couple and finances

Why Wives Must Get Involved in the Family’s Money

The loss of your spouse or partner, no matter the reason, can turn your world upside down.


You likely know someone who has shouldered the emotional burdens of this loss from a death, divorce, or other difficult circumstance. Perhaps she simultaneously inherited a money mess to untangle or endured a devastating financial hardship. I have seen women struggle – suffer even – because the spouses they lost managed the money, and these women had limited visibility or understanding of the state of the family finances. It did not have to be this way. They could have avoided this surprise and pain.


By involving yourself in your family’s finances now, you can avoid being the 65-year-old wife who entrusted her husband with decades of her earnings, only to learn that there is nothing to split in their pending divorce. Or the widow who is forced to quickly learn forensic accounting to access the family’s accounts because “managing the finances was his job.” Or the abandoned single mother with no financial cushion who must seek immediate employment after being away from the workforce for five years.


These are not isolated incidents. Overall, women remain less involved in the family finances than their spouses or partners. In American households in which two spouses or partners share financial accounts, it is common for one to assume all responsibility for managing the finances. Often, a woman relinquishes this function to her husband or partner, placing herself in a precarious situation, especially when her partner is absented from the relationship by death, divorce, incapacitation, or other causes. If she is not involved in her family’s money management, she may receive unanticipated and unpleasant surprises when life events shine a harsh light on her financial situation.


Why Women Are Not Participating Equally in Family Financial Decision-Making


Published in its annual Own Your Worth report, UBS surveyed 1,500 high-net-worth men and women in marriages or partnerships. Only one in five couples (20%) said that they make financial decisions together, with women citing lack of knowledge, interest, and time as the primary reasons for deferring to their spouse.


Women’s lack of knowledge and interest can stem from the absence of financial education, lack of confidence, and replication of how their parents managed the finances. The time aspect often results from an accepted division of labor between the partners, especially when the family includes children. Overall, women still manage most family and childcare responsibilities, leaving less time for engagement on financial matters, responsibility for which they relinquish to their spouses. 


Also, even in the most solid of relationships, it is simply not easy to talk about money. In January 2022, the National Financial Educators Council surveyed 1,200 people to research how money impacts relationships. Only 21.3% of respondents said they felt comfortable speaking with their romantic partner about personal finances.


Why Women’s Lack of Participation in Family Financial Decision-Making Can Be Problematic


Partnered women who are not in the loop on their financial condition put their financial futures at risk. Regardless of whether their lack of engagement stems from the absence of interest, time, or communications, they make themselves vulnerable. And if their spouse avoids discussions on how much money there is, where it is, and how it is spent and invested, they must recognize this as a red flag.


Money problems can cause marriage problems, and disagreements over finances are perpetually among the top three reasons why couples split. Because marriages do not always remain intact, women must protect themselves by having a baseline knowledge of their financial condition and equal access to all family accounts.


Why It Is Important to Get Involved: Financial Awareness, Trust Building, Long-Term Planning


Because of challenging situations I have seen my clients face, I urge all women to take an active role in their family’s finances, or at a minimum, to become and stay informed of the financial accounts and overall financial position. For years, I managed the finances as my wife led on other responsibilities, including tending to the daily needs of our daughters. In recent years, she has taken a more active role in our finances. We both needed to feel confident that she can take care of herself and our girls if anything happens to me.


While it may be challenging for couples to talk about money, women may underestimate their partners’ desire for them to become more engaged in the finances. Recent research shows that a significant majority of men and women want to work with their spouse or partner on money matters. The UBS study mentioned above found that 69% of millennial women respondents who currently leave financial decision-making to their spouse want to become more involved. And 94% of millennial men respondents want their spouse to be more involved in financial decision-making.


Beyond building the confidence to manage the impacts of a catastrophic event, knowing where the family finances stand can bring women increased trust in their partners and peace of mind. Together, couples can:

  • Assess if their savings, debt, and investments are on track to provide for the family’s financial stability.
  • Find ways to adjust their course now (if required) to reach their financial goals.
  • Determine if they are properly covered with wills, estate documents, disability insurance, and life insurance.
  • Ensure that their beneficiaries are up-to-date and that, if they have a trust for their children, assets are correctly assigned to the trust.


Partnering on financial decisions may mitigate money disagreements in a marriage. Having routine, collaborative conversations on bills, investments, and long-term financial goals can help couples align on money decisions. Enlisting the assistance of an independent financial advisor can provide an unbiased third party to the discussions and planning, providing more objectivity to a topic that can be sensitive and emotionally charged.


Pro tip: If, in a meeting with a financial advisor, the advisor directs the majority (or all) of the discussion toward your spouse, I encourage you to speak candidly to the advisor about your desire to be treated as an informed and equal partner in the conversations and decisions.


How to Become Involved in the Family’s Financial Management


I mentioned previously that my wife and I hold scheduled monthly financial discussions. While this is not the typical date night, it has been hugely beneficial to our marriage. She pours a glass of wine, and I have a beer. We first make sure she has up-to-date passwords and can log into our financial accounts. Then we go through the bills. And we talk through our recent and future money decisions. What started as a 3-hour marathon has become much easier over time.


t took us years to make these discussions a monthly habit. If this arrangement is not possible for you because of schedules, work demands, and family commitments, please, at a minimum, work with your partner now to understand your overall financial picture and where your money is. Check that you can access all accounts. Confirm that you are both covered by wills and insurance, and that you are the named beneficiary on all assets. 


In partnering on our financial planning and decisions, my wife and I have discovered several positive outcomes from our monthly discussion and collaboration. We are more closely aligned on our financial goals and spending. She knows where the money is and where it goes. She knows that our family is covered in the case of an emergency. And we both have the confidence that we can lead our family financially in the case that something happens to one of us.


There is no price tag on that kind of peace of mind.


Michael J. Garry is a Certified Financial Planner who heads Yardley Wealth Management, LLC in Yardley, Pa. He is author of two books, The Smart Person’s Guide to Financial Planning & Investments: A Simple and Straightforward Approach to Understanding Your Personal Finances and Independent Financial Planning: Your Ultimate Guide to Finding and Choosing the Right Financial Planner.

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