Having a monthly discussion about financial matters is another way to mitigate or eliminate this problem prior to separation or death. The financially-oriented partner can say, “Okay, here are the bills I am paying. Here is what is left to pay by the 31st. Here is what we have saved for retirement this month. After paying the bills, we have this much left to live on for the balance of the month.” He or she might ask the less financially-oriented partner for ideas or suggestions on how to handle their money.
If you are the less financially-oriented financial partner, you might need to tell your spouse that you want to know how the money is handled and where the records are kept. You may need to ask for the information to be explained in a way that you can understand. In some cases, this will be challenging, because you may not like to talk about money. That’s why you may have deferred to your spouse in money matters to begin with. But there can be a cost to this reliance later in life.
Money should not be the forbidden subject or the weak link in your relationship. But it will end up being that way if there is a great disparity in roles, combined with a lack of communication. The disparity in financial roles may not change, but the communication certainly can.
If the passive financial partner is included in money decisions, he will no longer feel like an uninvolved spectator and have to play the role of the dependent child when it comes to financial decisions. He can gain an understanding of the strain it puts on family finances when he constantly asks for money to buy something. The passive financial partner might become inspired to make a real contribution, and share in the financial responsibility.
The key to a successful marriage is communication—especially regarding money. That means having regular discussions about family finances, being willing to ask questions and raise concerns, and offering assistance to the other partner in understanding or actually managing the finances.
Also, remember that another person may need to see information presented in a slightly different way than you. Brad and Leslie exemplified this point. He was extremely detail-oriented. He had spreadsheets and line items from here to eternity to show her in their money discussions. They frequently ended up frustrated with each other and eventually stopped sharing financial information. She just “left it up to him.”
In fact, Leslie did want to know. However, she had a different orientation regarding money. She just needed to know the bottom line. All she really was interested in was how much was left at the end of the month for discretionary spending?
Both partners need to know—as best as is possible—the key points of the joint financial game plan and structure. A good place to start is a joint monthly review of finances—and then an annual review that deals with goals and the long-term financial plan for you as a family.
Both spouses should know where the financial records are. Both should know the location of the safety deposit box, what is in it, and where the keys are kept; both should know what credit cards are being used and how to cancel them, if need be. (This is also true for you if you are single. A relative or trusted friend should know where your financial records are kept and what needs to be taken care of on your behalf.)
I know one couple who trades off the task of paying bills each month. They also trade off filing the tax return each year. This way, both partners are in a position to feel informed and empowered concerning the family finances. It also gives each a break, as the burden is not always left to one person.
Take a look at how money is handled in your relationship. Are you primarily responsible for money decisions and record keeping, or is your spouse? Is there a wide disparity in responsibility and understanding regarding your personal finances? Don’t just accept this disparity as “the way it is.” Explore ways that the disparity can be lessened. Find more meaningful ways to include each other in financial matters. In short, communicate more with each other about finances. Make sure each partner is comfortable about what to do financially should he or she be left alone unexpectedly. Consider involving an outside financial planner to step in to activate some prearranged structures to help in a transition.
It is an act of love to make sure you and your partner have a clear understanding about money. Remember to keep the lines of communication open.