Who Manages Your Family’s Finances?

by Vered DeLeeuw · 14 comments

Back when I was a stay at home mom, my husband and I used to joke that he’s in charge of making money and I’m in charge of spending it. But I’m proud to say that over the last decade, I have proven myself to be a capable investor – and this was NOT an easy decade for investors as we all know!

So now we say that he’s in charge of making (most) of our money, while I’m in charge of investing it and growing it, and – well, I’m still pretty good at spending some of it too. 🙂

The Family As a Business Unit

Joking aside, I find that the trust he puts in me, the fact that I can manage our finances on my own and only consult with him prior to making really big decisions, is priceless. A family is of course all about love, friendship and mutual commitment, but it is also a business unit of sorts. Just as it wouldn’t make sense for the CEO of a company to micro-manage the CFO or the CIO, it doesn’t make sense for a couple to micro-manage each other.

Trust

Of course, this requires trust. For many couples, there’s very little trust when it comes to finances. A recent, disturbing study from American Express shows that a growing number of couples reports that they argue about money, and that in order to avoid those arguments, they sneak purchases, sock money away in a secret bank account, or keep a credit card account hidden from their significant other.

Assuming you agree with me that this is a sad state of affairs, how do you get to a place where you trust each other – where you know that you are in agreement when it comes to finances, and are working together to build your financial future?

Financial Compatibility

I asked you, a while ago, “Is Financial Compatibility Important When Choosing a Life Partner?” Most of you thought that financial compatibility is important, and that marriages suffer when there are big differences between the partners.

Leigh shared her own experience: “I am now going through a divorce, and though there were many issues at play, I’d say it boiled down to money. Significant Other came into the relationship with a monetary philosophy that borrowing against the future is a-okay. While I worked to whittle down that debt, Significant Other refused to make any sacrifices that may have helped put us back in the black.”

I agree with your responses to that post. I believe that financial compatibility makes it easier to trust each other and to work together to build a financial future. If my husband believed I would take all the earnings from our investments and spend them on jewelry and clothes, would he still be able to trust me to manage our portfolio?

Gender

Does it make a difference if it’s the woman or the man who manages the family’s finances? I would say it doesn’t – it all boils down to the individual and not so much to their gender. In addition, even if we assume that women and men have different investing styles, with women being more risk averse, each style has its pluses and minuses. I remember reading somewhere that over the long run, portfolios managed by women have better returns, because they trade less often and rack up fewer expenses.

Interestingly, in a 2008 survey by Pew Research Center, 45% of women respondents said that they manage the money in the household, while 37% of the men said that they do. Perhaps it’s a question of perception, or of needing a better definition of what it means to “manage the household finances” (balance the checkbook? Pay the bills? Make investment decisions?). Whatever the explanation is, it seems that women and men can’t even agree on who runs the household finances. (I wonder what my husband would have answered. :D)

Tell Me Your Story

Who manages your household’s finances? Do you argue a lot over money, or are you generally in agreement? Are you shocked that people hide purchases and bank accounts from their spouses?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • I manage my family’s finances (just my husband and me, so far), which suits us both fine. We rarely fight about money, and we make it a point to discuss any big budgeting changes or purchases together. The less he has to think about money, the happier he is, and he trusts that I’m working toward our best interests.

    It doesn’t suprise me that many couples fight about money and/or hide purchases and accounts from each other, but it makes me sad.

  • Slinky says:

    We each keep track of our own income, budget and spending. I do the taxes and investing. For other stuff, I tend to do the research and come up with general numbers and a plan. My husband then becomes Action Man ™ and makes it happen. Otherwise, he gets annoyed with the research stuff, and I procrastinate, so we compliment each others strengths and weaknesses very well!

    We also never argue about money. If one of us isn’t happy with what’s going on we say something and talk it over. We’re usually in agreement on things, so the source of unhappiness is usually more along the lines of making things work the way we want or on the timeline we want.

    I’m not shocked that people hide money and purchases, just appalled. My father chronically hid accounts to the detriment of the family finances. We do manage our day to day stuff separately, but we’re pretty transparent about it and we don’t hide anything. I might not have meant to go crazy a while back and buy a couple hundred dollar’s worth of yarn in a month, but I did and he knows it. Likewise, I know he’s been spending money on computer equipment to get his laptop fixed up.

  • Kim says:

    My hubby-to-be & I have worked our way thru a few arrangements, trying to hit upon the “ideal”. We each have our habits, good and bad. We each have our areas of financial expertise and not-so-expert. And we’re still “fixing” our personal financial histories as we work toward our joint financial future.

    The key is, we work TOGETHER.

    In this partnership, I’m great at all the logical bean-counting: cash-flow management, cost/benefit ratios, bargain-shopping. He’s great at understanding the emotional bang-for-the-buck spending and negotiating for the best deal possible.

    We focus on playing on our strengths as partners, watching each other’s back where we are weak, and talking A LOT about when and where we have a different vision of the end result… or what the end result should be. The common vision of what we want for our future selves rules it all.

    That said, “divide and conquer” is our most recent arrangement for bank accounts, and it looks promising. The routine bills, savings goals and other long-range items are paid from one joint account with a no-excuses monthly contribution from each of us. The balance of our individual earnings is our “private” money, no questions asked.

    • Kim says:

      All that outlined, since I’m the “bean-counter”, I do the majority of the grunt work involved in tracking & reporting the finances against the budget, setting up the BillPays, etc.. But we “manage” the choices we make together.

  • indio says:

    When I was married I kept separate finances from my ex because he was very good at his spending his money, but not earning it. And his first wife was also very good at standing with her hand out looking for more to support her lifestyle – no job but had 2 Mercedes in the driveway (only 1 person had a license in that household). After he accumulated $220k in credit card debt, filed for bankruptcy, I decided that there was no longer a value proposition in staying married. He was a better match with money styles with his first wife than with me. In my household, I handle all of the spending, bill paying and investment decisions and I’m glad I did.
    It’s commonly understood that money, religion and kids are the 3 main reasons that couples fight and divorce. Religion was not an issue between us, I handled all the parenting of the kids so that only left money to be the issue.

  • Maggie says:

    I manage our joint money. We’ve tried over the year having Hubby manage it, but he find the process painful and keeps a big cusion in the checking account to the detriment of paying off his credit card usage. I am still cleaning up the mess that was made after Hubby wnet back to school to finish his degree in his mid-30s. He came out and wanted to manage his paycheck. We discovered that a degree in mechanical engineering did not improve his money mangement skills. LOL! I’ve corallaed him to a checking account with a debit card that uses for his personal and fun expenses. I’ve got him to stop using the credit card except for re-imbursable expenses and we are happier now. I print out a graph of our debt (we had eliminated all credit card debit before he want back to school, but it creeped up fast) and he gets excited to see it go down every month.

  • Joe says:

    In my house, I make most of the money and am responsible for building our monthly budget. We’ve moved to a cash envelope system to pay for household expenses and groceries. Fortunately, my wife is more of a Target shopper than a Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s shopper. If she “splurges” she spends all of $30 or $40.

  • I live with a roommate. And we split our shared finances and then take care of our personal stuff on our own. No arguments over money yet (4 months so far!) I can’t imagine marrying someone who wouldn’t be totally transparent in their purchases. Unless it was a surprise vacation or something…

  • Two Things.

    1). I’m not at all surprised that you are a such successful investor for your family. CitiBank ran a study that showed women’s responsibilities and control of household finances significantly jumped over the course of the recession. More women are investing, their investments are smart, and on top of that, they talk about money with their families– 91% of mothers do this. I hope you’re passing your smart investing lessons to your children 🙂

    2) Have you looked in to the Money Couple’s money management personality types? There are 5 main ones, according to the money couple, and apparently everyone is a combination of two. We just posted on our site about ways to reconcile with a partner with a conflicting money management style if you’re interested.

    Cheers!

  • Megan says:

    I manage my household’s finances. For us that means balancing the checkbook, helping us stick to the budget, transferring fun money, paying down debt, and dealing with insurance of all sorts.

    Sometimes I worry that we don’to argue enough. ;P I sat down with my husband the other day to talk for our mid-year review, and his response to everything boiled down to, “I’m happy with how you’re managing our finances.” It’s probably a good thing that I’m in charge of our finances, only because my husband’s memory and sense of timeliness is not his strong suit. 🙂

    I’m not shocked that people hide purchases/bank accounts with each other, but it does make me sad.

  • Adam says:

    I think that financial compatibility is extremely important; as important as shared interests.

  • Ginger says:

    I manage our finances, partly because I am better at it and partly because when we started I had more time. My DH makes most of the money, we do have a rental I manage but his income is what we live on.

  • KM says:

    I don’t think we decided yet since we just got married recently, but our philosophies on money match for the most part and I lean towards being the leader of the family, so I will probably be in charge of finances too. Taxes are definitely my responsibility since I want to make sure they are done right and he doesn’t have much experience with that.

    I am not too surprised about people lying about money though since I have seen it in my family. Both my mom and grandma hid purchases from their husbands since they knew it would cause a fight, but although I am all for keeping things calm, I think it’s wrong. There should be enough trust and respect in a relationship to not have to do that, which is what I am aiming for.

  • Miranda says:

    I manage the finances pretty much on my own. I’ve tried to get my husband interested, but to no avail. He just doesn’t care. His basic requirements are: Don’t rack up debt, and make sure I can buy what I want to. So he does check in if he wants something, and lets me know ahead of time if he wants to make a major purchase, so that I can plan to save up for it. But, investing, saving, bill paying, reducing the tax bill, and everything else is pretty much on my plate.

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