Partners in successful marriages and other long-term relationships often settle into a division of household labor based on abilities, affinities, and tolerances. It is usually easier on both to divide the to-do list into yours and mine and attack the chores individually rather than trying to do everything together. This can be a highly effective strategy, but when things go wrong – one spouse becomes ill, has an accident, or dies unexpectedly – the other spouse may find himself (or herself) responsible for tasks he doesn’t know much about. This can cause even well-laid plans to go awry.
Money management is one of the tasks that one spouse often takes on and the other gladly abdicates the responsibility. Some chores, such as housekeeping, cooking, lawn care, and car repair, can be hired out or taken over by family and friends, if necessary, but many people are reluctant to share their financial information with someone else and, therefore, the spouse who has not been attentive to the financial details usually must take over this responsibility. If the money manager spouse wasn’t particularly organized, and picking up where he left off requires figuring out a haphazard system, the crisis level of the situation and the stress on the new money manager increase dramatically. This is also the worst possible time to discover that your spouse has not been paying bills on time, has allowed you to accumulate more debt than you were aware of, or has accounts you knew nothing about.
You and your partner should always keep in mind how each of you will need to proceed without the other. Make sure that you train each other on your own chores – what washer and dryer cycles you use, how to clean the pool, and how you keep the financial records. It isn’t necessary for both of you pay the bills together each month – just provide monthly reports to your spouse on the activity and balances in all of your bank accounts, loans, and credit accounts. Whether you generate the monthly reports with a personal finance software program, a spreadsheet, or a handwritten ledger, provide the details that your spouse will need to know in order to comfortably step into the job, should it ever become necessary. If you are not the family bill payer, ask questions about what’s in the reports and make sure you understand what you’re reading.
If your assets include investments, trusts, and other financial instruments, it is a good idea to engage a qualified financial planner to advise you, and both of you should attend regularly scheduled meetings with your advisor. If you are the one who has to take over in an emergency, you will be much more at ease with the task if you already know and trust the person you may need to depend on during a difficult time.
If discussing finances with your spouse is a challenge, you may benefit from consulting with a Financial Therapist to explore new ways of working together to reach your financial goals and maintain your lifestyle. When partners argue about money, their disagreements often reflect other problems in their relationship. Building an effective money management plan without resolving these underlying issues can be a daunting task. Commit to each other to do whatever is necessary to create an effective strategy for success.