Managing money as a couple can be rewarding and/or challenging. A couple can make more money than an individual can. Two people can combine their knowledge and strengths to make better decisions. And partners with different money management styles can balance out each other’s extremes. However you can also be negatively affected by your partner’s money management, sometimes severely.
If you don’t want to read the whole article, this is the most important point:
You must have full disclosure with your partner, regardless of how you manage your money choices on a day-to-day basis. Nothing can ruin your relationship or finances like hiding assets, debt, or spending from your partner.
In a previous post I explored what managing money separately or jointly may look like. Here are some potential risks with each method:
Joint money management
- One partner may assume control of all financial decisions and steamroll over the desires or fears of the other.
- An uninvolved partner may not be capable or willing to take over money management in the case of death, disability, or just busyness of the other.
- Differing styles of spending, tracking, investing may result in unnecessarily arguing.
- In an extreme situation one partner may abscond with all the money if they have full access to all accounts.
- One partner may work less or stop working altogether, intending to live off of the other’s income.*
- A more spendy partner may affect the other’s saving or debt level.
- One person may take over money management and then use that power to hide income, spending, or debt.
Separate money management
- You might not discuss your goals and may have different plans for spending, retirement, etc.
- One partner can more easily hide excessive spending or risky investments from the other.
- You may not be working as a team regarding your asset allocation, retirement planning, etc.
- You can potentially from your partner inappropriate gifts or loans.
- You may not have a plan in place in case one partner can’t work due to illness or disability.
- If one partner dies you may not be aware of the locations of all of their money, or be surprised by how little or how much they have.
- Your partner may not be paying their taxes or other obligations.
What are ways to decrease the amount of risk in these situations? I’ll start with tips for the first two, and continue this topic in future weeks.
1. One partner may assume control of all financial decisions and steamroll over the desires or fears of the other.
Part A: If you are the partner who is being ignored here are some options:
- Practice good communication techniques. If you feel your needs are not being heard or met, try a straightforward, non-accusatory approach. It can help to put everything in writing first. Then go over your concerns with your partner when you are both well rested and have lots of time.
- Decide ahead of time what you need to get out of the conversation and what action steps are mandatory for you, and which are negotiable.
- Insist on monthly money meetings, shared bill paying, or switching off on money care duties. Review the financial statements regularly.
- If you aren’t making progress using the above methods, you should insist on some financial separation. If you have a job, change where your money is deposited. If you aren’t working suggest transferring some money into another account that you control. Within a relationship you are as entitled to jointly earned money as you would be if you separated. It may be helpful to broach this point as improving your money management skills in case of an emergency, as detailed more specifically in my second section below.
- If you are being controlled to the point where none of these options are feasible, this is a serious concern and you should get professional assistance. See a counselor, family lawyer, or other family-support specialist in your area.
Part B: If you are the partner that is in sole control, try to acknowledge that this isn’t typically the safest or fairest method. Also consider why that level control is important to you:
- Was this how the money was managed in your family growing up?
- Are you naturally controlling and fearful?
- Do you think you are better able to manage the money? And if so, is this justified? Has your partner demonstrated poor management in the past or do you just have a difference of opinion?
- Is there a way to compromise and have a stronger relationship even if the money isn’t managed exactly the way you want it?
- Consider having a neutral and knowledgeable third-party serve as the negotiator between the two of you.
- Seriously consider relinquishing some control, but maintain open communication so you can be reassured by knowing what your partner is doing.
An uninvolved partner may not be capable or willing to take over money management in the case of death, disability, or just busyness of the other.
Part A: If you are the person who does not manage the money:
- Get your partner to write a summary of your financial position in case you need to take over. This should include banks and account types, all debts, recurring bills and how they are paid. You should also have access to any joint accounts with the required passwords.
- Have a monthly meeting to discuss money (it can be very brief) or start paying bills together. Get special food or drinks and make it a fun event instead of a stressful job.
- Read up on basic money management so you feel more prepared to help out.
- Realize that your significant other may not be always in a position to handle the finances. Be a good partner by serving as back-up. Remember that in any situation where you have to take over the finances is likely due to a stressful life event. Maintaining some money knowledge along the way will reduce how much additional anxiety you’ll be facing at an already difficult time.
Part B: If you are the money manager in the relationship:
- Before you do anything else, write up an emergency money document, including your banks, account types, debt, and bill payments needed. Leave instructions on how to deal with money in the short term. Make sure that you have a few months’ worth of money around that is easily accessible to either partner. If you have a joint account, check with the bank to ensure your partner can still use that money in case of your sudden death or incapacity.
- Insist on some level of involvement from your partner. Try to make it short and stick to the absolute essentials. In an emergency it won’t matter that your investments don’t get rebalanced right away, but it will matter if you bills don’t get paid.
- At each money meeting talk about one thing at a time. Don’t overwhelm your partner.
- Remember that no one is born learning how to manage money. You can only learn by trying, and possibly making mistakes. Give your partner the freedom to learn and to develop their own system.
To be continued…
* I’m not referring here to mutually agreed-upon decisions for one partner to not work for money.