As a financial executive who has been in the industry since 1986, I’ve seen a lot of changes in how families handle their money.
Growing up, my father managed the finances and my mother had very little interest. This is true for many of my clients who are over the age of 70 and are in first, long-term marriages. If I’m being honest, the same could be said of my own household; I’ve managed our finances while also making sure my wife knows how to access our accounts should something happen to me.
Here are a few of the things we discuss:
- Asset listing
- Debt listing
- Automated monthly bills and cash flow
- Instructions for what to do (and who to talk to) in the event of my death
But when it comes to who handles the money in many families, things are changing. According to ConsumerCredit.com, “Nearly 80 percent of women in relationships bear the responsibility of managing household finances – often with little help from their significant others.” (Source)
I believe things started shifting during my generation as more and more women graduated from college and entered the professional world. I’ve also noticed a shift when women are in a second or third marriage; they often have a more equal role when it comes to finances. However, what still tends to happen is one person in the relationship handles all of the finances while the other is happy to let that task go.
How to keep both parties involved
It is important for each partner to have either a general idea of their family’s finances or take on various responsibilities related to money. This is always more likely in families where both parties work and have had to become familiar with company benefits and retirement savings options – however, couples who have one breadwinner should still make sure the other at least knows the basics.
One way to address a spouse’s lack of interest or understanding is through annual reviews to make sure the couple is on the same page and that they have an understanding of their finances and financial plan; this can be done as a couple or with an impartial third-party financial planner.
Pay attention to changes
It’s also helpful to pay attention to shifting dynamics. It is crucial not to feel intimidated, or less important, when one spouse advances in their career and begins earning substantially more money.
Sometimes this dynamic offers the potential for the lower earning spouse to take some of the responsibility off their partner who probably has less time to address the family’s finances.
Opening up financial communication
I occasionally have one spouse indicate that they would like for their partner to be more involved and have a better understanding of the family’s finances and financial plan. However, I often find this difficult with older couples that have been in a more traditional marriage (like the one in which I was raised) because each spouse has accepted a role over time and is unwilling to change.
For those couples who are interested in taking an active role in their finances, developing a financial plan with a financial advisor can be a great learning tool and provide comport in a marriage. For older, more traditional couples developing a financial plan can still be a useful tool as it can provide a trusted contact with an advisor and a financial roadmap for each spouse should something happen.