NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - The everyday financial deceptions we all practice may be no big deal the first, or second, or third time we commit them.
The problem is keeping the fiction going: The expectations you set up can become increasingly expensive to live up to and more and more awkward to get out of. It's much better to set things up so that the urge to deceive never arises.
Trade places with your spouse.
Many fights about spending -- and the secrets we keep to avoid them -- stem from ignorance.
If you've never shopped for your kids' clothes, you don't know how quickly the costs can add up, nor do you understand the pressure to buy some item your child is begging for. If you don't get involved in retirement planning, you don't know how scary it can be to see how far you are from your savings goals.
So switch financial roles for, say, a month. You'll each better understand the challenges the other faces, and stop judging each other's decisions so harshly. When the blaming stops, the need for secrets may too.
Keep "mad money" accounts.
You should each have some money to spend or save as you see fit without answering to the other about it. That way you can occasionally splurge on something that your spouse doesn't approve of without worrying about lectures or reprisals.
It also has symbolic value, allowing each of you to feel in complete control of at least one part of your financial life.
Get the facts.
The powerful drive to keep up with the Joneses is often based on false assumptions.
Yes, the neighbors may be driving swank new cars and cooking on $1,000 grills. But what's the unpaid balance on their credit cards? In truth, it's likely that your peers are struggling with the same money issues you are.
If you are really stretching to maintain appearances, pick a friend you can trust and open up about the challenges you face. You may find you have company -- or that you're hanging with the wrong crowd. Either way, it'll be a relief.
Create personal goals.
The experts call this "building an internal frame of reference." That is, stop comparing yourself financially with others and instead measure yourself against realistic goals that you develop based on your own needs and values.
Get a tracking mechanism.
It's easy to slip into denial about your financial health (or lack thereof) if you don't have a clear sense of how you're doing. So spend time every month with some money-management software. Or schedule regular meetings with a financial planner.
You can't maintain unrelenting fiscal discipline without time off for good behavior. So budget in some rule breaking as a reward for not breaking the rules too often.
Buy yourself a CD every time you pay off your credit-card bill in full, for example. Or schedule dinner out after a visit with your financial planner.