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Turning Money Talk Into Pillow Talk

This tax season doesn't have to be SO bad.

Lisa Peterson is a financial planner in Boston. She says money talk can often cause serious relationship strife. But she thinks she has a remedy: Talk about money with your partner and, more importantly, keep it sexy. Lisa Peterson and her firm Lantern Financial have created a seminar called "Pillow Talk: Make Talking About Money Sexy in Your Marriage."

You might expect the leader of a seminar like this to show up in black, strapless mini-dress and stiletto heels. You'd be wrong.

LISA PETERSON: I'm really happy you've all decided to come join us tonight.

Lisa Peterson is business casual, and a little bashful, standing in front of a laptop at the front of the room.

PETERSON: And we are going to talk about making money sexy in your relationship through, of course, a Power Point presentation, because what's more sexy than that?

She's held a few of these events. This one's in a Boston sports bar. A dozen or so attendees munch on nachos and buffalo wings, listening as Lisa tells them to think romance when talking finance.

PETERSON: You could light some candles, you could put on some lingerie, you could sip some wine — to talk about money together.

She has 10 basic tips, a lot of them dripping with double entendre. For instance, when you don't have time for a lengthy discussion about money:

PETERSON: Have a quickie. Try to quickly check in with each other, whether in person or through the use of little financial love notes.

Hey baby, I put another $400 in the joint account today. Rwarrr!

PETERSON: Exactly.

Lisa does the presentation out of love, but there's a financial reason too. She's hoping to convert a few of the attendees into clients.

PETERSON: I do financial counseling through a unique program that we started called "Harmoney." And that's for engaged and newlywed couples.

And that's H-A-R--

PETERSON: M-O-N-E-Y.

She uses games and activities to help couples learn about each others' monetary habits and histories. It's all part of the same philosophy.

PETERSON: Taking financial matters out of the sexy part of your life and advocating it to sort of the last thing that you want to talk about that makes it feel like a punishment. Why not just sort of just incorporate it all together and make it be a fun, sexy part of your daily life.

Why not even make it the opposite of a punishment, Lisa says. One of the tips at the "Pillow Talk" event is rewarding each other after financial conversations.

PETERSON: And you know, I'll leave the reward system up to you. Remember that the best things in life are free.

As are the prizes handed out at the end of the event. Almost everyone who turned up got a prize. One guy won a dream date for two at Fenway Park.

PRIZE DRAWER: And the winner is, Bryan Dove.

Bryan Dove is here with his fiancee Melanie Picket.

BRYAN DOVE: We just got engaged in December and we've been discussing finances. I think I like to discuss it more than she does.

MELANIE PICKETT: And he really likes to keep track of everything we spend. And I'm just like try to save money but you don't have to keep track of it all.

They both said the tips might make these discussions less painful. And when I emailed two weeks later, they still hadn't tried them. But I met with a couple who had. Matt Childers and Kaleen Konrad. They got engaged last March.

MATT CHILDERS: Yes. I should know the exact date. I know it's March -- March 23, 22.

KALEEN KONRAD: 12.

CHILDERS: 12! There was a two in there.

They both work at Merck, the pharmaceutical company. Anyway, they took a few of the tips to heart — setting a canoodley mood for their budget discussion.

KONRAD: So we had a glass of wine and tried to make it more casual and not stressful.

They also did a little role reversal. I asked Childers if he had gone so far as to put on some of her clothes. He says they didn't take it that far.

Usually Kaleen pays the bills. So Matt took over for a couple of months, and realized how in the dark he was about their finances.

CHILDERS: How much money was going to electricity or to gas and, you know, what did that leave for clothes in the budget? I don't know. I just say we don't have enough for it. So yeah I realized I need to help out more. I would act like I knew what was happening with our finances but I don't or didn't.

Maybe in part because of his upbringing. Matt never really knew much about his family's budget growing up, whereas Kaleen always saw her dad fussing with the books.

Lisa calls this their "financial ancestry." We tend to think of money as a utility, but it's so intricately linked with who we are. And yet, for a lot of couples, it's the only topic they avoid.

PETERSON: I think people are willing to talk about things that are emotional but money's a funny thing in that way because we're not taught that it's emotional. And so you feel the emotions inside you when you start talking about the money but you just don't know how to be successful in that way, how to talk about it successfully.

I asked Lisa if she uses these tips in her own marriage. She does. In fact, she and her husband may have made their money conversations a little too sexy.

Lisa's baby is due in May.

This story was originally prepared for Marketplace Money, heard every Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on WBUR.

This program aired on April 14, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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