Often in a marriage, the workload is divided up. Carol always does the dishes and Sid always does the vacuuming. However, finance is one area where this system does not work.
Jordan Page, who gives advice on budgeting, suggests that families divide up the types of financial transactions so that each person is the “CEO” of each financial area. For example, the person in charge of the house finances would be responsible for paying the mortgage and looking into options for refinancing. She never tells people how to structure this, but she always says that because she is with the kids and does the cooking, she manages the daily expenses, and because her husband is on the computer all day, he manages their investments and banking.
This is similar to how our grandparents often ran their finances. Dad was in charge of the money and Mom got an allowance to spend as she saw fit, which would include expenses for the children and groceries. The problem with this system isn’t the sexism (although the fact that the man tends to be the person managing most of the money is not lost on me), it is the lack of shared information and experience.
It is not uncommon for a widow to walk into our office, riddled with grief, and panicked because she does not know the banking passwords to their accounts. She is not familiar with going to the bank and is not sure whether their accounts are joint, and if she is able to have access to them. While planning the funeral, she is panicked because bills keep getting sent to her and she does not know what they are for and whether they should be paid, and where she is to get the money to pay them. On top of her deep loss is the painful realization that at the age of 86, she needs to learn all of these things.
Similar situations happen in divorce as well. When I ask a client about the family assets and debts, his eyes may glaze over and then he is embarrassed to tell me that he does not actually know. She managed all of that. Once their divorce is settled and assets and debts divided up, he is still a 55-year-old man who has not dealt with financial matters for 30 years, and frankly, is often embarrassed to ask.
I don’t think this happens because the spouse managing the finances is mean and controlling (although this does sometimes happen) but more often it is an oversight. “I am good with money and I am organized so I will do these things for us,” the spouse may think. “Excellent, I can focus on other things,” thinks the other.
Suze Orman, the financial expert, says that it is not loving to leave people unprotected. So if you love your spouse, begin to include them in financial matters, and if you love yourself, begin to get involved. Don’t wait for a death or divorce to get a grip on your finances. Trust me, tear-stained financial documents only end up blurring the bottom line.