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Dr. Phil & Robin's do-it-yourself marriage makeover

Marriage busters

The famous couple talks about how to cope with the 5 biggest relationship busters, and their stay-together secrets for no-longer newlyweds
Marriage busters

Problem 2: Money Miseries

Dr. Phil: Couples just don't know what to expect when it comes to handling money in a marriage. They don't realize what it takes to set up a household. They don't realize how expensive it is to have children. And so before long, racking up debt has become a way of life, and they're so mired down that it can feel hopeless.

But the answer is, they've got to come up with a plan that they'll commit to, and have the emotional integrity to stick with that plan. Look, it's math, it's not magic. It's not: We need this, we deserve this, we want this. You either have the money or you don't. I mean, I grew up really poor, and so did Robin, so we were on a cash basis growing up. It was: You work today, you eat today. You don't work today, you don't eat today. It's just that simple.

So first, you have to get real about what a fixed expense is. Because frankly, there aren't many. Food and shelter, that's about it. Cable TV is not a fixed expense. Your cell phone is not a fixed expense. Internet access is not a fixed expense. If you're trying to get out of debt, you have to be willing to treat everything as expendable.

Then sit down and say, "OK, here's how much we have, and that leaves discretionary income of X, whether it's $10 a week or $100 a week." If you say you've got $60 a week to spend on groceries, do not wind up spending $80. And be in this together: You make the plan together, you negotiate it, you execute it, and you live by it together. Don't make it about how he has to stop spending so much or you need more money for your hobbies. Be in it together, and come up with a realistic plan. And if you can't stick to it, sit down with your spouse and renegotiate. Don't make it about blame or recrimination. Make sure you both realize that you're in this together.

Robin: One thing that I think was always very important in our relationship is that when it came to money, just because I didn't work outside the home didn't mean I wasn't contributing to the well-being of the household. The day we got married, I quit my job, quit school and then I was a stay-at-home mom. But Phillip never had the attitude or the opinion that it was his money and he would bring it home and tell me what to do with it.

You do have to negotiate whenever an issue comes up. Don't just spend the money and then say, "Hey, this is what it costs, deal with it." Talk things over beforehand. I ran our household budget, and he really didn't have the first idea about what anything would cost, so we would have ongoing conversations about what I needed to buy, and what he needed to expect.

Dr. Phil: It's fine for one person to be the money manager, the person who actually pays the bills. But it still has to be a partnership. I hate it when I meet with a couple and one of them says, "Oh, well, he handles all the bills." Well, you know what? You both need to participate in this plan. And when you're both aware that the electric bill is going to cost you $40 this month, it'll get a lot easier not to blow $40 on beer that night.

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