Often, married couples will divide and conquer tasks as a necessity to get their family to-do list done. Yet, when it comes to finances, this notion of “dividing and conquering” may not be your best bet in the long-run.
As Veronica Dagher of The Wall Street Journal points out, a financially disengaged spouse can actually prove quite costly to your household finances and potentially diminish long-term returns.
Instead of making the household finances just one person’s responsibility, it needs to be a shared responsibility. This does not mean that the spouse who is less interested in the household finances suddenly needs to become a financial expert. What it does mean, however, is that both spouses actively participate in setting financial goals, hold each other accountable to meeting those goals, and have an understanding and agreement about where money is spent, saved, invested, and prioritized.
So, how can you manage the household finances as a couple in the way I’ve described? Here are two ideas that have worked for me personally and with many of my clients that I have helped navigate the dual partnership of household finances.
1. Learn What You Don’t Know
You don’t know what you don’t know. Make financial education a priority and something you seek out on your own in the way you most like to learn new things. Maybe you will find a financial podcast (check out Kent on Money) while your spouse orders a few books off Amazon (I highly recommend The One-Page Financial Plan by Carl Richards). Sharpen your financial acumen individually so that you can both bring important understanding and insights into your discussions and decisions about money.
The reason why I don’t recommend that the more financially knowledgeable partner assume the role of financial educator is because it can (and often does) lead to arguments.
Another great way to learn is by asking questions of your financial advisor. Your advisor should avoid jargon and be able to explain concepts clearly. If they can’t, it may be time to look for a new relationship.
2. Don’t Step On Each Other’s Toes
It’s not about switching roles. I find that most spouses that take the lead in the household finances do so because they are genuinely interested and enjoy investing and planning. Whereas, the other spouse is generally interested in assuming other roles and responsibilities, which is probably just one of the many reasons that makes you such a strong team.
Therefore, when both partners come together about the finances, it’s not about taking over a task or role that has been traditionally held by the spouse who has been primarily managing the finances. It’s about creating a new role and possibly adjusting existing roles so that there is room for everyone to participate. By doing so, you create an environment in which both people in the marriage can feel comfortable making decisions about money.
This is why it is so important not to step on each other’s toes. If you are the spouse who was formerly disengaged about the finances, I would caution you against trying to take over jobs or change how things have been getting handled. That can feel very diminishing to your partner. And if you are the spouse who has always done the finances, try to not micromanage your spouse or tell them how to do things if they haven’t asked for that kind of direction. That can feel very patronizing to your partner. Instead, make space for each of you to figure out a new way of operating with both of you involved. Be open to how each of you think it could work best.
With a commitment to ongoing learning, much can be accomplished in a partnership that comes together on money matters. How you approach money as a team, the decisions you make together, and the goals you strive toward as a couple can make all the difference between your financial success or financial failure.