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Marriage and Money: A Wake Up Call for Married Women

Hey married ladies, I have a question for you: How has your marriage affected your money?

To be more specific, how has marriage affected the role you play in your finances?

By the way, if you’re a solo gal and you’re thinking, “Not relevant for me,” keep reading. The core message might just apply to you, too.

Whether we like it or not, when we share our life with another, there is an inevitable shifting of roles and responsibilities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless the division of labour evolves in a way that leaves us exposed.

 

Wake up call

I spend a lot of time thinking about how women become financially vulnerable, especially after conversations with people who suddenly find themselves in a tough situation. I’ve had a lot of those in the last month.

Stories of a bad diagnosis for a spouse, leaving the woman fully in charge of the finances for the first time.

Stories of financial betrayal and money lost, leaving the woman with a mess to clean up and an uncertain future.

Scares that didn’t turn into anything, but acted like a giant wake up call.

And loss of job for the male partner, forcing the female partner to step up in a way she has never had to before.

As one of my Women’s Money Group members said to me,

“I’ve had my head in the sand for far too long. It’s time to come out, face reality, and create my own story instead of rolling along. I’m going to be the master of my finances!!

When the wake up call comes, it’s incredibly stressful.

The problem isn’t just that there has been turmoil for these women; it’s that they are ill-equipped to deal with the consequences.

They don’t know what to do.

They don’t know where to start.

There is a gap in their financial literacy.

As a result, making financial decisions terrifies them. They feel they don’t know enough to be sure they’re making smart choices.

Want to know which word showed up most often in my conversations with these women? I just used it: “terrified”.

Taking over the financial reigns scares the pants off them.

Here’s where I ask myself, “How did this happen?”

Given my No Shame, No Blame, No Judgement approach, I have no interest in pointing fingers.

There’s enough going on with the pandemic; we don’t need more stress.

What we need to do, though, is figure out how to prevent this kind of terror and create better options for ourselves for those moments when life is challenging.

By the way, before I say another word, I want you all to know that every one of the situations I described above can be addressed and improved with a system, a plan, and a step-by-step approach. The challenges are solvable.

I can’t take away the pain the women have experienced, but I can help them get to a place where they feel confident and in control. If you’ve experienced a brick-to-the-forehead moment in the last year, there is hope.

 

Divide and conquer

Here’s how the problems start. Can you spot a bit of your story in what follows? I sure can, which is why I empathize with every one of the women I mentioned above.

You get married and suddenly you have to sort out two sets of finances, including incomes, day-to-day money management, dealing with debt, spending decisions, and investing.

There are a million decisions to be made and since life is busy, you don’t create a system with intentional agreements right out of the gate. It’s more of a patchwork approach, as things come up.

Will you have a single chequing account or separate accounts? Maybe you have a discussion about what makes sense; maybe you don’t. You open a joint chequing account because there are bills to pay. You’ve got to get rolling.

And speaking of bills, who takes the lead on ensuring they get paid on time? You drift into an arrangement that gets entrenched over time. Ten years into your marriage, the phrase, “He takes care of that” is part of your vernacular.

Accounts for the utilities get opened when you move in together or buy a house. Maybe you talk about what makes sense – having the account in your name or your partner’s – maybe you don’t. One person takes control and sets everything up. All bills are in their name.

Life rolls along. Your jobs are super busy and by the time you get home, you’re tired. The last thing you want to do is talk about your finances. And, it seems that with all the other responsibilities, you can’t swing the time, so you divide up the tasks to keep things sane.

You play to your supposed strengths.

He takes care of the investments, the mortgage, and the negotiations. You take care of day-to-day purchases for the family, including groceries and, eventually, whatever the kids need.

You’ve set it up this way because you feel he’s better at dealing with investments and the big stuff. Plus, negotiating makes you feel uncomfortable. You feel pushy. You’re more comfortable managing the daily affairs. As CEO of the Family HQ, you feel you’re good at it.

Speaking of kids, when you have them, extra time seems to vanish. What on earth did you do with all your free time before kids, you wonder?

Before you know it, fifteen years have passed. You’ve got a pretty good system. It seems to be working.

Until it doesn’t.

 

From delegation to abdication

Let me ask you this: What’s changed in your list of financial to-do’s from the time you were single to now?

Take a moment and write out a list of what you used to take care of when you were solo.

Now make a list of the things you manage as a married woman.

Can you spot the difference?

When you’re solo, there is no one else to fall back on. You are responsible for every aspect of your money, unless you abdicate to a male figure in your life. If you depend on your father, uncle, cousin, or super guy friend to manage parts of your financial system, this bit applies to you, too.

When you marry, though, suddenly you’re part of a team and you start to specialize.

Or that’s the story you tell yourself. It’s sounds so smart, doesn’t it? You divide financial tasks because it’s more efficient.

And that may work very well for your union, but it can also lead to a bigger, more serious problem.

When you pass on responsibility for a portion of your finances without building in ongoing oversight, you move from delegation to abdication.

That’s where the problems start.

 

A simple test

Here’s a simple way to test if you’ve moved from delegation to abdication. See if you can answer the following questions without pulling up any statements or asking your partner:

  • How much money do you have in your chequing and savings accounts at the moment, roughly speaking?
  • What accounts do you have and are they serving you well?
  • When do your utility bills come out and how are they paid? Roughly how much do you pay in utilities every month?
  • How much do you pay for your mortgage (or rent, if you’re a renter)? What are the terms of your mortgage and when does it renew?
  • Do you have life insurance? What about your spouse? If so, how much and who is the policy with?
  • Do you have any credit card debt? If so, what are the rough balances and how much do you pay each month toward that debt?
  • How much do you spend per month for your living costs – ballpark?
  • Did you get a tax refund last year? If so, what did you do with it?
  • What investment accounts do you have and what is the value of your investments – ballpark?
  • What was the last transaction that happened in your investment account(s)? Can you name what it was and the thinking behind it?

 

The above is only a partial list. Do the same for every aspect of your finances.

You’re trying to answer a basic question: “How much do I really know about what’s going on in my finances?”

Delegating is fine as long as you build in ongoing times to sit down and review what each partner is doing, in detail. Without those points of review, you lose touch with your money.

If any of the above questions makes you sweat, that’s a wake up call to pay attention to that aspect of your finances.

 

The Dangerous C’s for Married Women

I get why and how abdication happens. Life is so busy, especially for women who still deal with a disproportionate share of household tasks. It makes sense to offload some of the financial jobs to our partner.

In the face of all those responsibilities, it’s easy to fall back into what I call the Dangerous C’s: Comfort and Complacency.

We get comfortable letting someone else take the lead and do the work, particularly in an area of our finances that may make us feel ignorant or inadequate.

We tell ourselves stories to justify the abdication: “He’s much better at it. He’ll make better choices.” Even though research shows us that women do a better job as money managers and investors, thanks to our cautious nature (on average).

The belief that things are going well, nothing to see here, carry on as usual, leads to complacency.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term this way:

Complacency – marked by self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.

The bit in bold is my doing, to emphasize where the problem comes in. You become satisfied that things are going well, while being unaware of the dangers inherent in the situation. You only realize how vulnerable you are when life pulls the rug out from under you.

When you lose touch with key parts of your finances, it’s not just your knowledge that erodes, it’s your confidence and your financial skill.

Becoming, and remaining, financially literate requires that you play an active role in all three parts of your finances: 

  • Decision-making
  • Implementation
  • Oversight

 

The solution: Begin today

If any of the above describes you, here’s what I don’t want you to do: Beat yourself up. Berate yourself. Judge yourself.

Here’s what I recommend instead: Start taking charge of your finances and your financial knowledge today.

Do ONE thing today. Just one. Everyone has time to do one thing.

Look up one bill.

Ask one question.

Set one calendar entry to review your finances.

Read one article.

Set one intention.

Whatever you do, start today. Get involved; stay involved.

How you feel tomorrow is determined by what you do today.

How vulnerable you are depends on what you do today.

Where you are at in five or ten years boils down to what you do today.

The payoff isn’t just financial protection, it’s peace of mind. Glorious peace of mind! And joy. Oh, and satisfaction.

And the feeling that you’ve got this.

Just imagine how that would feel.

You can do this, one step at a time.

It starts with one simple rule: No more abdication. Make this a rule for you and you’ll be off to the races.

Step forward with courage and belief. This isn’t about taking on another task; it’s about investing in yourself.

I’m here for you if you need help or a cheerleader. I’m up for both (and I’ve secretly always wanted pom-poms).

What area of your finances will you beef up first? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash

 

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7 Responses

  1. Hi Doris, thanks for the new blog. Totally got it and the why! Thank goodness for your passion and leadership in helping women deal with these types of issues. ❤

  2. Great advice. So very correct Email does make seeing the bills hard I don’t know how or how much the Telus or rv bills are ! This will be my first challenge.

    1. Hi Sharon, Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. Good on you for digging into those bills! I agree that electronic documents can make it challenging. My husband and I save all bills in a shared folder in Dropbox so that we both have access to them. We also save copies in Expensify, so if one of us needs to look it up, we just need to pop into our account. There are a variety of strategies to get around the challenges, but it does take some brain work for sure.

  3. Doris,
    I loved this post. It was such a great reminder for us. When my husband read your book a couple of years ago we realized that I am the money person in our household. So he requested I let him do the bills and investments for a couple of months so that he knew where everything was in case something happened to me.
    It is so much easier just to do it myself, but I put myself in his shoes and of course, having read your book, didn’t want to leave him “high and dry” if it suddenly fell to him. We allotted time for him to do it and ask all his questions AND create a system just for him. We realized so much of what I did was in my head and not so shockingly, our brains work very different. He now has his own list of passwords and accounts so that if he needs to take over, he doesn’t have to figure out my systems!
    Thank you for this reminder. We have gotten comfortable and complacent again!

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