I met with Amy (not her real name) the other day who told me she managed her finances perfectly well while she was single. Once she married, she agreed to let her husband handle the family finances. Now facing divorce, she found herself in financial difficulty because of her husband’s spending habits. She regretted not paying attention to the family finances during their marriage and had to deal with the added guilt of not being aware of key financial information when the marriage finally ended.
When we marry, most coupled agree to a practical division of labour and responsibilities. Each partner takes on specific “jobs” throughout the marriage. One may take out the garbage and handles the carpooling duties while the other spouse agrees to prepare meals and pays the bills. As we’re creatures of habit, we tend to keep those same “jobs” for our entire married life. If it hasn’t been your “job” to deal with the finances, it is imperative that you stay in touch with the family finances regardless.
How do you do that?
You should attend meetings with accountants, financial planners, insurance agents to develop their own relationships with these key advisors. Too often I hear women say “I ‘ve never even met the insurance agent” or “I’m finding it difficult to get information from the accountant since he and my spouse are old friends and golf together every weekend.”
You should look over monthly bank statements and credit card bills even if you are not the partner actually making the payments.
Pam (not her real name) found a lack of her own active credit history worked against her as she was offered high rate cards with small lines of credit when she applied for a card on her own after her husband left. You should be sure that the credit card you are using has been set up in your own name and not an account in your husband’s name with you being simply an authorized user.
Couples should keep three bank accounts (his, hers and ours) and maintain separate credit cards.
Couples are divorcing at later ages. Many married women don’t make retirement savings a priority. If your husband is the main wage earner, you trust him to save for your retirement. Clare (not her real name) assumed the Spousal RRSP her husband set up belonged to him and not her and wasn’t clear that he hadn’t been adding to her Spousal RRSP for awhile. You need to understand that once you’re on your own, you need to make saving for retirement a priority.
Looking over a spouse’s shoulder from time to time is important even if you trust they’re doing a good job.