings of hostility because our partner has spent money frivolously. The dignity of each of us is preserved. I can squander money on computer software, and my wife can buy all the clothes she wants because neither of us is being impacted by the expenses of the other."

"I don't know how we came up with it," Donna says of their system. "We both had our own kids, our own property, and I wasn't real anxious to give up control of my own checkbook. I didn't want to have to ask for money."

"It wasn't consciously planned," Bill says. "We lived together for two years before marriage, so it just became a de facto separation of things."

"Bill gets ragged on about it by the women he works with, but I think it's great," Donna says. "We've never fought about money."

With each other, that is.

"In my first marriage, my wife had an allowance, which she greatly resented," Bill says. "But that was back in the mid '60s, and I was just following the traditional role. I didn't know any better."

Donna, for her part, argued with her first husband because "he wasn't very responsible. I had to take responsibility for making payments while he frittered his money away."

Both concede that "The 50-50 Plan" would not work as well if their incomes were not similar. They don't expect such a change, but if it came, they say, they feel confident they could adjust.

"Our values are very, very much alike," Donna says. "We think the same way about money."

Jeffrey and Maureen's system is the antithesis of Bill and Donna's.

"Our property is all 'ours,' " writes Maureen.

"Since my son was born 21 months ago, I (only) work part time; I earn $75,000, and my husband grosses $125,000. Yet that has no bearing on our system. We do not fight over money as we both have always seen eye-to-eye on purchases, goals, values, etc. We both have a sense of equality and don't abuse or take advantage."

"Initially, it felt very romantic to put our money together," says Jeffrey. "We had lived together several years, and we kept our money separate then. But after we were married, we enjoyed budgeting things together.

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