When I was a senior in high school, I decided I wanted a cellphone.
The only problem? I couldn’t afford one on my own. It was 2003 and cellphones were still a novelty. After learning I could save money by going in on a family plan, I convinced my high-school boyfriend, Ben, to join one with me.
Thus began my 15-year journey of managing our joint finances.
Ben’s my husband now. And several years into our marriage, I realized I could no longer steer our financial ship alone. Here’s how we learned to compromise.
We identified the problem
It took me close to eight years into our marriage to finally bring up that I didn’t like managing the household budget alone. My wakeup call came while listening to a podcast. A couple I admired — who ended up divorcing — discussed how one of the many factors that led to their separation was that one partner (the wife) managed their finances, while the husband was content to never get involved. Uh oh.
In his mind, I liked managing our money and was good at it, so why rock the boat?
In the middle of changing our baby’s diaper one night, while the rest of the kids were running around, my frustrations finally boiled over and I told Ben how tired I was of doing everything myself. He had no idea. It had been the norm in our relationship for such a long time. In his mind, I liked managing our money and was good at it, so why rock the boat?
It was the start of many, many conversations we would have about finances in our marriage.
We share access to everything
Because I handled both day-to-day bills as well as big-picture financial goals for our family, I didn’t feel like I could easily hand it over. So we took baby steps — small, practical ways to make sure Ben was involved.
First, I installed all our financial apps on his phone and made sure he knew how to log in to everything. We created an ongoing system to stay up-to-date on password changes too, so we’re each be able to log in if the other changed any information. It’s crucial for us both to have access to all our financial information so we can monitor our credit cards and bank accounts, pay bills, know when we're approaching our budget limits, and keep an overall eye on our finances.
Right now, I still pay most of the bills, but Ben has been slowly taking on more. This year, for instance, he’s been responsible for our heating and Internet bills, as well as the extra payments we’re making on our mortgage. Our shared responsibility extends to the household in general. For example, he’s now tasked with keeping our deep freezer stocked with meat — no small feat in a family of six!
We set boundaries
Ben and I each have our own businesses. At first, I tried to manage his business finances as well as my own and our family’s. It was a terrible idea. I quickly learned and told him I couldn’t run his business too, so he separated his accounts from mine and our family’s.
We check in often
We now have an almost daily conversation about our finances, whether it’s Ben letting me know he charged something to our joint credit card, or me letting him know there’s a big bill coming up.
We make time to discuss the big picture
While writing this, I asked Ben for his thoughts.
The good news? He agreed we’re doing much better now, and his simply being more mindful about our finances is a huge step in the right direction. “It’s important that you don’t feel like you’re all alone,” he points out. I agree.
Our next step is to have him take a more active role in the long-term financial planning. Paying a bill is one thing, but being responsible for our family’s financial future is a task that deserves both of us.