Another day, another study suggesting women are bad with money.A UBS Global Wealth Management survey of over 1,800 married men and women (including 50 same-sex married women) recently found that nearly half of the women — led by Millennials — defer major financial and investment decisions to their spouses.
The wives cited reasons for this such as not wanting to argue, having “no idea where to begin” and believing their spouses are better with money. Close to 60% said simply that they wanted to be “taken care of.”While the sample of women in the study is narrow (the people surveyed were wealthy, with the lower end having at least $250,000 in investable assets), the financial imbalance in marriage that the findings underscore is hardly an anomaly.
I have been reporting and writing at the intersection of money and relationships for over a decade, and I speak to hundreds of women each year about their money, often in the context of coupledom. Financial avoidance is a recurring narrative among women and wives, often passed down from previous generations.Now in the pandemic, with more women losing their jobs or dropping out of the workforce than men, traditional gender roles in marriage are increasingly at play, including deferring significant financial decisions to husbands.We already know the risks inherent to burying your head in the sand — things like getting a false sense of security, scrambling to piece together your finances when a spouse is no longer around or worse, and feeling financially trapped in a bad relationship.
So let’s discuss tangible solutions.If you find yourself out of touch with your finances, here are steps to help you level the playing field with your partner. In the end, the goal is to arrive at a place where you feel like an active participant in the decisions that impact your financial life together.
Go to the dark place. For just a moment imagine yourself suddenly left alone needing to manage your finances independently after years of being in the dark. Or consider wanting out of your relationship, with no idea about the current balances in your joint brokerage account, or even how to access them, to ensure assets get divided fairly.If, like some of the women in this study, you worry about not knowing where to begin today, think about how lost you’d be later if and when you really need to manage your investments, life insurance and will with your partner out of the picture.The facts are that women tend to live longer and are more likely to be alone in old age. We often face higher long-term care costs.This exercise isn’t meant to add anxiety to your life, but to provide the wakeup call necessary to understand the risk that comes with walking through your financial life blindfolded. Face the “what ifs” and you might be motivated to embrace your finances.
Get back in the game. This will require a conversation with your partner, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Try something to the effect of: “I’ve been thinking, and starting this week (or month), I’d like to be more in touch with our finances. You’ve been doing a great job, but me taking a back seat, we both know, is not ideal. It doesn’t help you or me when I’m not knowledgeable about things.” Your partner should understand and be open to it.If not, explore why. In my experience, a spouse’s resistance to financial transparency and co-piloting big decisions can be an indication of larger issues.I hope this goes smoothly, but bottom line: You shouldn’t feel like you need to get “permission” to know how money’s getting managed.
Start with access and transparency. Sharing a password-protected document that provides a list of all usernames and passwords to your financial accounts is an easy first step that promotes equal access to your shared financial life. From there, use an online tool that can help you see all account balances and cash flow in one place, like Personal Capital or Zeta. On your own time you can log in and review balances and become more familiar with the numbers. (Full disclosure: I am an investor in Zeta.)
Make weekly strides. From here, expand your knowledge. Dedicate weekly time to touching base with your partner until you feel caught up. Your investments and long-term financial plan can be a lot to digest in one sitting, so pace yourself and commit to learning something new at each meeting. For example, the first can focus on retirement, specifically, your contributions, investment breakdown and exposure to risk. Are you 100% in stocks or just 60%? Are you comfortable with that? Week two can be about life insurance, followed by your will and then long-term care planning.
Consider a pro. Working with a certified financial planner was instrumental in the beginning of my own marriage because it helped us create a financial road map, fill some insurance gaps and create an overall sense of accountability that we may not have had on our own. It was also helpful to have an objective individual in the room to give us highly qualified feedback and advice. If you’re worried about disagreements like some of the women surveyed, a good CFP can help calm the waters.
By Farnoosh Torabi
Farnoosh Torabi is a financial journalist, author and host of the "So Money" podcast.