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The Truth About Women, Men and Money
1 in 4 Spouses Is Willing to Cheat ... Financially

The Truth About Women, Men and Money

You won't believe what couples across the country confessed to us about their financial lives. From secret cash stashes to their deepest fiscal fears, our Redbook-SmartMoney Survey reveals all

Emily Ginsburg and her husband, Phil, have what you might call a pretty simpatico relationship when it comes to the family finances. Emily, a 32-year-old medical student, worked full-time for years before going back to school, but "I don't make any money right now," she says. "In fact, between my tuition and full-time child care for our 3-year-old, I cost this family a bundle." But, she says, "I don't think my husband has ever said a thing about it." Adds Phil, a lawyer: "The two of us take turns being the chief financial officer of the family."

Clearly the Ginsburgs have the money thing down, but we just had to wonder: With today's shaky economy, how well are most couples navigating matters of the wallet? To discover the answer, Redbook teamed up with SmartMoney magazine to conduct an exclusive survey of more than 1,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 50, all married or part of a committed relationship.

And the results amazed us. For years we've been hearing about how men and women clash over cash, but these days things are different. Whether both partners make the same salary, one of them earns more or there's a stay-at-home mom (or dad) in the house, most couples aren't wasting time arguing over finances, our survey revealed. The occasional disagreement over the latest credit card bill? Sure. Some bitching about the cost of those new shoes? It happens. But when asked, "Is money a source of fights in your relationship?" only 7 percent of respondents said that it's the biggest cause, while the majority (62 percent) said "rarely or never."

More evidence of financial harmony on the home front: Most men and women (58 and 68 percent, respectively) said that both spouses have an equal say in financial decision-making. And four out of five of both men and women agreed that the partner who earns more should not necessarily have more say when it comes to spending.

These survey results represent a major cultural shift, says Katherine Newman, dean of social science at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. "If you look back through the generations, you'd never see this kind of equality in financial decision-making," she explains. To find out what's behind this sea change, we quizzed financial experts for the lowdown and asked couples to share how they keep the almighty buck from coming between them. Find out what they had to say -- and read some other very personal revelations about the couples-and-cash connection -- to learn how it can help your marriage prosper.

Two Paychecks Are Better Than One

The reason for this newfound financial harmony, says Newman, is that unlike our parents and grandparents, most couples nowadays simply can't get by on one paycheck -- at least not permanently; women's earnings are vital to help keep most households afloat or maintain lifestyles. (Now only 16 percent of families in this country consist of married couples with one wage earner, down from 67 percent back in 1940, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) As a result, women have earned an equal say in the money department that has nothing to do with whether they rake in as much, more or less than the man of the house.

A healthy self-confidence about money management may also make both partners more likely to put in their two cents about fiscal issues: When asked, "Who has better financial judgment, you or your spouse?" 59 percent of women and 68 percent of men said they themselves do.

Even women who stay home after having kids are likely to partner with their guy when it comes to money matters, says Newman. Why? Because chances are they had paying jobs earlier in their marriages to help set up their new household -- a time when both spouses became accustomed to joint financial decision-making and when money-handling patterns in the relationship took root. What's more, our survey found that the vast majority (86 percent) of unemployed married women didn't feel that their spouse resented the fact that they were not bringing home a paycheck.

Money, Secrets & Lies

Now, you'd think this fiscal compatibility would go hand in hand with candidness about money matters. But you'd be wrong. Our survey found that 14 percent of women and 10 percent of men had socked away cash or an asset their partner didn't know about. Not that we're talking Swiss bank accounts here -- the average value of the hidden stash was less than $1,000.

Oh, and if you want to know the price of a flat-screen TV, don't bother asking your spouse: 36 percent of men and 40 percent of women admitted to lying to their partner about what something costs. "I love to eat out and try all the newest hot spots," said one respondent. "But my husband hates to spend a lot on fancy restaurant meals -- he just can't understand why anyone would pay $100 for dinner for two. So when I go out with my girlfriends, I pay in cash and tell him that I only spent $20."

A problem? Not necessarily, says David Krueger, M.D., a psychoanalyst who now works as a professional strategist and heads up an executive coaching firm in Houston. "A small quest for autonomy like this isn't all that surprising in relationships," he says. "It can even be healthy." Couples are always trying to balance working together as a unit with keeping some of their independence, he explains. Secret purchases -- provided they're small and don't interfere with other financial priorities -- can be one way a spouse fulfills that need.

"Honey, I'm Worried About..."

But couples do seem to be honest with each other when it comes to their financial fears. Forty-two percent of women and 40 percent of men agreed that not having enough money for retirement is their top fiscal worry.

June Brewer is one of those people. She and her husband, Mark, who works in finance, are dedicated savers and have a nice nest egg built up. Their financial fear: Even though both are only in their late 30s, this couple from Encino, California, worry about falling short on retirement savings -- so much so that they've never had the nerve to fork over the down payment for a house. "We both really want a home," says June, who's currently unemployed. "But each of us has trouble pulling the trigger. My husband worries that some disaster will wipe us out financially. I'm just scared of not having enough money to live comfortably and do the things we want to when we're older. On the other hand, I'm also afraid that if we keep putting it off, real estate prices will keep escalating and we'll never be able to afford a nice house, especially in California."

Their financial fix: Ultimately, the Brewers discovered a way to resolve their house-versus-retirement-savings conundrum, which allowed both their needs to be met. California real estate is just too expensive for Mark to ever feel comfortable buying, but not having a house wasn't acceptable to June. So they worked out a plan to move to Nashville next year, a city where they'll both have job opportunities and where they'll be able to afford their dream home -- and still grow their retirement accounts. "We just keep talking and planning," says June. "And we'll keep doing it until we get where we want to go."

What else is keeping couples up at night, financially speaking? Not surprisingly, it's the issue of job security. Thanks to rampant layoffs in corporate America, one in five men and one in 10 women in our survey said being out of a job was their primary financial worry. Then there's the fear of losing the house -- an angst producer for 11 percent of women and for 6 percent of men.

Some Bickering Over Bucks

Of course, even the most financially compatible couples occasionally lock horns. And some of those spats make their way into the bedroom: 14 percent of women and 4 percent of men admitted to us that they'd withheld sex after a fight about money. And the younger you are, the more those squabbles take a toll on your sex life: 31 percent of women and 12 percent of men polled who were under the age of 35 said they'd refused to do the deed after a financial blowout.

What causes an otherwise fiscally like-minded couple to clash? Being in debt is the top monetary tiff starter among partners we surveyed -- it caused conflict among 37 percent of respondents. Owing money can do more to wreck a family's finances than almost anything else, says Karen McCall, founder of the Financial Recovery Institute, a financial counseling service based in San Anselmo, California, that specializes in working with couples.

And clearly there's plenty of debt to fight about: More than 20 percent of couples we polled said they were carrying a credit card balance of over $10,000. Naturally, reducing a debt load of that size can take a lot of sacrifice about which partners may not see eye to eye.

Debt, obviously, is tied directly to spending -- the second most common cause of money arguments, our survey revealed. Twenty-five percent of respondents cited "my spouse's spending" as the top reason for conflict in their marriage, while 22 percent confessed that their own buying ways were to blame. Similarly, big-ticket purchases are also a flash point, ranked as the main cause of financial conflict for 21 percent of couples.

"Sometimes we disagree over spending," says Krysta Senek, a 31-year-old actress, real estate agent and new mother in West Orange, New Jersey. "It'll be a long day and we're both exhausted between the baby and everything, and my husband will say, 'Let's order in Japanese food tonight.' It seems like a small treat, but by the time we order and get a bottle of wine, it's $80. Is that what we need to spend our money on? I don't think so. We can probably use it for something diapers."

What's the best way to keep such monetary disputes to a minimum? McCall offers this advice:

His & Hers Money Roles

Whether or not a couple is fiscally in sync, it seems that some traditional male-versus-female money roles do remain. Our survey revealed that guys are calling the shots about big-ticket purchases. Almost 50 percent said they had more influence when it came to both buying a car and making investments, compared with about 15 percent of women, who said they held sway in these areas. By contrast, about 40 percent of women said they had more influence over purchases of appliances (compared with 23 percent for men) and spending on the kids (versus 8 percent for the guys).

This conventional setup seems to fly in the face of marketing data from the last decade that found women taking more of a role in auto purchases and financial investments. What's with the sudden shift back? "The rough economy may be part of it," explains Krueger. Financially shaky times can make people feel unstable, prompting them to revert to familiar roles -- even if they've rejected them in the past.

Similarly, women seem to have retained their role as the financial fretter in the family. Our survey found that when both genders were asked to describe their money style, 32 percent of women labeled themselves "worriers," compared with just 18 percent of men. "Even though Phil takes care of all the bills and keeps track of the finances," says Emily Ginsburg, the medical student and mom, "I'm still the one who lies awake at night wondering if we put too much on the credit card bill this month."

By contrast, 62 percent of men said they were "willing to take a risk on investment decisions," while only 19 percent of women described themselves that way. "It's not unusual for my husband to come home from the gym all excited because of some hot investment tip one of his buddies told him about," says one respondent to the survey. "He'll run to the computer to look it up, while I sit there with a pit in my stomach hoping it's not some fly-by-night disaster."

Why the attitude gap? For generations, moms have been the ones to take care of the kids after a divorce, says Harvard's Katherine Newman. And because women often manage the household budget, they're the ones most aware of where the money goes each week. So it stands to reason, says Newman, that "the person who sees the greatest consequences when income goes down -- i.e., the mother -- will be conservative with money, rather than a risk taker."

Can You Buy Love?

Well, we guess not. But depending on how you and your man feel about money, laying out cash for fancy presents may bring you closer -- or stress you out. When asked how expensive gifts from their spouse made them feel, both male and female respondents were split evenly between feeling more loved (30 percent) and feeling more worried about money (also 30 percent).

Take Jill Mignone. This 38-year-old wife and radio station traffic director from Spring Valley, Illinois, usually doesn't care for splashy financial displays of affection: "My family never went in for that stuff -- a book or a CD was just fine." But she was thrilled with a diamond necklace her husband bought her for Christmas one year. "I was surprised by how good it made me feel -- like my husband really thought I was worth such an extravagant gift," she says.

Emily Ginsburg had the opposite reaction, though, to the diamond and platinum ring that her husband surprised her with for their fifth wedding anniversary. "Of course I loved the ring, but my first thought was, 'How are we going to pay for it?' When the credit card bill came, Phil took it out of my hand before I could open it, saying, 'You don't need to put yourself through that.' There's no doubt about it -- when you're married and you give or get gifts, you're both paying for them."

Whether or not they're into pricey gifts, it's clear that for couples today, love trumps money: Both married men (91 percent) and women (82 percent) said they'd prefer that their spouse spend more time, not more money, on them, and the vast majority (86 percent of men and 91 percent of women) rejected the notion that they would love their partner more if he or she made more money. That makes perfect sense when you consider how in step today's couples are about their finances. Says Ginsburg: "We had to get a handle on money right away in our marriage. There are just so many better things to spend our time on."

1 in 4 Spouses Is Willing to Cheat ... Financially

Your sweetheart may be keeping a secret from you, and it's not that there's some other guy or gal, or that you really do look fat in those pants. It's the truth about their money.

According to new online poll from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 24% of respondents would not tell their spouse if they were experiencing financial difficulties.

Why would a spouse keep mum over something so significant? The NFCC data showed that 9% said they would keep silent because knowing about the issue would worry their partner, 7% said they'd keep it secret because telling would damage their relationship, while 8% said, with a certain circular logic, that they wouldn't tell their spouse because their spouse had no idea about the debt.

The results surprised Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the NFCC -- but perhaps not in the way you'd expect. "I was most surprised that more people did not hide debt from their spouses," she told DailyFinance. Still, she finds the percentage of those who would hide a money problem troubling, she says.

The silver lining is the 76% who would share the information with their spouse. Two heads are better than one when it comes to solving financial issues.

Those who stay quiet though, should realize that silence is not golden and in fact can be a clue, that all is not well in marriage-land. "A reluctance to share financial information in a marriage could not lead to anything positive, and is possibly a sign of a deeper underlying problem in the marriage itself," says Cunningham.

If you're having trouble starting a tough money talk with your honey, the NFCC offers these tips:

Financial stress is one of the main causes of divorce, warns Cunningham. "Taking action now could prevent a disaster later."

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