Most couples usually have one person manage more of the finances than the other. If you’re the one handling bill paying, tax prep, and insurance coverage, it probably feels easier to not bother your partner and just do it alone. If you’re the one who prefers to be blissfully ignorant about money stuff, you probably know you should show more interest but you’re kind of secretly glad you’re getting away with it.
But what if something happens to one of you? What if you have no idea how to use online bill pay or who your estate attorney is (or if you even have one)? What if your relationship ends and you need to know what’s up? And that’s only three examples. What about the millions of others that can go wrong? Having a healthy financial life means you owe it to your partner to go through life’s money journey together.
Here are some tips for a healthy joint money life:
Attend all financial meetings together.
It might not be everyone’s favorite way to spend time, but a solid joint money life depends on both of your input and decision-making. Since financial decisions can affect both partners it is important for each individual to be involved, informed, and present during financial meetings. If you both are aware of your assets, investments, and financial plan, it can help prevent confusion and stress should anything happen to one of you. One additional tip: empower each other to ask questions and ask for clarification. It is important for you both to feel informed. If you are starting to feel lost in a meeting, ask for clarification and don’t let a professional make you feel uninformed. If the meeting is full of acronyms you don’t understand and your advisor is unwilling to explain in plain English, maybe you need a new advisor who respects and includes both of you.
Schedule regular appointments to discuss your finances together.
No, not over wine and dinner (although sometimes that is a great setting for discussing broader financial goals and values). Set regular, dedicated “family-finance” time to review your balance sheet, spending habits, and any money-related tasks on the radar. Having routine discussions can help you both stay on track towards your financial goals and can keep you both accountable. Designating a time to talk about your finances can also help prevent you from avoiding any tough conversations with your partner, and can help ease any financial worries that may build over time. My husband and I have routine check-ins quarterly – and he reminds me if I forget! I generally handle our finances myself, but these appointments have helped me improve my ability to see the big picture by allowing him time to share his thoughts, goals, and questions around our financial life. He feels more empowered to make decisions, and ironically, I feel more relaxed around spending (which is a good thing for someone like me who can tend toward having a scarcity mentality!). Checking in has also helped prevent surprises, which makes us both have more peace of mind.
Create master files and/or a binder of important information.
You should both know where to find important documents (digital and paper), how to contact the financial professionals in your life, and understand how all of your finances are managed. Do you pay bills online or by check? Are there insurance policies that need to be paid or coverage will lapse? Where are your estate documents? A binder or box of key documents and account information is also a great thing to have in case of emergency.
Personally, I’m a binder person and my immediate family knows where the binder is and generally what is in it. Putting copies of statements and other documents in a three ring binder with a few key sections is pretty easy, if tedious at first. But once it is set up, keeping it updated is very doable. I try to update my binder about twice a year and write the month/year I updated something in the lower right corner. When we opened a new bank account recently at a more community-minded institution, I added the new statement but left the old one in there with “closed 8/19” written across it so that if I died and more mail came for that account my husband would know what is current and what is not. I also write relevant information on the binder documents like “this paystub is electronically deposited every other Friday in the checking account x5678.” Over time, the content of your binder will shift based on what’s important in your life.
Ready to tackle the binder!? Download my full list. You will think of other things essential for yours as time goes by. Consider building one section a week until you’ve got it in place.
“Wait, Susan! Where do I keep this crazy important binder of my life?” You might ask. I like my binder to look ordinary enough that no one who is looking to heist data in my home would ever spy it. But you want to keep it where your partner can find it and where you will actually notice it and remember to update it periodically. Some people keep original important papers (car titles, house deeds) in their safe deposit box and just copies in their binder with a note regarding the location of the original. FYI, “fire-proof” home safes can and do melt so that might not be a great choice, especially if your loved one can’t open the safe if you die. You techie folks might figure out a way to keep all this stored securely online. Do what works for you.
Face your fears.
So you can do all of the above and it will help a lot to make you feel like you are on the same page, money-wise. But many of us “have issues” around finances. Control, avoidance, indulgence, and fear are common elements that interfere with our success. Consider exploring your relationship to money, alone and as a couple. Having a regular time for checking in about your money life is a great start. You might also read a book, reach out about attending one of our conversation circles, or take a class. Having a better understanding of why each of you think and feel the way you do will help you achieve a sense of freedom, ease, and authenticity, as well as strengthen your relationship.
It’s admittedly more time efficient for one person in a relationship to handle all the money management. But only in the short term. Because someday, in some moment of crisis, the other partner’s lack of knowledge will make all that “efficiency” seem for naught. But if you’re both meeting and talking regularly, and if you’re both sharing in your challenges and successes together, then neither of you will feel alone on your money journey. Especially when it comes time to diverge from the path for a fun adventure together!