IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Here comes the bride... and bickering?

TODAY Financial Editor Jean Chatzky shares tips to help you blissfully and  happily merge bank accounts.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Wedding season is officially in full swing, and couples everywhere are combining lives — bringing together their families, homes and sometimes even their bank accounts. It's not my nature to be a downer, but it's that last merger — the bank accounts — that can really get you in trouble. Money is a point of contention in almost every marriage. It's consistently on the top-two list of topics that are sure to trigger a fight. The other one fluctuates between sex and in-laws, but money has been hanging on to its spot for years. Why do finances cause so much tension? First of all, we don't like to talk about them — not with our family, not with our friends and not even with our spouses. The other complicating factor? You are likely to settle down with someone who handles money a little differently than you do, saving or spending to different extremes. "If opposites don't attract right off the bat — and they usually do — they'll create each other eventually. Even if you have two spenders who marry, they'll end up polarizing. One will become the super spender and one will become the hoarder by comparison," says Olivia Mellan, a Washington D.C.-based therapist who specializes in money psychology and couples communication. Here's what you can do to protect your new union from the money blues. Even if you're long married, you may want to keep reading. It's never too late to blot some of the tension out of your life. Talk
Sounds simple, right? It is, if you come in to the conversation with the right attitude -- that is, one that isn't judgmental or guarded. You should be having conversations about money long before you walk down the aisle. Talk about your saving and spending habits and any outstanding student loan, credit card, or other debt. But try to dig a little deeper, too. "Sit down and share with money was like in your family growing up, what money messages you might have inherited from there and what money personality you tend to have," advises Mellan. Have these money talks at a place and time where you both feel comfortable, and try to leave other subjects off the agenda.Make time to discussOnce you're married, and you know your spouse's student loan balance by heart, it's still a good idea to schedule a financial conversation a couple of times a month so you both stay in the loop. To get things off on the right foot, start with the positive: How are you doing saving for the next big vacation? Are you close to a down payment on a house? The excitement of closing in on these goals is something you can both share. Talk about any new goals as well, and how you'll start planning for them (don't forget retirement!). Then move on to any major expenses that are around the corner, like a rent increase or a bigger-than-normal credit card bill, and how you're going to cover them. If you're having trouble opening the lines of communication, consider bringing in a professional in the form of a couples therapist or financial planner who can help you work through the issues. Be understandingAs Mellan says, chances are good that one person is going to be the spender in comparison to the other. The important thing is to recognize your habits and try to reconcile them whenever possible. "It's not a question of pointing fingers, but of building bridges so that people can talk to each other," she says. The last thing you want to do is micromanage how much the other person spends with every swipe of his debit card -- who has the time, let alone the patience, for that? Instead, draw a line in the sand by picking a number that makes sense for your financial situation, and agree not to spend more than that out of shared accounts without a discussion. If you agree $150 is OK, but $1,000 isn't, purchases of that size should always be talked about ahead of time. Share the workload
Chances are you split other tasks around the house, so one person isn't always stuck with the cleaning, laundry and shopping. Why not divvy up the financial chores as well? Understand, the person controlling the checkbook not only has the power that goes along with managing the finances, but the worry. And neither member of a couple should have the lion's share of either one. So either sit together and pay bills as a team, or split up responsibilities so that each person takes charge at least a few times a year. Consider a three-pot system
A lot of people balk at the idea of keeping separate bank accounts — they seem to always picture fights over the dinner check — but it can really work to your advantage and even significantly cut down on arguments. Each partner has his or her own checking and savings accounts, and then a joint account is shared for expenses like bills, vacations and evenings out — including those restaurant tabs. If your salaries are comparable, you each cushion the joint account with an equal amount, or you can contribute a percentage if one partner is a bigger earner. The best part? If you splurge on a new pair of shoes or a widescreen TV, you only have to answer to yourself.

With reporting by Arielle McGowen.

Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .