Welcome to Day 4 of Where’s My Money Going? Month! This February 2009, I’m challenging readers (and myself) to track spending manually for 28 days. Don’t worry if you’re late to the party, the more the merrier.
There are numerous reasons people get involved in their finances. Some of us like numbers. Some of us like to feel in control of our lives. Other people are content to be much more hands-off, whether because finances are frightening or because they can do a good job of staying within their limits without paying much attention. So if you’re in the former set and your spouse/partner is in the latter, how much can you ask of them?
I’m in one of those relationships. Fortunately, Micah’s quite responsible with money. His only real debt came from student loans and buying a car. But while he doesn’t overspend he also doesn’t like to plan for the future, budget, etc.
Knowing how to interact with your spouse/partner is key to knowing where your money is going. After all, they’re probably doing something like half of the spending. Reflecting on my own experience, I’ve come up with my thoughts on what we should be able to ask of our spouses/partners (especially if our finances are combined) and also some thoughts on what our responsibilities are to them as good partners.
- We can ask them to save their cash receipts and to clarify purchases as needed. Because I can get all the numbers online, I don’t need a receipt to know that Micah used our debit card to pay $15.72 for gas yesterday. I can see that it was spent at a Shell station. On the other hand, if I’m working hard on tracking categories, I’ll need to know that of the $20 ATM withdrawl he made (this one is hypothetical), he spent $4.02 on coffee and gave $5 to the homeless guy on the corner (in the latter case, he’ll have to write it down himself).
- We can ask them to stick to the budget if they won’t participate in making it. If your spouse/partner has strong ideas about how much money should be allocated to what, then they need to be involved in making the budget. It doesn’t have to be arduous, you both can decide how much money goes into “David’s fun fund” if he wants flexibility (and the money is there). We should always be open to their input.
- We can ask them to approve big financial decisions. I don’t consult Micah on our budgets anymore, because he’s already approved them. But if, say, I want to put a bit extra in my retirement or I want to open a CD at what I think is a good rate, I ask him. He always says yes, but I want him to know what our money is doing and that he has equal rights to direct where it goes.
As good partners, we have certain responsibilities:
- We have the responsibility to listen. Sometimes there’s a limit to how flexible things can be (like if you only have X amount of money that can be spent in a month). But because you’re the one with the power (you organize and run the finances), you have to be very open to the other person so they don’t feel bullied. Don’t just listen to them during “talks,” listen to their everyday comments and passing remarks.
- We have the responsibility to keep them informed. At least on the big stuff. Not only can we ask them to approve it, but it’s our responsibility to let them know if we’re making a change which will affect their future.
- We have the responsibility to offer them information. After a few tries, most of us learn that deluging a partner with information about something that they don’t care about doesn’t have great results. But just as we have the responsibility to keep them informed about the big decisions, we should offer to let them know why we’re making these decisions. Every once in a while, Micah surprises me with a question and we end up having a great conversation about it.
- We have the responsibility to make sure they have financial information in the event of our death/incapacitation. I created a simple financial life worksheet. You can read more about it here and download it here: [download#10]
If your finances are not combined, then I think these expectations only apply to the combined parts of your finances or to figuring out who pays for what. For some people that’s the right solution, at least for a while.
For spouses who share equal levels of interest in or passion about finances, these all apply to you as well. I just hope that it’ll be easier for you to relate
So what do you think? Am I spot-on? Or is my relationship completely different from yours and my solutions wouldn’t apply? If so, how do you handle things? I’d also be interested in hearing from people who don’t like to get involved in their finances but who are in a relationship with someone who does! (Of course, would you be reading a personal finance blog?)
This post was part of Where’s My Money Going? Month. Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about two ways of approaching this month: doing our best to spend as usual or cutting back now.
(postscript: We also have the right to run posts like this by them and ask “Did I get that right?”. This post is Micah-approved.)