February 01, 2007


Financial Bliss: A Couple’s Guide to Merging Money Styles and Building a Rich Life Together. By Bambi Holzer. AMACOM. $21.95.

      Whether married or living together, with kids or without, early in life or farther along on its path, couples can always find a way to fight about money. Emotional and physical compatibility are all well and good – and necessary for a solid long-term relationship – but the everyday use of money is a basic element of relationships on which many couples founder. Premarital (or pre-living-together) financial counseling may be a good idea in theory, but there’s precious little of it in practice.

      Enter Bambi Holzer, a specialist in planned giving and estate planning, and president of her own financial consulting firm. Holzer sets out to help couples at any stage of life (and any stage of relationship) figure out how to manage their finances better on an ongoing basis. Hers is not a book about getting out of high-rate debt or boosting your credit score (although those are laudable goals in themselves). Financial Bliss is about “knowing your own financial personality type, how risk averse you are, how you view the utility of money, and the decision-making style you generally employ,” and using that information to create a money-management approach that will work for both you and your partner.

      The writing style here is on the cloying side, but the recommendations are generally sensible and nondogmatic. In trying to keep her discussions nonthreatening, Holzer comes up with overly cutesy phrases such as “financial first date” and “financial state of the union.” These juxtapose uneasily with such elements as her two-page “net worth worksheet” and her self-quizzes that require such things as a ranking in order of the relative importance of exotic vacations, children’s college, a nicer home, cars, investments and retirement savings. Holzer’s narrative seems directed at people who have minimal familiarity with financial terms, but her self-evaluation material assumes a fair degree of knowledge. Thumb through the book before buying it to make sure you do not feel Holzer is talking down to you – or asking you to make calculations that you feel are above your comfort level.

      Style aside, Financial Bliss offers valuable insights into ways in which money can help bring people closer or pull them apart. For example, she urges readers to look at previous significant relationships from a financial standpoint – how was money handled and what were the fights about? She emphasizes the importance of talking with your partner, and explains how to decide whether you should combine your financial accounts or keep them separate. She leavens advice that could easily become dry by giving examples of the problems facing couples she has counseled (and the solutions they found), and by sometimes discussing her own marital accommodations to money: “Now he has his accounts and I have mine, and we have ours.” Her suggestions for unmarried couples, whose legal status can be tricky to pin down on financial documents, are particularly helpful. And her analyses of ways to prepare for major life events, such as children and retirement, are helpful if far short of comprehensive. “Having your finances in order and having sufficient money buys you security,” writes Holzer in discussing retirement – but the statement is actually true of all life stages, and thus can be a useful focal point for couples trying to use Holzer’s book as a basic guide to getting along better on the level of dollars and cents.

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