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I’m no money expert, but here’s three things I believe:

  1. Women should have their own money. (So should men.)
  2. Women should know how to budget, how to invest, and have life insurance and a will. (So should men.)
  3. Partners should manage their money together.

These seem like basic things, right? Yet it surprises me how many people in relationships will allow one partner to manage the money, while the other takes a passive role. Many of my stay-at-home-mom friends have mentioned how frustrating it can be when they have to account for every penny they spend. It’s logical, of course, to be answerable for spending within a shared account - after all, the bills have to be paid. But explaining why you felt the need to grab a muffin with your coffee can feel…weird. Even when there’s enough money to go around, it can feel strange having to validate your odd purchases.

If one partner has been taking a leading role in managing the bills, I propose that you take a month where you switch roles. Whoever has been paying the bills can show the other partner what bills are mailed, and which are web-pay, and help them to understand the process. If one person has been solely responsible for drawing up the budget, then allow the other to take the lead for the month. After that month, once both partners have a better feel for how the finances really work, it will be easier to work together as a team. Having that one month of role reversal is important for both partners to truly understand how the other feels and functions.I also propose that everyone should have their own personal account, no matter how small, where they can save for their own purchases. I’m not advising couples should be secretive with their money, but sometimes having your own stash simply means you can make a birthday purchase without alerting your partner!

I know some couples who keep completely separate finances, each paying agreed-upon shares of bills and keeping track of their own cash flow. The downside is if one partner gets in over their head with debt, they are able to hide it. Or one partner could secrete away money to hide prior to asking for a divorce.

Bottom line: Keep the lines of communication open and work together – it may be more effort, but it leads to peace of mind.

If the worst were to happen and one partner died or was incapacitated, the other partner can often find themselves scrambling and confused. This is why it’s very important for both partners to know the details of the other’s accounts, along with where the insurance paperwork is (and if it’s paid up), and to have a will that designates basic ownership of things like cars and houses. Better than a will is a living trust with a springing incapacity clause – that allows your partner to make financial decisions on your account if you became unable to make those decisions yourself.

Money can be one of the trickiest things to navigate with a partner, but having some financial independence for each partner while working together on common goals will make everyone so much happier. Give it a shot!