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Love and Money

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Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 12, 2008; 12:00 PM

Post personal finance writer Nancy Trejos will be online Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 12 p.m. ET to discuss her Sunday Business cover story, which focuses on how money and finances complicate modern relationships.

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She will be joined by Marty Tashman, a counselor based in Somerset, N.J., who has treated many couples who feud over money.

A transcript follows.

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Nancy Trejos: Hi. Thanks for reading my story about couples and their finances. And thanks for chatting with us today. I've got Dr. Marty Tashman here to help answer your questions. We look forward to hearing from you. Nancy

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Washington, D.C.: I am getting marrid this summer. I am a saver and have roughly $30k saved, hoping to buy a home in two to three years. My fiancee has not has as much financial luck, went to grad school,etc. and owes about $6k in credit card debt. We've discussed this extensively and I am very confident about how we will handle fianances in our marriage, save, etc.

The problem is that he does not want to use my savings to pay off his debt, wants to do it on his own. I also make about $40k more a year than he does. I try to tell him it is "our" savings and "our" debt once we are married, and it doesn't make sense to have savings sitting around when we have credit card doubt. I guess it his ego...but any thoughts on how I can show him that it would be good for BOTH of us to get rid of his debt?

Thanks.

Marty Tashman: Remember that how you solve this is more important that the solution. See if you can ask him if there is a compromise that he can live with. At the end his feelings about himself are even more important than how you solve the finance issue.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Nancy & Dr. Tashman. It's Jill and Sean, one of those interviewed for Sunday's article. I liked it Nancy, esp how you referenced research & context from marital counselors.

QUESTION TO TASHMAN: Why do you think talking about money between couples is difficult? Do we as humans attach our identity to our income and just get flustered? Thx.

Marty Tashman: Money is symbolic of a lot of other issues, like security, a sense of self worth. So the idea here is to identify what the real issues are and not get lost in the dollars answer.

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Albuquerque, NM: Along the lines of "love and money", I'd like to recommend an article written for and published by the Riverside Press Enterprise in California ( PE.com). The article was written by my son-in-law, Gregor McGavin, who has been a reporter at the PE for several years, and is titled "When Real Estate, Not Love, Keeps us Together".

Of course, my first thought was that this was their way ( my daughter and Gregor's ) to break the news that they are splitting up, but no, thankfully, though they are caught in the Southern California real estate crash. It's a very topical article in this market. Hope you enjoy it!

Judith

washingtononpost.com: When real estate, not love, keeps us together (The Press-Enterprise, Feb. 3)

Nancy Trejos: Hi there. Thanks for the recommendation. I haven't read it but it certainly sounds like a good topic at this time. You are definitely right. Combining real estate and love can often get complicated. I know that from personal experience!

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Boston, Mass.: Is there any sane way to deal with the emotional issues a prenup brings? My fiance asked me for one soon after we were engaged.

Marty Tashman: This is a thorny question. Start with why the person is concerned. Next realize that often they are concerned about a sense of security. Also ask yourself why is this issue important to you. There is no perfect answer for this issue. I've dealt with this frequently in my practice and there are different outcomes. The important thing here is that the conversation is respectful and gives the other person the benefit of the doubt.

Hope this helps

Dr. Marty

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Silver Spring, Md.: Thanks for a great article. Money and related communication about it is a source of conflict in our marriage. We plan to sit down tonight to talk about it and related issues such as the recent job loss for my spouse. Where do you recommend that we start?

Marty Tashman: First don't panic. Second reassure each other that you love/really care about each other. In these situations people often feel shaky. Next make a plan together that you both can live with. Lastly, weekly or bi weekly review the plan. Don't forget to emotionally reassure each other during these meetins

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DC: I recommend Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey for couples who are struggling with finances. It definitely saved my marriage by forcing us to do a budget and then plan our month accordingly. Best of all, we are now debt free!

Nancy Trejos: Hi. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll take a look at it. And good for you for tackling your financial issues. Many couples can't even bring themselves to talk candidly about their financial problems and concerns. Many of the experts I talked to said it's really important to sit down and budget together, at least once a month. One financial planner even recommended taking an occasional financial retreat together (but don't go anywhere too expensive, she said.)Congratulations on becoming debt free!

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Bowie, Md.: One of the purposes of marriage is allow the complimentary nature of males and females to, in a sense, complete each other.

As long as there's respect and moderation, don't different money styles often add to each other's lives?

Marty Tashman: Great insight. Understand that money or the lack there of means different things to different people. Relating on that level will go a long way to having a positive discussion.

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Love and money: Money was a contributing factor to my divorce - as in, I couldn't work consistently due to the demands of my ex's job (frequent moves, etc).

One dynamic I think could have been explored further was when someone uses money to control their partner. As in, "I make more money, I'll decide things." I think it would have been interesting if you'd caught a couple of divorced people as well, to get more than the "young couple" perspective.

Marty Tashman: The control issue happens in the best of relationships.

A place to start is to state your position - without putting the other person down. If that doesn't work not to "villanize" them in your mind. Return to the discussion if things get over heated and then acknowledge their position but stress that you have a legitimate point of view as well.

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Fix this...: We recently got married and have two houses between us. Per real estate agents and financial advisors, it makes more sense to sell his house as he has much more equity and mine is bigger so we can squat in it for a minute while the market does it's thing. However, he has an emotional attachment to this house and has been slow to make a decision about what to do. I have no legal/financial stake in his house so I can't push things forward and frankly, I fear if I sell my house we will be forever stuck in his, which is a tiny rowhouse that will not accommodate a family. It's driving me crazy (and broke) as we are paying two mortgages and living in one house. Help.

Marty Tashman:

This is a complicated question. A lot is at stake here. You would do well to go to a counselor. If your partner won't go you should go on your own. Don't wait for your partner to change, figure out what you can do to effectively deal with the situation

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, guys,

I'm making the money now while my partner goes to law school; the plan is that he will then go on to be a corporate lawyer for 10-15 years to pay back his education debt, save for a home, kids, etc, then move on with a political career while he can. I have a fair bit of education debt from my graduate degree, and work at a non-profit, so I'm shoveling every cent I have into that-- mostly because the idea of interest drives me crazy. Unfortunately, the idea of interest doesn't bother him at all because he anticipates such a big salary when he's out of school, and I'm nervous that when he gets the bigger salary he'll just spend it all because it's there and the interest doesn't bother him. Do you have any tips on how to balance this, and how to improve communication on a topic that makes me very nervous and him very defensive?

Thanks!

Marty Tashman: Good question.

First of all discuss your concerns with him, but be careful to take ownership. Talk about your concerns not his behavior. You could say something like "I'm very concerned about our finances, for me to feel comfortable I need to feel like we will have a certain amount of money put aside for ...(fill in the blank) as compared with "I think you spend too much" or "you're not concerned about our future'.

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DC: Good afternoon,

How does a spouse convince the other to cutback on cable, golf and other outings in order to pay down debt? These comforts get to be expensive and that money can definitely go towards paying off mounting debt...but he won't budge.

Nancy Trejos: All the financial planners and counselors I talked to said this is often a problem that arises with couples. It's hard to give up luxuries. The first thing to do, they say, is to keep track of how much is being spent on such activities. And then do the math. If your spouse doesn't want to do that sort of analysis, perhaps you can do it on your own. Tally everything up and then sit down and show him how much of a dent cable and golf and other luxuries are making in your finances. It is so important to sit down and have a frank discussion about these issues. But do it in a respectful manner. Don't accuse. Don't raise your voice. Be calm about it. And be willing to compromise. Maybe you can convince him to play golf once a month instead of every weekend. If you are willing to bend a little, perhaps he will meet you halfway.

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Love and Money: The dynamic extends to more than marriages - my boyfriend and I have wildly disparate incomes (he makes a lot more than I do) and it's a constant negotiation. I tend to be too proud and take turns paying for nights out I can't afford (he has expensive tastes), and he gets sick of always cooking dinner and watching a movie at home (which is what my budget allows).

Suggestions?

Marty Tashman: Tell him your concerns and ask him if he has any ideas.

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Washington, D.C.: What are some top communication 'habits' regarding financial matters that have helped your clients reach resolution?

Marty Tashman: Here are 4 habits that are very important

1. Respect the other person's point of view

2. Discuss don't blame

3. Look for compromise at every opportunity

4. Take a break if things are getting too heated

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Washington, D.C.: Would you share some of your clients' success stories specifically? What was a big financial topic blocking there communications and how did they finally reach resolution?

Marty Tashman: At one point the husband wanted to really to go to warm weather vacation and the wife wanted to do cold weather sports. What they did was negotiate with each other and promised that 1st they would go to a warm weather vacation and then they would go for winter sports and they would spend more money on the second vacation, because the other person was being patient. They got to decide who would take which choice.

The success here is that they were able to talk the issue through, with respect and to find a creative compromise, giving each a feeling of empowerment.

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Anonymous: My boyfriend and I live in a house that he bought last year, and have talked about getting married - when he finds a job. He quit a job a few months ago, has worked a little here and there, but is not sure what he wants to do. We're not currently married, and he's not asking me to support him (I can't) but this all makes me nervous, financially. Do I even have a right to be concerned at this point in our relationship?

Marty Tashman: You do and you should open up a line of communication now.

If you are having trouble now, do you think things will change in the future?

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ds: I guess I am getting to be a cynical lady- I sometimes tell young women: relationships come and go- equity can be forever...

seriously, taking care of oneself financially irrespective of romance is critical. It also enhances your appeal to others if you are not needy and dependent.

I would NEVER allow myself to become financially dependent on someone and I would NOT give a man, fiance or not, 6K to pay off his old debt- romance has a limit. he would not learn not to do that if he doesnt feel the slow pain of paying it off.

Nancy Trejos: Hi. Thanks for offering this insight. I wouldn't call you cynical, just pragmatic. As a single woman in my early 30s, I would agree with you that it's important to become financially independent. It's not only important, actually. It's necessary.

As for bailing out a significant other who is in debt, after speaking to counselors and planners, it seems that there is no right or wrong answer. You have a point in saying that your significant other won't learn his or her lesson if you bail him or her out of debt. But for another couple, it might make absolute sense to erase that debt for one reason or another. The important thing, I think, is for the couple to discuss their feelings about the situation.

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Anonymous: For fix this, why can't he rent his place out if it can draw a marketable rent and cover the mortgage payment and a nice profit. I don't see how that issue needs counseling.

Marty Tashman: Good answer, but sometimes there is more than financial logic,

Sometimes emotions are a factor as well

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Springfield, Va.: Just a comment regarding one particular couple from Sunday's article. It seemed as if there was quite an issue made to the effect that the woman was renting and had school loans while the man had a house and no other debt. HOWEVER, she is nearly 10 years younger than he is and at 22-23, I also had a ton of school loans and was renting. Seems to compare apples to oranges, just my 2 cents.

Marty Tashman: The issue here is entitlement and choices

It would be great to get help, but if the person who needs help comes across as if they are entitled that will antagonize the "giver"

The "giver" has to feel as if it is their choice and that the other person is appreciative of the support.

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NW, D.C.: Hope this question makes it. My wife and I know we need to talk finances, but her conversation is typically hypothetical and what she wants (idealistic) where mine is literal and about the actual numbers (realism). How do we bridge that conflict? We are fine financially in terms of meeting daily needs, but dreams remain just that dreams.

Marty Tashman: You might both list what you want and see if there is a way to meet each other 1/2 way. Even dreamers have a point and on the other side - If we are not practical, we won't have $ for the dreamers

Compromise, respect and creative answers are the tools that make money issues work

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Washington, D.C.: I'm really needing help with this situation. Last January, I got a full-time job while still being a full-time student in college. Upon graduation, I remained at my job, never asking my parents for money for all of 2007, and having my own health benefits.

My parents, who assured me they would pay for college, now cannot. I pay a hefty amount each month (1600) and make ends meet on my own. When I sat down to file my tax returns, I called my mom just to make sure I was considered "independent" - and that she would not file me as a dependent, as I did not depend on her for anything financial in 2007.

She has refused, and a rift has been created between us. She claims this is her last year to file me as a dependent, and she's going to - I've told her "good luck" - and said I will be keeping my independent status. Please help - I don't know who is financially in the right here.

Nancy Trejos: Feuding with parents is not a fun thing. I'm sorry you're in this situation.

I don't know how old you are but if you've just graduated from college, you're probably in your early 20s. You are an adult. You have your own job. It sounds like you don't live with your parents, so I assume you're paying for your own housing. And now, it sounds like you're going to end up paying for your college education. I'm not a tax expert, but I don't see how your parents can claim you as a dependent. You are at an age and a financial point in your life where you need to stand up for yourself and make your own financial decisions. You're not a kid anymore. Think about getting an accountant.

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River City: The hardest thing for me is that we were two relatively old people when we married, me with assets (house) already acumulated individually. Sometimes I don't know how to handle keeping track of who paid for what. If we married young and acumulated all assets as a couple, I'd say it's all one big pot. But being 43 wiht a house, savings, investments when I married a man fresh out of bankruptcy, I sometime feel like we should keep finances seperate. I just paid for a used car for him and now ask him to give me his paychecks to pay my savings account back... only a little awkward!

Marty Tashman: Share your feelings with him. Let him know that you want to be there for him, but you want to things slowly. Be careful, but set some limits so you feel O.K. about what's going on between the two of you

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Marty Tashman: Hi This is Dr. Marty,

I've enjoyed answering your questions. If you have questions that haven't been answered or would like to go into more detail. Feel free to call me at my office to set-up a phone session.

You can reach me at (732)246-8484

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Washington, DC: Great article, Nancy! Do you think men will ever feel less pressure, societal or inbuilt, to be the bread winner? How often do you think that pressure, particularly among ambitious men still early in their careers, might affect their desire to seriously commit to someone?

Nancy Trejos: Hi. Thanks for reading it!

Let's face it, we live in a society where it seems more natural for men to make more. I think that expectation will always be there, even though more and more women are becoming professionals and making decent salaries. I think we ourselves often submit to those gender roles. I know women who would never date men who make less than they do. And vice versa.

As for men and their desire to commit, I hate to generalize. I have male friends who got married really young even though they were still building their careers. That said, I know many more men who are complete workaholics and can't commit to anything but their careers.

Dating is tough! Thanks for your question.

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Nancy Trejos: Thanks all for sending in your questions. They were great. And we're really sorry to those we were not able to get to. Keep reading!

Nancy

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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