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Day 4) How Much Should We Ask Our Spouses to Do?

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)


ldub February 4, 2009 at 5:23 pm

i’m in the very shallow end of this pool, just starting to get my fella to dip his toes in the world of personal finance. or, umm, caring at all about money, expenses, etc. it’s always surprising to find which things he is interested in, which stress him out, which he wants to ignore, which he has an unexpected talent for, etc. it’s sort of awesome to realize there’s still so much to learn about our partners…

Jo February 4, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Hi there! I just joined this forum/blog and read through today.

My guy writes me a check the first and middle of the month for set amounts, which I then add to what I bring in from my income. He keeps a chunk of his own [fixed] income as his spending allowance. I do the budgeting/spending plan.

I tried Mint, Wesabe and Gnu. The problem I have with those is that they don’t support my credit union where I do the majority of my spending. So, no downloading of my transactions. I didn’t, however, have trouble with Mvelopes, altho I gave up on them because of the monthly expenditure, which I don’t need. I do have YNAB Pro, which I truly like. Easy, not overly detailed and flexible.

I look forward for the next 24 days to see how I do, because I’ve always balked at tracking my spending. That’s definitely about to change.

Diane February 4, 2009 at 7:57 pm

This doesn’t much apply to us, although I’d like to hear how other handle it. We’re both divorced & have grown, college & high school kids.

We’re aware of each other’s debts and financial commitments, which I think is essential in any committed relationship.

After the financial disaster of my 1st marriage, I don’t know if I could ever marry again, much less totally mix our finances at this age.

I pay certain household expenses, he pays certain expenses and we deal with the rest of our money separately.

We’re both responsible and pay all bills on time, so that’s not a problem. I know he has more debt than I do, due to business & left over marital issues. I’m long past that as I’ve been divorced for longer.

For me, the main issue is that we’re both aware of each other’s debts that could impact us both.

mrsmicah February 4, 2009 at 8:23 pm

@ldub, exactly! Micah doesn’t get nearly as stressed as I do about paying bills, but he gets much more stressed about budgeting money. I don’t know why, but it works for him if I budget it (maybe too many decisions?). As you say, there’s so much we can learn.

@Jo, YNAB does a great job of encouraging spending tracking, especially if you can’t get transactions from your credit union. Not being able to set it and forget it online might even be a strength! Good luck, I hope you get a lot out of this month.

@Diane, I know many couples coming out of divorce who are less interested in combining finances. Another couple I know didn’t do it until their 10th anniversary. It sounds like you’ve got a great setup, what matters is that all shared expenses are covered and you know what affects you.

Otherwise, as long as the person doesn’t get themselves in the kind of debt that would affect your mutual lifestyle (because they’re unable to contribute anymore) then I’m sure it would be quite cozy.

Kathryn February 4, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Your description of the relationship and how you handle it…well,I though you were writing about us. My favorite detail is how it works better to introduce small doses of financial information. I think it’s working well for us. He seems to trust me to handle the money. I manage the budgets well (in my humble opinion). No hassles! My biggest fear is that I don’t have everything documented well-enough should something happen to me. That’s moving up on my to-do list!

Nicole February 6, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I’m glad that you addressed this. I am trying to get very serious about digging out of debt. I started our financial turn around December 27th, 2008. I’ve been tracking my finances for years using Quicken, and my husband couldn’t care less. Right now we’re on one income because hubby is back in school. I try to talk to him about our finances, how much we earn, how much we owe, etc, and he’s just not interested. “Budget” is a dirty word to him, it seems. He doesn’t seem willing to cut any expenses at this point. Regarding our credit card/student loan debt, he figures “everyone has debt, we’ll pay it eventually.” But when I tell him that we’re spending more than we’re making, and that we will never get ahead that way, he tells me to stop stressing out about money, that I make him feel bad, and that he feels like he’s not allowed to spend any money. Any suggestions for getting your spouse/other person more involved in a debt elimination plan?

mrsmicah February 7, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Hi Nicole, that’s a difficult area indeed. Based on living with a grad student I think perhaps your husband is feeling like he’s not contributing so he doesn’t want to think about it at all to avoid feelings of guilt/stress. I know Micah sometimes feels unmanned by the fact that I’m supporting him, like he should be doing an equal part.

So he adopted the mindset that his student loans are his responsibility, not mine, and he’ll take care of them in the future. Talking about it, I was able to convince him that his future was going to be my future and I wanted to take an active role in shaping it.

I don’t know what approach will work with your husband. If he feels guilty and stressed, then outright confrontation is probably not a good plan. But I’d point out that this is your future together and getting deeper into debt will just cause you both way more stress in the future.

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