A Big Risk for Many Married Couples


Relationships, Women And Money


May 16, 2024

The calendar tells me it is 2024, but I sometimes wonder if in some ways we’re stuck in 1964.

 

A new survey of married (hetero) couples shows they are still stuck in outdated, and dangerous financial habits.

 

According to the New York Life survey, more than 6 in 10 men report they make all or most of the financial decisions in their household. Maybe some of that is bluster, but I think it is generally true. And indeed, in the same survey, less than 4 in 10 women said they were in charge of financial decisions.

 

That’s plenty troubling, but there were more disturbing habits in the survey. To the extent married women said they are involved with household finances, it tended to be more about day-to-day bookkeeping: paying bills, monthly budgeting, and making sure all was good with the bank accounts. The married men reported taking on the big-ticket decisions that have huge long-term impacts on household financial security: managing the investment and retirement accounts, handling the insurance and mortgage, and maintaining a relationship with a financial advisor.

 

This is so not okay, ladies. And if you’re not married but in a committed long-term relationship, this dynamic is equally toxic for you as well.

 

Do not tell me you just go with the flow because that’s what he likes, or it just “works” for you and your relationship. That is a cop-out. And it is dangerous.

 

This has nothing to do with your husband. He may be brilliant in all financial matters. That’s not the point.

 

This is about you. To not engage in and understand your family’s finances is to embrace weakness. You can’t be financially secure if you don’t know what decisions are being made, and don’t understand the ramifications of those decisions.

 

And I am going to insist you stand in this truth: statistically, we know that wives tend to outlive husbands. Even if your husband has made fantastic choices and has left a detailed blueprint of your financial records, you are going to be miserable if you find yourself engaging with all of that for the first time as a widow.

 

Don’t fall back on the fact that your husband has been working with a financial advisor. It’s typical for that to be the dynamic, and it’s typically going to backfire. Studies show that when the husband dies, the surviving spouse often fires that advisor. Why? Because she has no relationship with the advisor! Or there’s some level of distrust or caution, or just a desire to start fresh. And don’t get me started on why I think it is a red flag if an advisor has been complicit in only working with the husband. The best advisors know both spouses need to be involved, educated, and on board with all consequential decisions.

 

I am also going to go there: your husband might not have all the best ideas. That doesn’t mean he is wrong, or careless. But name me big decisions in your life that weren’t helped by you both thinking it through and deciding together? Yet you don’t do this when it comes to money. That is nuts.

 

And it needs to stop.

 

Might your spouse be taken aback if you suddenly show up wanting to learn more about your finances? Maybe. Or maybe he will be relieved and happy to have you engaged. And to know that if he does die first, you will not be starting from scratch.

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