According to a 2015 Bank of Montreal study, women in the United States held 51% of the country’s personal wealth – a percentage unthinkable even 50 years ago. But despite having roughly equal wealth, many women in long-term relationships are taking a back seat when it comes to managing their…
According to a 2015 Bank of Montreal study, women in the United States held 51% of the country’s personal wealth – a percentage unthinkable even 50 years ago. But despite having roughly equal wealth, many women in long-term relationships are taking a back seat when it comes to managing their money.
“Historically, women have been conditioned to not talk about money and let our dads, brothers, husbands handle the money – from setting budgets, buying cars or houses, to investing for the future,” says Janet Griffith, investment advisor representative at AssetBuilder in Plano, Texas.
Regardless of income level or relationship health, this behavior could put women at risk. For single women or women who find a partner later in life, waiting until they find a partner to think about the future could result in losing valuable saving time. And divorcees could be left with little knowledge of how to manage their own money as single women.
For women in abusive relationships, handing off this responsibility could make it infinitely more difficult to leave since financial abuse is almost always present when other forms of abuse are.
Also, though maybe not as obvious, this vulnerability may extend to many women in happy, healthy relationships.
Managing money with a partner: What you need to know
Lack of knowledge may leave women at risk
Forty-nine percent of married women worldwide defer to their partner on long-term financial decisions, according to the 2020 Own Your Worth report from UBS. While roughly half of women in long-term relationships report some involvement in financial planning decisions, the number of women who are responsible for actually making these decisions seems to be much lower: only 16% of women take the lead on financial decisions.
See related: Empowerment through financial literacy
One person in a relationship taking on the responsibility of managing the finances isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it’s pretty normal. According to a 2019 economic study, couples tend to split tasks, each ultimately becoming the family’s specialist in certain areas. While this might help the household run more efficiently, the long-term consequences may not be so beneficial.
“Over time, this cognitively efficient specialization may affect each partner’s ability to both meet the demands of day-to-day life and make potentially life-altering decisions,” the study concludes.
Essentially, you’d have a hard time performing the tasks your partner normally does if they weren’t there. And if one of those tasks is managing the money, you could be left without the ability to make smart decisions by yourself.
All relationships – even the best ones – will eventually come to an end. Unless you’re lucky enough to die side-by-side with your partner Notebook style, one of you will end up widowed. Since women have a higher life expectancy than men, women who are in relationships with men are statistically more likely to find themselves in this position.
Hands-on experience surpasses education
Since women have long been left out of the financial space, many are left with questions – and fears – about money.
“No doubt, knowledge about managing money and investing will alleviate the anxiety that many women have about making financial decisions,” says Griffith.
Unfortunately, though, education alone might not be enough. The 2019 economic study explains that financial education classes only produce better results 0.1% of the time. And two years later, any benefit is undetectable. Financial literacy is, however, linked to practice and financial responsibility. Of the people surveyed, those who handled roughly a third or more of their family’s finances generally saw an increase in financial literacy over the course of several years, while everyone below that mark tended to decrease in financial literacy in that same time period.
This suggests that the more you participate – and the more your actions have a direct impact on your financial outcome – the more prepared you’ll be to make smart financial decisions.
How to get involved
If you’ve mostly taken a hands-off approach to finance, it might take some time to get comfortable talking to your partner about money. But these tips can help whether you’ve been with your partner for many years or you’re getting ready to move in together for the first time.
1. Start a conversation
Decide (or review) how to divide your money. Many financial experts have strong opinions about how you should separate your money with a partner – and they don’t always agree. For instance, Dave Ramsey tells couples to keep just one joint account with all earned money, signaling that the two of you now share all assets. Meanwhile, Suze Orman suggests that each person keep separate accounts and share a joint account for bills.
While both Ramsey and Orman push their strategies above all others, neither of them is going to be right for everyone. As long as whatever you choose works for you and helps you relieve stress instead of causing it, it doesn’t matter which one you pick.
Keep talking about money. Talking about money isn’t a one-time thing. It’s the start of an ongoing discussion that will evolve and change as you do. Plan a regular time to discuss your finances and make any necessary adjustments to your spending habits. That way, you know where your money is going and how much is available to save for longer-term goals.
2. Take charge of your personal finances
If you’ve mostly been hands-off with your money, there’s a chance that you’ve missed some key things that your partner might not even have access to:
Review your work benefits. If you work full-time, your company might offer some retirement investing options like a 401(k) or Employee Stock Ownership Programs (ESOP). Depending on their value, it might make sense to allocate some of your resources toward those programs. If your company offers a contribution match, it’s definitely worth putting enough away to get the free match. Otherwise, you’re essentially missing out on free money.
Work on your credit history. Even if you completely rely on your partner’s income, your credit is yours alone. The best way to make sure you have a good credit score is to have a couple of different types of loans in your name and make regular payments on time. Some loans, like a car loan or a mortgage, can be jointly held. So if both yours and your partner’s names are on the contract, you’ll both have the account added to your credit histories.
Credit cards, though, don’t usually have joint account options. So if both you and your partner have your name on the same account, one of you is likely the account holder and the other is an authorized user. While being an authorized user does have an impact on your credit, it’s not going to be as beneficial as being the account holder will.
3. Don’t shy away from investing
Talk about your goals. Investing is one area of finance that women tend to avoid – even if they feel confident handling day-to-day money management. Even though it doesn’t have quite as much impact on everyday life, it’s still important to be involved in the process of deciding how much you want to invest and where. That way both you and your partner know the goals you’re saving toward and are comfortable with the level of risk you’re taking.
Just start investing. Just like the goals you’re saving for, investing can seem like something you need don’t need to worry about until the future. But doing so can cause you to miss out on opportunities that only come with time.
“Leaving your cash in a savings account will protect the cash at today’s value, but [it] won’t grow at the rate of inflation,” says Griffith. “Since there’s so much opportunity to grow wealth on the stock market, investing sooner can pack some serious support for your financial fortitude.”
In an ideal world, it’s best to start investing when you’re young because you can handle more risk and have more time to see results. But if you haven’t started yet, don’t feel like you’ve missed out. To those women, Griffith offered one last piece of advice:
“No matter your stage of life, it’s never too late to start investing.”
It’s incredibly important to take an active role in your financial independence, no matter what that role may be. Unfortunately, life throws curveballs that might leave you making decisions you’ve never had to make before – and the more prepared you are for those, the better. Starting as small as discussing your role in your finances with your partner is a great first step that can make all the difference.
If you have a story about how you and your partner manage your finances or finance in general, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.