And tackling something tough, like paying off your credit cards, is good for more than just your bank account. "Accomplishing a goal together strengthens your relationship and will make you happier as a couple," explains Bell. Here's how to get started:
Study your money stylesDoes your husband pinch every penny, or do you splurge on unnecessary things? Identify your spouse's money traits, and ask him to do the same for you. Finances are a highly emotional issue, so be careful not to judge -- ask questions and listen so he feels supported, not defensive.
Find a common goal"Money is an unromantic topic, but focusing on an end goal -- like a European vacation or a beautiful home -- makes the conversation interesting or even fun," says Bell. Talk about where you see yourselves next year, in five years and in 10. Then, post a visual reminder (a postcard of Pisa, for instance) as inspiration.
Divvy up tasks"By working from each person's strengths, you'll minimize weaknesses -- without trying to make your loved one into something they're not," says Bell. Is your husband detail-oriented? Let him track the budget. If you're a Google whiz, you can be in charge of researching investments and finding the best deals on big-ticket items. You'll both feel like you're contributing to the partnership -- without forcing yourselves into unproductive roles.
CompromiseSo you want to save for a home-remodeling, but he wants to pay off his student loans early? You'll have to find some middle ground. "Trade-offs are what relationships are about," says Bell. Talk about the underlying reasons behind your desires -- maybe you want to add a playroom so your kids will have a fun place to hang out with their friends -- to open up communication and make it easier to reach a decision. Consider creating a savings account for each goal and contributing to each one equally every month. Your first priority, though, should always be getting rid of credit card debt. You don't need those high interest rates or the potential damage to your credit rating.
Take a time-outIf you can't agree on a spending decision, drop the subject and revisit it in a month. "Your highest priority is the relationship; you don't want money to get in the way," says Bell. You may find that time makes compromise easier. If not, ask for advice from a financial adviser or friends whose money-planning skills you admire.
Check in periodicallyLike your relationship, your finances need constant attention to succeed. Plan a monthly "money date" to reevaluate your budget, incorporate any changes and celebrate successes.
The bottom line: Building your financial future together bolsters trust and respect in your relationship. "Remember, money is a means to a far greater end: Your happiness together," says Bell.