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Little green lie$

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What a recent Reader's Digest poll revealed about secrets that spouses keep from their mates was intriguing. Interestingly, the most common secret kept from respective spouses involved money — such as not disclosing the actual price paid for those "got-to-have" golf clubs or "such-a-bargain-I-couldn't-pass-it-up" handbag.

"I don't think there's a marriage where that didn't happen," said one respondent, a woman married 26 years. "You always get those good bargains, you know?"

While the survey elicited many light-hearted responses, its findings regarding money's role in personal relationships warrants serious consideration. After all, money problems are considered one of the foremost stress factors in marriage, which can sometimes result in divorce.

There's ample evidence that "money problems" stem from a lack of knowledge about personal finance. In many families, parents teach their children — either directly or by example — how to handle their money. But recent trends suggest that there is a need for more formal instruction in the K-12 education setting. Currently, Utah schools do not require such curriculum, although it is touched upon in some economics classes.

Consider Utah's unfortunate trend in bankruptcy filings. Nearly 14,000 Utahns filed for bankruptcy in 1999, a half percent increase from the year before. In 2000, the number of Utahns who filed for bankruptcy climbed nearly 8 percent as the rest of the country decreased 6.8 percent. Some attribute Utah's bankruptcy rate to large families, although there are many reasons people file for bankruptcy.

The relatively easy availability of credit may play a role in the upswing, which is also alarming. Higher education officials in recent years have noted a disturbing trend of college students paying tuition with high-interest credit cards when they could receive student loans with far less interest.

Not only to do married couples need to manage their finances so they keep up with their obligations and the checkbook balances at the end of the month, they also need to gain perspective about long-term investing so they will have a means to put their children through college and have a reasonable income upon their retirements.

There are many investment vehicles that enable young people, who don't have a great deal of extra income, to start planning for their futures. But unless young people are schooled to take advantage of those options, they may set themselves up to struggle throughout their lives, financially speaking and, according to the Reader's Digest survey, render themselves tempted to tell their spouses an occasional little green lie.