You share life and all your love with your spouse or partner, but is one of you detached from money matters? Here’s why and how to find more balance in your financial decision-making.
Merging two financial lives and backgrounds can take time, particularly if you married later in life. If you’re like many people, you structure your home life around one person taking ownership of certain tasks. The same usually applies to your family’s financial tasks.
Regarding finances, though, not sharing your responsibilities can be a huge mistake.
In my experience, two types of people make up most marriages: the financial spouse and the out spouse. The financial spouse takes control of the household money management while the out spouse remains uninvolved in financial decisions.
I see nearly an even split between women and men in each category. Also, some couples do successfully share financial responsibilities.
Being the out spouse may suit your personality because you are uninterested in your finances or you focus on other things you consider more important and leave overseeing major money issues to your partner. Both spouses need to share and communicate financial issues: Disagreements over money are one of the top reasons for strife in relationships.
Here are three more reasons to assume shared control over you and your spouse’s financial life:
Death and taxes: You have a 50/50 chance that you will outlive your spouse, a better chance if you’re a woman. Acquire some knowledge of your financial situation in case you someday find yourself again alone.
Financial literacy: Money decisions are everywhere in our lives; a basic understanding regarding your finances is key. Does a balance on your cards actually improve your credit? Is an individual retirement account a good investment if you already have a 401(k)?
You ought to be familiar with at least your household budget, retirement savings rates and insurance coverage.
Different perspectives: Being with someone usually means that you both think you’re better together than apart. Hearing your partner’s advice and thoughts on money provides you a different viewpoint than needing to decide only on your own. Bouncing financial decisions off one another can lead to better outcomes.
How can you or your spouse take a greater hand in finances?
Discuss: Set aside one day a month when you can both sit down to review your financial goals, budgets, questions and concerns. If appropriate for you two, open a bottle of wine or pop a bowl of corn: Make the experience positive and you’ll be inclined to do it more regularly.
Do not try to micromanage each other’s financial decisions. In fact, build into your budget some spending money for yourself or gifts – that way, if an unexpected $10,000 bill shows up from American Express you’ll be able to tell which of you needs a little more accountability.
Share: Many great online tools help you can share your financial information with your spouse easily. For instance, our firm offers clients a service that sends a weekly email to update a couple on their investment, retirement and bank accounts. A similar simple solution can keep both of you on the same page.
Look ahead: As noted earlier, financial conversations between couples can ignite fights. Try setting a ground rule that both of you will only look forward and not judge poor past decisions. You can’t change the past so there’s productive in fighting over it.
Commit and work: Both of you must participate, stick to your plan and discard any idea that our financial future will just work itself.
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Andrew Comstock, CFA, is president and chief investment officer of Castlebar Asset Management in Leawood, Kan.
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