Do You or Your Spouse Handle the Finances Solely? Why This Might Not be a Good Idea

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When a couple gets married, one of the first things that have to decide is who will pay the bills and make financial decisions.

Ideally, both people in the relationship would make joint decisions and have open discussions about their finances, but unfortunately, this seems to rarely happen.  Instead, they may talk out large purchases, but the day to day household spending, budgeting and bill paying seems to fall on one partner.

This is generally a bad idea for both parties.

What Can Go Wrong When One Spouse Handles the Finances Solely

Trust Violation in the Marriage

 When I was in graduate school, I had a friend whose family had recently survived a bombshell.  My friend, who was 30 at the time, had found out within the last few years, that not only had her dad been cheating on her mom for over 20 years, but that the relationship had produced a son who was then 13.  In addition to her younger sister, my friend had a 13 year old stepbrother she had just found out about.

How is infidelity for this long possible?

My friend largely attributed it to her mother’s disinterest and lack of involvement in family finances.  Her dad had handled all of the bills and budgeting for both the household and his construction business; her mother was happy to let him handle it and had no part in the family finances, which made it very easy for her dad to maintain a separate relationship and later pay child support for 13 years without anyone being the wiser.

Likewise, we have all heard stories of financial infidelity where one spouse racks up thousands of dollars of debt and the other partner has no idea.  In a recent edition of Money, one woman confessed,

I was married for a very long time and we had a kind of unspoken agreement that he would pay the household bills.  My understanding was that our income was adequate to cover our expenses.  I never really questioned him.  But he was using his credit card in order to take care of household things that we didn’t have the money to pay for.

We separated about two and a half years ago and, through the course of the divorce, I was shocked to find out there was $80,000 of credit card debt.

Because she is the high wage earner, she is still responsible for paying down the debt they held jointly, even if she just found out about it.  She herself admitted that she had little interest in their finances; had she been more proactive, perhaps he wouldn’t have accumulated this much debt.

Death of a Partner

family money

Who handles the money in your relationship?

If one person handles all of the finances and suddenly becomes incapacitated or passes away, the other partner may be at a loss.

In my family, I am the one that pays all of the bills and budgets.  My husband really has no idea what accounts we have, who to pay, when bills are due, etc.  I have made a list of each account we have and when payment is due as well as contact numbers and website addresses and the passwords to use.

As much as I have tried to get him involved, he is just not interested.  If something were to happen to me, he would have no idea how to proceed with our finances, which is why I created the cheat sheet.  Still, it would be difficult for him to put the bill paying process into motion, especially during the grieving process.

This can be alleviated by having automatic bill paying, but it is still important to know when the bills are paid to make sure there is enough money in the account.

Stress on Both Partners

If the money coming in isn’t enough to match the money going out, the partner handling the finances will likely feel stress as he is the only one trying to handle how to juggle the money and get the bills paid.  He may resent his partner’s carefree attitude since she doesn’t know the true details of their finances.

On the other hand, the partner who doesn’t handle the finances may be resentful of the spouse paying the bills if she is put on an allowance and only given a certain amount of money to spend each week.  This resentment typically occurs when one partner makes the most money but doesn’t handle the finances.  That partner may resent not being able to spend money as freely as she would like since she doesn’t know the true scope of the family finances.

In a relationship, one partner may be the finance geek who likes to handle the finances and the other may just as soon prefer to let the spouse handle it.

That is the case in my own relationship.  While you may never get your partner fully on board with handling the finances or vice versa, it is imperative that every month or two you sit down with one another for a few minutes and discuss the state of your finances.

On a yearly basis, it is a good idea to review what accounts you have, how much you owe, when the payments are due, and where the passwords are stored.

Just taking these small steps can help both partners become more fully involved in the finances and avoid devastating financial situations such as financial infidelity or the inability to take over the finances once a spouse dies.

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Published or updated August 27, 2013.

Comments

  1. I handle the finances in our relationship. I discuss it all with my husband, have shown him how to do it etc but he has no interest. It is a cultural thing. Before he married me he lived at home and all his money went to his mum, as is customary in his culture. When we got married he just handed it to me.

    It works for us because I am the finance geek in our family, but I have pointed out numerous times if I were to die young like my mum (cancer at 37) he would be left to deal with it all.

    • I’ve got a similar situation. Stay strong in your conviction that our he learn about the finances. It is a life skill that everyone should possess and speaking from experience it is not one that is learned overnight. Both people should know what the family finances are, what your accounts are, and the process whereby things get allocated for and paid down. Good luck!

  2. I wish I could get my wife more interested in our finances. It’s nice that she trusts me, but it would be easier on me if she kept informed more. As soon as I bring up savings, investing, or my online income her eyes glaze over.

  3. I handle the finances in our relationship. I feel that it works better this way.

  4. I too am the financial geek for my family. My hubby has paid bills in the pst but he hates doing it and he pays minimums. I have a binder with a copy of each bill, account, insurance policy, etc. Just the other day he asked some sort of question and my answer was “that information in in the family binder.” He did not remember where it was. I pulled it out, showed it to him and put it back while he watched. But if I became incapacitated, I sure hope he gets one of our parents to help him. Or my 16 Yo, or anybody, really.

  5. That is scandalous and very sad. It’s horrible the secrets people can keep.

    We keep separate finances but are open with them. I have been mainly in control recently because my partner is at school so I have been the one paying for most things. She hands her thesis in today and now she has to find a way to become an equal contributor :), I guess she’ll be equally controlling the finances then.

  6. Since I am not married, I have no experience with sharing finances with another person. I definitely see how having only one person deal with day-to-day finances can to turn into disasters. I think many couples don’t spend enough time talking about finances before getting married, and unfortunately causes a divorce in most cases. It is just sad as to why this happens to many couples when it can easily be avoided.

  7. What I wouldnt give to learn how you got your design to be so amazing! I mean it. Besides the blog just being awesome this page is too sweet! Its not too flashy. It doesnt do too much with colours and things and the videos you use are perfect for this topic! Really awesome blog.

  8. jack foley says:

    Well Im irsh and my wife spanish and we live now in madrid,

    we lived in ireland for 10 years where i always handled the finances – paid the bills, etc…

    now that we are here my wife does it – its just handier..

    In saying that, all outside interests – i handle, i have my own business so i give my wife money and along with her job she pays the local bills…

  9. I’ve seen what happens in the case of death plenty of times. I used to work in a bank that was located around the corner from a retirement community, and the elderly were a majority of the customers. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I had people come in just for help balancing the checkbook because their partner was the one who handled the money and they passed on leaving the spouse without a clue. And, it was both men and women who did this. It’s really important to share at least some of the responsibility so that in the case of death, the surviving spouse isn’t left in bad situation like that.

  10. Yikes! I am the one that handles all the money in our relationship but we do have weekly “family meetings” to discuss the state of our finances. We talk about it weekly, review the budget bi-weekly and then discuss what happened (how much we spent etc) at the end of the month.

    It works well like this but I can see how if one of us were to not be here then the other would need access and information.

  11. Finances can be a horrible thing in a relationship it can either break it or just strain it. In my position I’m always having to fill out forms or do the accounting when it comes to bills plus the grocery shopping. I understand most wives like to do that stuff but in my situation it gets stressful what if I get sick? will he know how to handle the bills and buy groceries?
    we are on a fixed income and because of it a lot of budgeting is required in every aspect. I do think that guys should step up and handle finances sometimes because it does stress the wife out! we don’t like always being the bad guy!

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