How many couples have you seen marry and then blow up when fighting about money? Arguments over family finances are a leading cause of divorce.
Here are 5 key steps couples can take to better manage their financial lives together
1. Appoint a CFO (Chief Financial Officer)
While neither of you may enjoy handling the family checkbook, it does make sense to delegate money management to the person who is more interested, better organized, or is simply more frugal. It keeps things simpler and more efficient appointing a “household chief financial officer.” That said, the spouse who is not the CFO should not stay in the dark. Swap duties from time to time so that each person understands how to manage the money and pay bills if need be.
From your monthly bills to retirement savings, automate as many of your financial payments as possible. This not only ensures that payments are made on time; it makes life easier and less stressful. (Editor’s note: Clark does *not* recommend putting monthly bills on auto debit.)
Just make sure to check your accounts regularly online for any unusual or incorrect activity. Mistakes can occasionally happen. You might be billed twice or for the wrong thing, so run through the list of charges each month.
3. Stay transparent – and secure.
Online accounts, such as banking and bill paying (e.g., utilities, mortgage, cable) should be accessible by both you and your partner, regardless of who is the chief financial officer in the home. This is useful in case of an emergency, and to have a clear picture of your finances.
Free websites like Mint.com can provide each member safe and easy access to financial accounts, allowing you to visually track your spending and debt. It also helps to check in together once or twice a month so you’re both in agreement with what’s going on with your money.
Keep a running list of all online account usernames and passwords including –- but not limited to –- your family cell phone plan, utilities, mortgage, joint credit cards, brokerage accounts, and insurers. Store a hard copy in a fireproof lock box in your home or safe deposit box, as well as on websites like PassPack.com and Clipperz.com where you can securely store all your household passwords in one place for free.
Even if your husband is the one who regularly handles the bills and accounts, make a habit of checking these accounts regularly to make sure they’re in good standing.
4. Have personal accounts.
Many financial arguments spring from the fact that one person doesn’t feel financially empowered or feels they have to ‘ask for permission’ each time he or she spends. To mitigate this, each person in the relationship –- no matter how big or small his or her paycheck is –- needs to have his or her own separate bank account, in addition to the joint account that is shared. Funnel a percentage of your income each month into this bucket –- perhaps 10% — and this can be your slush fund, an account from which you can spend guilt-free.
5. Make decisions by committee.
You may feel like you’re “better” than your partner at making financial decisions for the family, but never exclude your spouse when making big ticket purchases or moving money around. Ask for help or advice –- even if you think you’ve got it figured out. It’s enough to just sometimes say, “Hey, can we afford this? Should we buy this? Is it worth it? What do you think?” It allows your better half to have his or her voice heard and to feel like you’re both on the same team.
About the author: Farnoosh Torabi is a financial expert and author of the new book, When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. Sign up for her newsletter and receive your free gift!