Real Couple Money Makeovers

couple managing finances
Photo: Getty

Money might make the world go 'round, but it's also the number-one cause of marriage meltdowns -- no matter how much or little you have. Much like fighting over what kind of sofa to buy (the vintage-modern versus the sectional with built-in recliners) or which color to paint the den (robin's egg blue versus Pittsburgh Steelers yellow), squabbles over how to manage your money as a couple really come down to a matter of style.

But unlike decor trends, there's no “in" or “out" when it comes to financial points of view. The best way to mesh those money mind-sets is to communicate (that means talk, people), agree on a common goal, and stick to it. To get you thinking about what dinero-related glitches you'd like to square away in your own marriage, we asked three brave Nestie couples to tell us about their own money issues. Carmen Wong Ulrich, anchor of CNBC's On the Money, acted as financial referee, listened to both sides of the story, and gave these newlyweds savvy advice. Read on to see what tools they'll use to make over their money may want to steal them for yourself!

Click here to find out how we took these couples to budget rehab.

  1. Amanda & Mikush

    Los Angeles

    Age: He's 36; she's 26.

    Career: He's an actor/musician; she's a writer.

    The problem: What to do with extra cash.

    After paying their rent and bills, Amanda and Mikush disagree on how to spend the leftover income.

    His POV: “I want to combine and save our fun money to buy bigger-ticket items that will make a difference, like music equipment that can help boost my career.”

    Her POV: “I’d like some of that money to go to things that I find ‘fun,’ like the occasional manicure or some new clothes. I also have $2,500 in credit card debt I’d desperately like to pay down or pay off.”

    The Fix: Choose priorities. “First, if you have $2,500 of ‘fun’ money and $2,500 of credit card debt, you really have no ‘fun’ money,” says Wong Ulrich. Amanda and Mikush need to take care of credit card debt first -- make a plan to pay it off ASAP! After that’s done, think in terms of joint goals and open an account for household expenses and mutual interests, like an annual vacation.

    Leftover money should go into individual accounts that they manage themselves. Why? So they can actually call it “fun.” Amanda can’t really enjoy Mikush’s music equipment, and Mikush can’t really enjoy Amanda’s manicures (at least firsthand), says Wong Ulrich. “As long as they both have the same financial goals, such as paying off their credit card debt and building up their savings, they can relish having some ‘fun’ money, even if it’s just 10 percent of their take-home pay.”

  2. Rachel & Robbie

    New York City

    Age: He's 24; she's 22.

    Career: He's a student; she's a communications coordinator.

    The Problem: Different money styles.

    Rachel and Robbie worry what their money philosophies (she’s a spender; he’s a saver) mean for their new marriage.

    His POV: “I really like to research and plan before I make a purchase. I’ve been known to check out prices in several different stores before making my final decision. To me, it’s completely worth the time to find the right price, and most importantly, save money.”

    Her POV: “I like to be spontaneous—take cabs, go out to dinner with friends, get my hair cut and buy clothes without having to deliberate and comparison shop. I just don’t want to think about every money decision I make.”

    The Fix: Find middle ground. “Comparison shopping works for many things, such as flat-screens, laptops and cars, but it can seriously crimp your quality of life when you crunch numbers for every single dollar you spend,” says Wong Ulrich. Penny-pinching in moderation can help Rachel and Robbie budget—but penny-pinching on everything that they buy may just build resentment. Wong Ulrich’s solution? “Rachel should start cutting down on some of her spending, and Robbie can loosen up and live a little when it’s not too pricey.”

  3. Leslie & Craig

    Las Vegas

    Age: He's 28; she's 25.

    Career: He's an air-conditioning technician; she's an account executive at a PR firm.

    The Problem: Trouble following the money trail.

    With new careers, a marriage and becoming first-time parents, Leslie and Craig’s financial lives are getting complicated.

    His POV: “I deposit my paycheck in the account and the money just disappears. Where does it all go?”

    Her POV: “I handle all the finances and have a hard time getting my husband to understand that running a household is an expensive business!”

    The Fix: Track finances. “It may seem like there’s no time to track spending, but it’s too expensive not to,” advises Wong Ulrich. Leslie and Craig need to pool their receipts and credit card bills for one month and spend a couple of hours tallying up totals to see where they can cut. “It’s great that Leslie handles household finances, but she needs to sit down with Craig and show him in black and white what money goes where,” Wong Ulrich says. Whether it’s a simple Excel spreadsheet, Microsoft Money or a free money site like, Leslie can spell things out for both of them. They could also use one household credit card so expenses are laid out in one statement. They just need to be sure to pay it off monthly in full. Adds Wong Ulrich, “Online banking will help them track their spending patterns, and automatic transfers to a savings account mean money moves into the ‘plus’ column and won’t linger in the ‘spend’ pool!”

    Nestpert: Carmen Wong Ulrich, anchor of CNBC’s On the Money and personal finance blogger at