Couples Discussing Finances

Money affects lifestyle, sense of security or one’s own sense of self worth, making conversations about so much more than just finances.  This has contributed to fights about money becoming the leading cause of divorce today.  Couples can reduce the chance of developing a sense of resentment, mistrust or confusion about their joint financial situation by learning to have an open, constant dialogue and establishing healthy financial habits that will see them through to retirement and beyond. This project explores how to scaffold and encourage these discussions.

Capable Couples is a game designed to facilitate financial conversations couples should be having as they begin to plan their future. It seeks to reduce anxiety, increase a sense of intimacy and trust, and spark new thoughts and considerations for the couple to discuss in a low pressure environment.



• Analysis of the Activity System
• Cross Analysis of advice articles on the web
• Territory Map

I began delving into this area in spring of last year. To begin to understand the whole system, I built a territory map looking at the various financial purchases and concerns that a couple may have and then considered the outside influences that may affect how and when they handle those concerns. This helped me to better see the system in which a couple handles their own finances and how that is connected to a wide variety of things and people.

I also did an extensive survey of advice “listicles” available on popular news and financial sites such as Forbes and Mint. I was able to quantify which topics came up most often and compare the advice offered with regards to each issue or activity.


• Literature Reviews
• Expert Interviews
• Competitive Analysis/ State of the Field

I approached my project by looking at the actual mechanics of merging finances. This branched into further research about the nature and factors of money management behavior, behavioral economics, and marital conflict. The more I looked into the matter, the more I realized there was a greater need for scaffolding the conversations a couple needs to have than for scaffolding the actual process of merging finances.



Activity and Protocol

1. Couples are given a set financial situation including income, debt, savings, and credit limit, plus a financial goal. They familiarize themselves with the information and discuss what they agree they can spend.

2. Together they decide on an apartment, car, and living room furniture based on budget, tastes, personal goals, and lifestyle preferences.

3. Reflection questions prompt them to consider how they typically discuss (or don’t discuss) money, make financial decisions, and how they have (or will) set goals together.

  • Couples are open to having conversations about their money, but it is not a top priority and so doesn’t happen regularly.
  • Couples talk in generalities without really discussing the specific numbers of planning for a future together.
  • Partners seem to be more aware (and critical) of each other’s attitudes toward money and spending habits while less so of their own.
  • A dominant personality can drown out the other partner’s opinion.  The quieter partner will go along with the more assertive one without expressing their opinion.
  • While a couple may be comfortable talking in private, the presence of another person seems to increase discomfort.


Through the activities I ran and my exploratory research I realized that what was needed more than a system to assist in merging finances, couples needed something to help them have the discussions they needed to have, educate them about what those discussions should be, and develop a habit of regular discussions. I developed three potential design directions with slightly different goals.



The testing conditions evolved as I observed couples play. The key to making the play-testing successful was to make it feel like play so the couples approached the game comfortable and relaxed.

I achieved this by a casual demeanor as I explained how to play, leaving the room so they wouldn’t feel observed, and providing snacks like one might have if playing a game at home. Couples are more likely to ask questions, and be receptive to questions from partners when they are in this mindset. This was a key finding and affects the tone of the digital interface to help continue this tone.


The game evolved in form based on (1) how easy it was for the couples to understand the rules quickly allowing them to focus on the content (2) how effective questions were for prompting conversation as well as joking (3) how long or short it was taking the couples to work through a round that allowed them to get to some substantive conversation while also not dragging out.



1. Of the options, choose the goal together you want to work toward.

2. Each person can move independently across the board.

3. Each color indicates a type of question to answer from the corresponding cards.
When on a square, you need to answer a question.

4. Correct answers allow you to move in any chosen direction. The player can move up, down, or sideways. Incorrect answers force the player to move in a random direction.

5. The yellow squares are Risk Squares. Roll the die to see if your risk pays off. If it does, you can move two squares in your chosen direction. If not, move back two squares away from your goal.

6. In order to win, the couple needs to reach the chosen goal card together, meaning they need to both get a correct answer on the same round.


The questions are broken into three categories: educational, comical, and inspirational. While the Comical questions have a light-hearted tone, they work to bring out a sense of closeness by allowing them to laugh and remember what they love about each other. Interlacing these questions with the Inspirational ones help put them in a welcoming mindset, as opposed to tense or defensive. The Educational questions allow the couple to learn together and puts them on the same level of financial understanding.

For more, see the poster.


How it works